Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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The Education She Deserves

It seems like Oz’s dad is the cause for a lot of conflict on the homeschooling front.  He’s constantly reminding Oz how homeschooling is wrong and is always starting in on him about this or that.  It’s become a real point of contention between them.  Honestly, his father doesn’t understand anything about homeschooling or why we do it and just doesn’t care to.  Oz’s sister is really no better.

Just the other day Oz finally told his dad that Corde would not be going to school this year.  We’ve been really intimidated to tell our family.  Everyone seems so pleased that we’re finally putting her in school.  I’ve had nothing but people on my case about how I’m doing so poorly for her because she’s not progressing on your standard academic level.  She’s not meeting all the standard milestones for a kid in school.  She’s slacking on reading, writing, and math, but the skills she’s slacking on are skills she doesn’t find useful and relevant at this point in her life.  She knows how to read well enough to read her Pokemon books.  She’s learned enough to allow her to cook, which is full of math skills and reading.  She likes to do it on her own without help because she’s extra proud of the results that way.  She’ll write when she feels like it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s just stuff that’s hard to measure on an academic level.

Oz’s father kind of ambushed him after he finally admitted that we weren’t putting Corde in school.  His dad asked him if he felt Corde was getting “the education she deserved”.  Just to prevent any arguments he told his dad he didn’t.  His dad then informed him that he had to put his foot down when it came to Sander and make sure he went to school.

We talked about this whole thing later that night, which was when he told me about his conversation with his father.  He told me he felt Corde was really intelligent and he brags about how smart she is to everyone at work.  Sure, she may not know a lot about conventional subjects, but she really does know a lot that kids her age don’t know.  She’s had a chance to study philosophy, chemistry, and art history.  She knows more about the American Revolution than most adults.  When she’s interested in something, she runs with it.

Of course, Corde, hearing this, asked who we were talking about.  When I told her we were talking about her she said, “I know I’m really smart.  I can count to a million and I don’t think most kids my age can do that.”  Isn’t it funny what constitutes intelligence to a kid?  She’s always talking about how the kids she knows annoy her because they don’t know half of what she does and they think she’s crazy because of it.  They’re always wanting to talk about television and movies, but she’d rather talk about history, video games, or science.  When she doesn’t know something she doesn’t make up an answer and pretend it’s a fact like her friends do.  She’ll ask an adult and then come back all proud of herself for knowing the answer.  She likes to show off all the cool things she does that other kids her age just don’t do.  She’s big into arts and crafts and her newest interest is sewing.  She wants to learn all about embroidery lately.  Most of the kids we know don’t do anything arts and crafts related unless they learn it in school or in scouts.  She’s fashioned her own baby carriers for her barbies and to carry her baby doll around.  She’s a highly creative child and very inquisitive.  I don’t see much of that in kids her age.  Surprisingly, she can even recognize that most kids her age don’t have those qualities either.  She tells me about it all the time.

Oz revised his answer to his father when he was talking to me.  We’re not giving our kids the education the state says they deserve.  We’re giving them the education they actually deserve.  We’re doing exactly what every other parent out there is doing, trying to give our children all the advantages possible.  We don’t want our kids growing up to be just like us, working whatever jobs it takes to get by.  We want them to learn to strive for their dreams, no matter how hard it is.  We want to give them the advantage going into adulthood of truly knowing who they are and what they aspire to be.  They deserve to dream big, something that’s often killed by adults, like my own dream of being a dancer from when I was very small.  Eventually I did grow up to try my dream out, but I realized it wasn’t what I wanted anymore.  It’s hard to say whether that was because I didn’t want it or because too many years of knowing I couldn’t have it built it into an unrealistic vision.  Oz and I want our children to know what it’s like to be happy from the start and not have to work at it their whole lives.  We both wish someone had given us that same advantage in life.

So, yes, Corde is definitely getting the education she deserves in our eyes.  His father is never going to agree with us because he seems to think that the only education worth having means one where children are indoctrinated into the school system and taught to learn countless subjects that they could care less about.  He wants something that can be measured in grade letters where you can show where the kids stack up against the rest of the population, a basis that starts everyone out with the same advantages, or so it appears.  He wants them to go to college because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and I’m an unfit mother because I don’t want those same advantages for my children.  Instead I want something so much better for my children.  If only he had the care and consideration to look beyond his own social programming to understand what is possible, not just the limited perspective he chooses to see.

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Learning the Art of Cooking

Last night Corde and I had a wonderful experience.  It all stemmed from me being too distracted to cook dinner.  I wasn’t hungry, so I really didn’t think about making food.  Corde finally got frustrated and said, “Mom, are you ever going to make dinner?”  I hadn’t realized that time had gotten away from me.  I’d planned to do it sooner, but no one reminded me and I can get very sidetracked.

“Do you want to make it then?” I asked Corde.  I’d realized she’d get much less irritated with me if I simply taught her to cook.  Some people may see this as laziness on my part, but I view it as a life skill and really helpful for me.  Next time I’m sidetracked and keep forgetting dinner she can gather everything up and say, “I’m ready to cook” when she’s hungry instead of having to wait on me.  I’m not ready to just let her go with cooking on her own.  We have a gas stove and those are notorious for being dangerous.  Until we get the conversion, we’re working with a hot plate.  For safety sake I’d be more comfortable sitting over her when she uses either since she’s not familiar with either.  It’s meant we’re stuck with really simple meals until the point we can get the stove converted and running.

I don’t think she could have contained her excitement if she wanted to.  “Then I can cook for my brothers every day!”  At first this struck a cord with me.  I should be the one cooking for her brothers, not her.  She’s not the parent and certainly doesn’t need that kind of burden on her.  Then I realized that I’m looking far too deeply into it from the stance of my concerns.  It wasn’t until after she’d made dinner that I realized why she wants to cook for her brothers.  What better place can she get praise from?  Her brothers are always telling her how good the food is when she cooks for them!  Sometimes I’m jealous.  They don’t offer any praise for me!

So we went into the kitchen.  We started with some simple pasta.  We’ve been eating those packaged pasta side things a lot.  I know it’s better to make from scratch, but with a small kitchen, four kids to keep after, and everything else, we tend to reach for quick and easy.  Thankfully, these are also perfect early cooking solutions for Corde.  They’re more complex than ramen, but they’re still pretty easy.  I loved making stuff like that when I was younger because they were quick and easy.

Last night we got everything together.  I did most of the reading because I knew making her read it would be a fight, but I showed here where to find the things she needed so all she had to do was read the names.  Next time she could get the stuff together herself.  I measured out the ingredients because we’re using some really non-traditional means of measuring.  Our measuring cups seemed to have all grown legs in the move.  Correction, Corde says, “They grew legs, arms, and an eyeball.  They need arms to open the doors and an eyeball so they can see where they’re going!”  Then we threw it all in the pot and started to cook.

She was pretty surprised at how easy it was.  I told her that cooking is usually pretty easy.  Baking gets a lot more complicated.  Then again, there are some really complex, fancy recipes that are a lot harder too, but most of daily cooking isn’t really all that hard.  A lot of it is mixing everything and then setting it in a pot or casserole dish to cook.  Most of the cooking we do around here is pretty simple, so she’ll have lots she can learn without having to feel overwhelmed.

It was kind of funny.  Out of instinct I got up and went to stir the noodles.  As soon as I had spoon in hand Corde shouted, “No!  I have to do it!”   She was in the room in a flash and the spoon was out of my hand.  She stirred the noodles as though they were something that needed to be treated with care in order to for them to turn out perfectly.  I was surprised at how determined she was to make them with as little help as possible.

Just before we turned off the heat I pointed out to her how I knew the noodles were done.  I don’t use timers to cook a lot of what I make.  I’ve just gotten really good at looking for the signs and going off of that.  Timers just throw me off.  We talked about the thickness of the sauce and how you don’t want it too thick or it will just end up even thicker after it cools.  You don’t want it too soupy or it will be runny when you serve it up.  She decided when it was done and declared it was perfect.  She was pretty well accurate.  It was just the way I would have done it.

Not only did she get to cook the food, but she served it up too.  I wasn’t allowed to handle anything.  She made up plates for herself and Beekee, and a small plate for Oz.  Sander was asleep and I wasn’t hungry, so we left the food to them.  Oz wasn’t even all that hungry, but he wanted to try it.  She sat down to eat, truly proud of her accomplishment, getting compliments from both Oz and Beekee.  Beekee even said it was better than the food I make!

When all was said and done and there was nothing left but a few leftovers, Sander got up and he had to have some too.  He scarfed the stuff down like he hadn’t eaten in weeks!  After every bite he had to say, “Good food!”  He told her at least five or six times, “Day-day!  Good food!”  She was positively beaming.

After all was cleaned up and put away, Corde announced, “I’m going to cook dinner from now on.  That way I can learn how to cook for me and my brothers.  I think they’d like that.”  She started to list off all the things she wanted to learn how to cook.

This new love has definitely opened up her world a lot more.  First it was cross stitch.  Then it was the idea of making beautiful decorations for cupcakes.  Now she’s on to cooking.  Once she feels confident with cooking and we have a conversion kit for our stove, she wants to learn how to bake.  She’s realized that there’s a lot more to love in life, not just art.  She still loves art, but I haven’t seen her pick up her sketch book once since she we started exploring these other things.  It’s amazing how her view on life has changed from everything being about more traditional art to include things she wouldn’t have dreamed about before.  She’s decided there are arts that are far more fun than the traditional ones.

I think this is one of the things I like most about unschooling.  Things flow naturally from one to the next, allowing the world to be explored at my children’s own pace.  Corde was too focused on more traditional arts to think outside the box on what other things could possibly be art, or could just be a lot of fun.  First it was cupcakes and all the fantastic flavors and decorations that she hopes to someday learn.  From there it flowed to cooking because “It’s like baking, only you don’t make sweets!”  Though Corde’s mostly right on that, I wouldn’t consider bread baking to be sweets.  She’s discovered a whole new world that she loves because she was allowed to come upon it naturally.  If she’d learned to cook like I did, out of need and not interest and love, she’d probably not be such a fan of it, much like I’m not a fan of cooking.  I’d rather bake.

This has me wondering, if she’s decided cooking and baking are definitely art forms, then what else is going to inspire her under the name of art.  And more of a curiosity, am I ever going to be allowed to cook again?  It seems like I’ve been banished from my own kitchen as anything other than assistant to chef-in-training, Corde!


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The Coersion

Since Oz’s dad and sister have become a part of our lives Corde has been under constant pressure to go to school.  Oz’s sister, Misti, seems like she’s been trying to convince Corde that school is the best thing ever because she supposedly liked school.  The truth is she did well in school and I think she liked the positive reaction that came of her doing well.  As a result, she’s pretty much ambushed Corde with how great school is, but I think that’s largely because I made the mistake of mentioning that I was thinking about putting Corde in school because I was fed up with our attempt at traditional homeschooling.

The conversations between Corde and Misti were pretty comical in some regards.  Misti would talk about what school was like and Corde, being a rather bright child, would recognize the flaws in her arguments.  It was certainly not going to be easy for Misti to convince Corde that school would be the place she’d want to go.

Misti: School is awesome.  You can study all kinds of things, like art.

Corde: You mean like I did at the homeschool co-op?  We were studying famous artists.

Misti: They have classes where you learn how to be a better artist.

Corde: We did that at the homeschool co-op too.  It was part of our art class.

Misti: You can study all kinds of science in school too.

Corde: We were studying philosophy and chemistry.  Would I be able to learn more about that?  I liked chemistry.

Misti: You can learn about chemistry when you’re older.

Fox: They don’t teach subjects like that at your age in school.  You’d be studying general science.

Corde: Is there anything they teach in school that I haven’t already learned yet?

It’s kind of funny how Misti’s attempt backfired.  It seems like everything Misti brought up that Corde could learn about in school she’s either done before or had no real interest in.  Misti wasn’t able to win Corde over on the few things they did teach that she didn’t learn at home.  She would have to read and write, two things Corde doesn’t really want to do at this point in her life.  She’s not inspired to do either, but to go to school she’d have to do lots of both.  She would have to go to the bathroom on a schedule.  She could only eat and drink at certain times of the day.  On top of that she’d have to go to bed earlier.  It’s not her idea of fun.

Misti tried a different approach, as several other people have in the past.  They started talking to her about all the friends she’d have in school.  Corde, who is a very social girl, was almost won over by this.  She wants nothing more than to have friends.  She complains that Beekee has more friends than she does in the area.  She wanted nothing more than to make some more friends.

Then she started to think about the kids she’d meet in school.  She thought about the kids she knows that go to school.  She always makes the same complaints, “All the ever seem to do is watch TV!  They want to talk about TV this and TV that.  It’s all about movies and TV shows.  They’re so boring!  Don’t they ever want to talk about interesting things?  It’s like all they ever do is watch TV!  I’d much rather play video games, or play anything at all.  TV is so boring.”

Corde has really had a rough time of it out here.  She’s had problems making friends since we moved.  First she was friends with Oz’s dad’s girlfriend’s daughter (how’s that for confusing) but she decided she didn’t like her too much.  “She’s too much of a know-it-all, but she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about most of the time.  She just wants to sound smart.”  Then we moved to the trailer park and she’s found the kids here aren’t anywhere near as nice as the kids in the last trailer park we lived in.

At the old trailer park you’d go out on a weekend and have to be careful not to get run over by kids!  They were all out in the street, playing together.  They didn’t care if they knew you or not, you instantly became their friend.  They would run around the neighborhood in a pack and it didn’t matter how old anyone was.  They all played together regardless of age, race, or creed.

This neighborhood is a lot different.  The kids are a lot more exclusive.  They don’t seem like they’re willing to open up their group to anyone new.  It sounds like it’s because these kids all go to school together and have lived in the same neighborhood for years.  They’re really not interested in anything but riding their bikes around the neighborhood in large circles, chasing each other around.  Corde doesn’t have a bike, so it means she can’t ride around with them, if they’d even let her.

Thinking about this she made a good point, “Even if I did go to school with them, nothing would change.  Why would they start playing with me just because I was in their class if they won’t play with me now?  It just doesn’t make sense.  They’ll be my friends or they won’t.  Going to school isn’t going to change that.”

She’s really right on that.  Going to the homeschool co-op didn’t help her make friends either.  She kind of felt like she was an outsider in a clique.  Sure, she made a couple of friends, but most of the kids were kind of stand-off-ish to her.  It was understandable because they had all known each other for years and she was just meeting them now, but she felt awkward.  I had to remind her that it takes time to make friends.  Not everyone is as open and friendly as she is.  I also reminded her that she was right, going to school wouldn’t help her be their friends any faster, it would just mean they had no choice but to spend time together.  Either she’d make friends quicker or she’d be very lonely because they still wouldn’t want to talk to her even though they were in class together.

Every point that she’s had thrown in her face has been batted back with equal skill.  She doesn’t see what Misti thinks is so great about school.  As she puts it, “Misti is so obsessed with school.  You’d think the whole world was about school to her.”  All she can see is that school would get in the way of doing so many of the things she wants to do and make her learn things she’s just not interested in right now.  I can follow her on that sentiment.

I don’t know why it is people seem to think they need to work away at her, wear down her senses until she’s really feeling like she has no choice but to go to school.  It’s like they think convincing her will make me do the right thing.  Unfortunately, all they’re doing is annoying her.  She knows what she wants and she hasn’t seen a single reason why going to school is so great.  Why is it everyone seems to think our decision is so wrong?  My child is growing up to be happy.  Isn’t that what really matters in the end?


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You’re Poor! Why Do You Do It? Shouldn’t You Be Working?

When I talk about unschooling, I always get the same questions.  Why do we do it?  Wouldn’t my family be so much better off if I were working instead?  Wouldn’t I get so much more done if my kids were in school?  How do I have any free time?  Aren’t I doing a disservice to my children because I can’t offer them the same opportunities that wealthier homeschooling families can provide?

I’ve had to think a lot about those answers.  Yes, our family would be a lot more financially stable if I were to put the kids in school and get a job, at least in theory.  I don’t think I’d get anything more done.  Actually, I think I’d have a lot less free time.  Sometimes I do wonder if my kids would be happier if I could provide more opportunities for them outside the house, more traveling.  However, the one thing I never question is why I do it.  I love my kids and I love the time I spend with them.

Sure, I’ve heard all the reasons people homeschool.  They can provide so much better of an education than the school system.  The school system indoctrinates children into a lifestyle that we should not be striving for and is simply there to subjugate the public, make them into a docile work force.  I can rattle off the banter just as well as anyone else, but the way I look at it, what good is it?  Why should I be making my argument about how bad the school system is and how much of an injustice it does to our children?  Other people are out there to fight that battle.  I’m not the voice of change in the world.  I do much better simply living by example, a peaceful and quiet revolution than to be marching forth with the battle cry of all those who believe the system is doing wrong by our country’s children.

I can make the financial argument too.  If you think about all the costs associated with school it’s not so cheap anymore.  First there’s the obvious cost everyone knows about, school supplies.  I tallied up the school supply cost for my daughter and it turned out to be well over a hundred dollars in school supplies alone!  Then there’s new clothing.  My daughter could probably get away with hand-me-down and second-hand clothing for school, but I haven’t had such luck with my boys.  Boys tend to get things too dirty or rip them, so finding second-hand stuff of quality for school isn’t easy.  I know.  I’ve looked.  That can mean expensive new clothes if I can’t find anything.  I can’t even buy new or used and hand it down through my boys because my oldest is so rough that there isn’t going to be much to hand down for much longer.  Ripped jeans and well-loved shirts are fine for my boys when they’re at home, but that’s not going to really work so well in school.  I could easily spend $400 per child on a school wardrobe each year.  I also just found out that they make you pay to take the in-town bus.  It’s somewhere between $15-35 per month per child.  Each child is slightly discounted, and there are discounts for low income families.  Even so, sending all my kids to school would work out to be $87 per month for them to take the bus.  I could walk them to school but my kids will never attend the same schools by the way the classes are broken down and the ages of my children.  One would be in elementary, one in the intermediate school, one in middle school, and one in high school.  It would be impossible to walk them all and I couldn’t imagine driving to four different schools and getting them all there in time.  It certainly wouldn’t be easy and would end up costing a good deal in gas, probably more than paying for the in-town bus fees.  Then there’s also unexpected costs, like field trips, class parties, and who knows what else.

All of those are good reasons to homeschool, but those aren’t my reasons for doing it.  My reasons to unschool are so much simpler.  You see, it really comes down to that issue of time and our schedules.  I like to joke that I unschool because I’m too lazy to do anything else!  Maybe that’s not so far from the truth.

Every morning we get up whenever we feel like it.  Generally I’m up around 7:30 and the kids are up an hour or two later, all depending on when they went to bed the night before.  They make themselves breakfast because I’m not allowed to.  They enjoy doing it too much, and if you ask my older two, I make everything wrong.  They know what they want and how they like it, so they go to it.  Generally this means cereal and milk.  Even Sander yells “I do it!  Sander do it!” if I try to make it for him.  I generally get online to check my e-mail in the morning before the kids wake up, then kick around the net until the kids wake up, all the while with Luca in my lap.  Admittedly, I don’t eat much in the way of breakfast.  I usually graze through the morning on whatever sounds appealing.  The morning is usually spent with the kids playing or working on some crazy art projects.  Sometimes the neighbor comes over and he and I hang out while the kids play with his dog, Nirvana.  In all of this Corde finds time to feed and water her cat, and sometimes remembers to scoop the litter box.  Sometime around noonish we all decide that we’re hungry so we all decide what we want for lunch.  My daughter likes to make tuna sandwiches or Ramen noodles.  She thinks the noodles are extra interesting because we’ve devised a way to make them without having a stove or microwave.  She thinks it’s the coolest thing ever, so that’s what she likes to eat.  The boys tend to like hot dogs or lunch meat sandwiches.  Again, I’m not allowed to help unless they ask for it.  They know how they like it.  Corde generally gets her video gaming in during the afternoon and Luca gets his hang-out time with the other boys.  He likes to lay on his belly, sometimes naked so he can air out.  Oz gets home and generally kicks the kids off the game system so he can play and they all go running off to their room.  He sometimes has friends over to game with him.  At some point we have dinner.  Many nights we make a family meal, but the kids know what they’re interested in eating.  Sometimes they eat with us.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes my daughter has been playing video games and doesn’t eat until 10:45 at night!  Then the kids generally either fall asleep watching a movie or they all pile into a tent they construct in my daughter’s room and pass out while playing camping, pirates, or whatever else.  Recently it’s been Peter Pan, Wendy, and the lost boy, only one because Luca’s not old enough to sleep in there yet.  Oz is generally the first to sleep, then the baby and I soon after.

Did you notice a few things lacking in there?  There was no formal lessons.  The kids do much of their own thing.  If you were take that at face value, you’d think the kids did their own thing all day and I ignored them.  Of course, that’s not filling in the details.  I’m asked a million questions a day.  My children have to show me every cool thing they invented.  Corde needs help with this and that on her game.  She has to talk about everything that’s going on in her game.  Corde is currently working on a cross-stitch project, her first one, and needs my help.  Then there’s all the stops for diaper changes and nursing the baby.  Sander needs frequent cuddles when he gets frustrated.  We’re just not living life on a schedule, aside from Sundays.  We’ve gotten some great new traditions for Sundays.  Hidden underneath all of that are all kinds of educational opportunities.  Best of all, I spend the whole day with my kids, aside from when I go off for a little bit of me time here and there, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

School would completely mess that up.  Not only would it cut into my own schedule and my time for myself, but it would also take away so much time that I spend with my kids.  Why would I want to do that?  When I need time to myself I can just walk away, or let Oz watch the kids while I go for a walk to the corner store.  I can work on a project while sitting right beside my kids.  I can be writing on my computer while watching the kids play video games (like now).  It’s amazing how much more time I have because my kids are home.  I can get so much done while doing things with them at the same time, and we all feel more fulfilled as a result.

That’s my real reason for unschooling.  It has nothing to do with all the benefits and all of that.  It just gives me the best opportunity to have a good relationship with my kids.  Beyond that, nothing else truly matters.


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Is Making Cupcakes an Art?

We’re having a chill day.  No one really feels like doing anything mentally stimulating, at least obviously so.  The kids just want to kick back and veg, and, honestly, so do I.  We’ve had a lot of things going on the past few days.  We’ve had friends over.  We’ve done lots of crafts.  There’s just been a lot of stuff going on in general.  Sometimes a day of kicking back and watching Netflix really is the order of things.

Netflix has apparently changed it’s system.  It used to log in and send you straight to the informational section.  Now it has an option of choosing to browse “Just for Kids”.  I was hoping to find some educational entertainment on there, but most of the listings were general cartoons and stuff geared towards preschoolers.  There were a few PBS shows that my kids loved, but I didn’t see them while I was scrolling around today.  I didn’t feel like looking through everything like I did last night, so I was ready to give up and start scanning documentaries and other things I might like watching.

Of course, just as I was about to give up, Corde cried, “Cupcakes!  There’s a show about cupcakes!”

I looked at the currently highlighted movie, squinting a little because I’m a bit on the blind side without my glasses and I don’t have the money to get new ones right now.  Sure enough, she was right.  There was a show about cupcake bakers.  I selected that and off we went, watching all about these cupcake bakers.

DC Cupcakes is really a great show for anyone who wants to be a creative baker.  My daughter thought it was cool because it was about cupcake bakers, so she didn’t expect to be drawn in for more than one episode.  Instead she found it to be an incredibly entertaining show and both she and Beekee have been sucked in.

It’s not just about baking cupcakes, though that’s pretty cool.  Corde now wants to learn how to bake cupcakes.  I think I’m going to have to see about getting her a cupcake maker because it’s so much easier than setting up for baking.  I really liked the cupcake baker that her friend had.  Then we can work on cupcakes.  I just have a feeling I’m going to have to search for some really good deals on stuff for my baker with big dreams!  I have a feeling we’re going to be buried in cupcakes and fondant if I let her run with this.  I hope she makes a lot of friends so she can give them all away!  Otherwise we’ll all be getting fat!

The wonderful thing about DC Cupcakes is the way it’s inspired my kids.  She’s learning about baking.  She’s learning about the things that go into making new cupcake flavors.  Best of all she loves the crazy art pieces they create in each episode.  They’ve made a Mardi Gras mask, a glow in the dark guitar, a fire truck, all out of cupcakes.  She said they’re like crazy cupcake artists.

Not only that, Corde is getting some ideas on what they go through to run their business.  These women both quit their regular jobs to pursue their dream.  They’re living the life they want to and have taken a huge risk in the process.  It’s not a small thing to give up “success” to start a business that realistically could fail.  It’s more important to live the way you love than to do what the conventional world calls “successful”.  She thinks this is the best show ever.

I think after this I’m going to have to be prepared for Corde to take on a whole new direction in life.  I know she hasn’t really found a strong focus in her life.  She’s just interested in art in any and every form.  First it was traditional art and drawing.  After that it was painting.  She found knitting and sewing after that.  Cross stitch was her newest love until now.  She’s now stuck on cupcakes.  I have to wonder if she’s going to find some way to string it all together into some fantastic new vision.

I guess I need to start thinking ahead for Christmas already.  I wonder if I can get figure out some way to make sure she’s got a  cupcake and craft themed Christmas this year.  I’m going to have to do some price shopping.  I’d love to inspire her to try as many forms of art as my little artist can take!


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A New Love, A New Craft

It’s been over a year since I decided to buy a whole bunch of craft projects for the kids.  Most of the craft projects were used up within six months of purchasing them.  My kids love craft projects, so little mosaic projects, painting, all of that goes quickly.  They just can’t wait to bust them out and get started.  I’d kind of expected that all of the projects would go that way, but two seemed to get lost in the mix.  Silly me, I’d bought them but I didn’t really put too much thought into whether or not my daughter would be interested.  I just kind of assumed she would think it was something she wanted to work on.

For just over a year these two projects went forgotten.  I’d decided I would do one of them myself as soon as I finished the baby blanket I was making for Sander.  It would be the next project on my list.  I figured the other one, a much more child-oriented project of a Kitten with a Yarn Ball, would either sit around until someone decided to pick it up, or it would eventually go to someone who would make it up.

Out of the blue, just after moving into our trailer, Corde stumbled upon it in my bedroom.  She literally stumbled upon it.  Somehow the package was sticking out on the floor and tripped her.  All I heard, in my half-awake mid-afternoon daze from laying down to nurse the baby was Corde’s voice saying “What the…?  Oh!  Cool!  Mom, can we work on this?”

I have to admit, at the time I did exactly the wrong thing that a parent working towards unschooling and gentle parenting probably should do.  I got annoyed, snatched it from her, and tossed it telling her we’d do it later.  Thankfully, my kids know when I’m tired I get super cranky and those very early days of Luca’s life I was exhausted and really needed naps that I was unable to find time for with four kids in a new house and trying to unpack while Oz worked a full-time job.  I was extremely burnt out.  I was just afraid that I’d put Corde off from it and she’d never want to do it again.

About a week or two later the little project resurfaced while I was picking up the baby blanket again.  I decided it was a little sad that my middle son was already two and a half and his blanket still wasn’t done, so I wanted to get cracking on it.  It would be nice to have it finished before he turned three!  That’s when my daughter materialized with the project again and said in her sulky way that implies she thinks I’m not going to have the time for her, “I really wish I could work on this project…”

With a deep sigh I tried to figure out how I was going to disentangle myself from the threads I was separating for my own project and started to try and figure out how we would make this whole thing work.  I had this whole mental image of how I would have to teach her to count the squares, figure out where she needed to start because the chart made it seem so much more complicated than it was, and how I was going to show her the tips and tricks I learned from my mom.  Needless to say, I was definitely over-complicating things.  All she wanted was to do the embroidery and she didn’t really care about all the tips, tricks, counting aides, and all of that.  Then there was figuring how much time we’d have given the amount of light we had left in the day because there’s no good place to sit and get enough light in the house after the sun goes down.  There was a storm coming in, so that would probably make a difference too.

My daughter, feeling my sigh was a sign of exasperation, not me trying to think it all out, said, “I know you’re busy mom.  It’s just such a cute little project.  I really hope we can try it soon.”

I have to admit, I was a little snappy in telling her just to hold on a minute, but my thread had decided to get tangled in a knot in the process of separating the strands of embroidery floss.  It was making me crazy and it sucked up all my concentration for that moment.  I have to wonder if my daughter was starting to second-guess her decision to do the project because apparently the embroidery floss was a frustrating creature, but she just tried to wait patiently, petting the small picture of the kitten on the front with her finger while longingly admiring the beautiful work.

Corde stitching the ball of yarn

When I finished getting the knot out I turned to her and said, “Pull out your instructions.  Get me the needle.  Let’s get this thing going before it’s too dark to work on.  I promise, this is much easier than I make it look.  My mom taught me all kinds of tricks to help with everything too.  I’ll show you all about it.”

Corde looked like she would burst with joy as she pulled out all the materials and started to stare at the directions, very confused.  She can read well enough now that she probably could have read them if she wanted to, but with the French translation below she was a little lost on these strange words.  Then there were the graphs and all the diagrams showing what you were supposed to do.  She’d never been faced with instructions like these before.

As she looked it all over I patiently stitched in guide stitches the way my mom showed me to help with the counting and off we went.  Of course, the guide lines barely lasted through the first complete row as she thought they were more of a hassle than it was worth.  Besides, she wasn’t even using them for their intended purpose.  She was making up her own tips and tricks as she went and she was doing fairly well with it.  She needed a lot of guidance, and her tricks probably wouldn’t work well for a very large project, but for what she was starting on it was perfectly fine.

In the first day she’d worked through nearly half the ball of yarn in the little kitty’s paws.  She worked on it the next day and the day after that.  Then the project went down and she seemed to completely forget about it.  I kind of figured that would happen.  I used to do the same thing.  I’d sadly never finished a project until adulthood and the only project I had managed to finish was one out of the two bibs I made to go with my son’s blanket.  I kind of figured it would end here and the project would go on unfinished for months until she remembered it again, did another small section, and then forgot it again.

Corde stitching the yellow of the calico

Much to my surprise she picked it up again a little less than a week later, determined to finish that ball of yarn.  The first few days she wanted to work on it the light was already too dim.  She’d been too stuck on Assassin’s Creed or playing Borderlands with me to remember it.  Then, just a couple of days ago, she seemed to realize that we’d have the best light if she started early, while Oz was at work, and I’d be the least distracted and most able to help if she ambushed me the moment both boys went down for a nap.  We were off again and the little ball of yarn was worked to completion in no time.

Next she was cruising through the yellow for the little calico.  It wasn’t long before the shape of the kitten really started to become clear.  The black was added in nearly no time, then both ears went on like they were nothing.  All she’s got left is the outline and that’s going to take her near no time to do.  She’s cruising her way through it.  Thankfully, I had some money leftover between my Amazon Associates account and a gift card Oz got at work to buy her a new project for when this one is finished.  I was able to order her another project about the same size and got myself a project to do along side her.  She’s really excited about having some mother-daughter craft time.  I just wish I could figure out how to get the boys involved.  I know they’d all enjoy sitting and doing something together.  It’s just too bad the slats in our porch are so spread out that needles, thread, and other needed things could fall through and would mean ripping up our sadly dilapidated porch to get it, something we’re not really willing to do.  It would be great to be able to sit outside in the sunshine as it gets cooler while the boys run wild and play like my mom used to do with us when I was young.  I know Corde would love it too!

Corde checking out the chart before we start the next color

Best of all, she’s really proud of herself.  She’s learning how to use the chart to tell where each stitch must be made.  She’s really getting creative with figuring out how to do things she doesn’t know how to do.  Already she’s asking about when she can start on a bigger, more complicated project.  I told her she should probably stick with the little ones for a while.  Of course, she was disappointed at this, thinking I was going to make her stick with the small ones until she did them “so perfectly”.  She’s still kind of stuck on more traditional learning, thinking she’s got to master the task before she can move on to the next.  Thankfully, a little bit of explanation helped her accept that maybe I was actually right in this case.  It’s more than just about learning skills.  They’re cheap, which means we can get them for her more frequently.  If she practices her skills she won’t need my help at all before long and she can teach her friends like she wants to.  On top of that, the smaller projects mostly come with something to frame them, so as soon as she’s done she just frames them, trims the edges, and puts them up on the wall.  It’s so much more satisfying than having to wait to save up for a new project and for a frame for the last project.  She’s decided she’ll have the whole house decorated in no time!


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First Day of the School Year

Today is the first day of school, and I have to admit, I was overjoyed that my kids wouldn’t be packed up and shipped off to some over-crowded classroom.  We got up when we wanted, ate when we wanted.  It started out a nice, relaxed day.

Then the learning started.  It wasn’t like most families.  We didn’t have a curriculum or anything like that.  There’s nothing wrong with that for families that do choose to raise their children that way, but it’s not us.  However, learning did occur without me even trying to inspire it.  Learning just comes so easily and naturally.

First it was a little spider while I was sitting outside talking to the neighbor.  It was on our porch, and while I normally wouldn’t say anything about it, it’s the first school day of the year and I felt that I should at least do something educational.  I’m not the kind of person to “sneak in learning” as I’ve heard other parents do, but I figured I can do something at the very least.  It doesn’t take much to get a kid motivated towards learning.  I called them over to check out the spider.  It was a tiny jumping spider and the kids thought it was pretty cool.  Sander even waved and said “Hi, spider!”  This led to finding out that jumping spiders tether with spider silk as they jump.  Then we talked about spider silk being super strong and found out about a cape that was made of spider silk.

Unfortunately, the neighbor was being quite a distraction.  He’s one of those people that’s hard to get rid of.  He just comes on over and expects to hang out all day, like I don’t have kids, a house to clean, and a life.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy and all, but having him over every day does wear on the family as a whole.  He always wants to hop on the video games and the kids get sucked in to the idiot box.  While normally I’m perfectly happy to let my kids watch television, movies, or play video games, they need to moderate it themselves.  If I were to turn the television on and be watching it all day, or to play games all day, my kids would sit there, glued to the television until I turned it off.  If they’ve got the power to decide what they use and when, they do much better.  At least when it comes to sitting down as a family we usually have a lot of interaction, but with the neighbor, he plays the game and tunes everyone out but the adults.  Sadly, it almost seems as though he wishes we could just ignore the kids while he’s here because he wants all the focus on him.  It’s frustrating because his need to hop on the game system was a total distraction from our cool discussion about spiders.  The kids tuned out and that was the end of that.

Later on Sander made his own discovery.  He realized that the light that comes on when you open the dryer is controlled by a button-like switch, just like the refrigerator.  He had to experiment with pressing it to make the light go off.  Then he had to tell me all about it, which isn’t much from him yet.  “Look!  Mom.  Light go on!  Light go off!”  I know it’s on par for a child that’s only two-and-a-half, but it’s still cute.  He was so excited about the discovery that he had to show me that it was just like the one in the refrigerator.  Sadly, he discovered that at two.  I didn’t discover that until I was much older, in high school, I think, just because I was never allowed to “play with the fridge” and investigate how it worked.

He also decided today would be a potty day.  He hasn’t actually used the toilet and has had a few accidents, but he’s decided diapers are no longer his friend.  They’re uncomfortable when he’s wet and he’d rather not bother with them.  It’s frustrating because he doesn’t seem to ever make the connection that he has to pee until it’s too late and seems to think peeing on the floor is kind of funny.  I guess I can see where he’s coming from, but it’s a frustration for me.  I just have to remember to take a deep breath and stay calm.  He won’t be going through this forever.  Sooner or later he will learn to use the toilet, whenever he’s ready.

Corde later questioned how long babies breastfeed.  I told her it depended on the baby, so she asked how long she and her older brothers breastfed.  Then she said she wondered how long it would be for Luca.  I joked that Luca loves the boob juice so much he’ll never stop breastfeeding!  Corde said that some day I’ll die and then he’ll starve because he can’t have anyone’s breastmilk but mine!  That’s when we got onto the topic of a wet nurse.  She thought that was really interesting, but shamed rich people for not having taken the time to feed their own babies.  She said they must have been some pretty bad moms back then.

Beekee’s interests of the day?  He was too busy building space ships to really do much learning about an actual subject.  He needed to make sure his space ship had enough weapons in case the aliens attacked it.  Then he had to tell me that it was full of weapons so that they can defend themselves when the zombies attack.  He came up with a whole story about how zombies attacked and found out that they can eat through a spaceship, but they have to carry tools because their teeth would break because people teeth aren’t made to eat metal, unless they were alien zombies.  I guess then all bets are off.  Corde wisely pointed out that his lesson today was in story telling because he’s going to become the greatest sci-fi writer ever.

I think that’s the most brilliant part about unschooling!  My kids can recognize when they’re learning new skills, even if they don’t have a letter grade to prove it.  You can’t really have an accurate test of storytelling skills aside from telling the stories and seeing what people think.  There’s no real way to prepare you for whatever your future may bring.  Corde thinks she’s going to be a mom some day and thinks that learning how to take care of a baby now is really important.  She mostly wants to be an artist, but she recognizes that other life skills are necessary.  It’s always useful to know how to take care of kids, “so I can babysit when I’m older to save money for art supplies”.  She decided she was going to make noodles for everyone for lunch, “because I need to know how to cook when I grow up or I’ll starve!  No one can afford to eat out all the time and I can’t hope someone else will be nice enough to do it for me.  What if I live alone?”  She wants to be the one to teach her brothers how to cook, “So I can practice teaching.  Maybe I can teach art some day!”  She’s really thinking about her future and what skills might be fun and useful to her.  As I’ve told her time and time again, you never know what you’re going to be until you get there, and even if you follow a dream your whole life, you may not want to do it anymore after you’ve given it a try.  It never hurts to try other things.  Who knows?  You may even find something you love even more.

Of course, this is all probably scattered.  Today has been the day of a million questions.  Since all the other kids are in school Corde seems to feel that she needs to be learning today.  Beekee could care less about learning, but since his sister is asking all these questions, he is too.  Then there’s Sander, who is always a bit of a handful in and of himself.  It definitely keeps life interesting, and most of all, I have no doubts that my kids are learning.  You don’t need a school to give them that!