Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Co-op Week Three

What a week! The kids were up late, so we were late for co-op again. We just couldn’t get moving in the morning. I think I need to get up an hour earlier and have everything ready to go before bed. Next week we should be much more prepared.

This week the kids had a lot of fun. Beekee got to have a race with his racer. Corde got her racer running and did an experiment with that. They both started their three   week study of the Civil War. Even Sander made a cute project where he made Lincoln’s log cabin with a penny for Lincoln. It was so cute!

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I didn’t get to spend much time with my kids, aside from Luca, who was having a cranky, mom obsessed day. He was fine the first week. The past two weeks he hasn’t wanted to let me out of his sight!

I have to admit, I’m exhausted. I don’t see how the kids aren’t curling up for a nap right now. I’m ready for a nap myself!

Next week Corde has her final draft of a writing assignment due. She should have her history and Latin books. I need to figure out the writing book. We should be getting on track. Now if only daylight savings would end so I can feel less guilty about my apparent inability to adjust my sleep schedule!

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You Have to Do What? By When? You’re Crazy!

Oh, the co-op… We’ve barely started and already there’s drama. I mean the “dog ate my homework” kind of drama. This could be a long year.

It’s really kind of my fault. I should have read the syllabus. I would have known the homework for this week. I should have printed out her vocabulary cards and gotten them done. However, I didn’t and I’m now kicking myself. Thankfully it’s just one class, but I feel like I should have stayed on top of it all. This week was so much chaos.

I can’t say as I would have had much time to do it all. First we had our appointment with family services on Monday. Tuesday Scott left for California. Wednesday we got to meet the new neighbors and it was kid craziness. Today we met with our family services case worker, applied for food stamps for the third time to get the renewal going, and took Oz to reapply for his old city job. Now that we have a car he can actually keep the job. Thankfully, they’re interviewing in two weeks and he gets to be in the first group of interviews because they’ve already trained him. It may not seem like much, but add regular errands, like cashing checks, grocery shopping, and everything else and we just ran out of time.

So what’s the big deal? Corde had to do a key word outline for her paper. She then had to write a rough draft of a story based on that outline. The rough draft is due tomorrow. I found out right before she went to bed. She swore she had no homework! I should have known better. I was the same way.

Thankfully it’s not every day we have a member of our household come in or out of our lives. Her teacher will hopefully be understanding. Everyone knows about my road trip to Georgia now, I’m sure. The situation with Scott will be news, but with everything we’ve had going on and never having done anything so formal before, hopefully everyone will be understanding.

So, keep your fingers crossed for Oz getting that job! It would be enough to put us one step closer to something better. Either that or if he gets a salary management position at his current job, that would work too. However, working for the city is better hours, better benefits, and a job we know he loves a lot more. And keep your fingers crossed for Cords and her lack of homework assignment.


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Real, Run of the Mill Homeschoolers?

Is this what it is to be a “normal” homeschooler? We get up in the morning to recite poetry and character traits. Next we bust out the books. There’s workbook pages, copy work, variations, coloring, and reading. We explore history in something other than the haphazard, chaotic way we have before. One idea leads to another and we can see the progression of events leading up to their current outcome. It’s fascinating. At the same time it seems like some alien life force has taken over. This is not my family! This is not how we do things! This isn’t how we learn!

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty. We’re usschoolers. This isn’t the way preschoolers work. Workbooks are supposed to be evil or something. Copy work is the worst thing in the world. I must be torturing my children with making them do all this boring stuff. It’s very much in the style of school at home. I feel like I’m giving up something so very central to my life and to our family.

At the same time I can’t deny that the kids are having fun with it. Beekee likes his copy work and writing his letters. He likes to point out how all the words need their personal space. To him it’s all a game. They like memorizing their poems because it makes them feel good to have accomplished it. They’re also having fun with delivery techniques. Cords and I practice reciting like it’s a stage act, or like Anne does in Anne of Green Gables, which we will also be reading this year. It’s been a lot of fun.

I know unschooling is all about the kids and they’re having fun with it. I’m trying to focus on the fun that’s coming out of it. The kids are strengthening their memories and learning skills. For Beekee reading and writing may be the passport to everything he wants to learn. Corde is getting a chance to embrace some things she never tried before, like Latin. Sander is mostly just playing with other kids his age, but he is also learning his letters. His speech is improving. He’s getting confident with his counting. It’s been good for them.

And as radical of an unschooler as I see myself, I find myself debating the idea of keeping this up even if we move away from the co-op some day. Isn’t that shocking? I always rebelled against the traditional model because it wasn’t free enough. Now I’m embracing it. I like it so much I could keep up with it until all the kids are grown! What’s happening to me?!?

All joking aside, I’m glad this is fun. I could totally do this long term. I also won’t complain about going back to our crazy unschooling ways. We’ll be a little wiser after all of this. Corde’s math skills will be better. Beekee might just know how to read and write. Sander will see that more traditional school doesn’t have to be boring. Luca won’t see much difference at his age, but I’m sure it’ll filter down. It’s amazing how things get passed on from one kid to another. He’ll probably benefit from this some way or another.

This is an exciting new adventure. It’s about time to a new one.


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Hard at Work

I’m going to take a break from everything (including an incredibly engaging religious discussion) to write a bit about our weekend. We’ve been surprisingly hard at work in a very unusual way for our family.

As I’ve already written, we’re a part of a pretty intense co-op this year. This is in part an attempt to open the kids up to some new and interesting things. The kids also begged me to be a part of it. It feels challenging for me because we’re adopting a more “school at home” kind of approach, something that doesn’t mesh with me at all. It’s mostly what the kids want, so I’m going with it. That’s what we’re all about.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. I don’t think Corde knew what she was getting herself into. Her math facts aren’t strong. Her writing skills are pretty weak. She can’t spell to save her life. She hasn’t really used any of those skills. You can even see by the way she forms her letters and numbers that she taught herself. I tried to teach her properly once upon a time. She just had to do it her own way.

Unfortunately for her, this whole thing isn’t as much fun as she thought. She wants to learn about Egyptian history and mummies all of the sudden. The last time she went through this phase, and every time before that, she’s had nightmares for weeks. This time might be different, but it’s in conflict with what she’s learning now. We’re on the modern era. She’s learning some pretty neat stuff that sets the stage for things that are happening now, or happened not all that long ago. One of the lessons was on events in Afghanistan that likely prefaced a lot of our current conflict there. She got to study Dr. Livingstone’s travels in Africa, which played a part in many of the modern conflicts there. They read about the opening of Japan’s borders to the outside world, which influenced Japan’s choice to be involved in World War II. That undoubtedly resulted in Japan’s change from militaristic towards being the leaders in many technologies. If it weren’t for that step in the chain of events, PlayStation and Nintendo may never have been created. Her beloved anime might never have been created. She may have no manga to read!

But all Corde sees is history is all about war. We’re going to spend three weeks on the Civil War and all the facets of that. She won’t be happy about that. She wants to learn about something fun. I’m interested to see what she thinks when she finds out the hippie revolution was a direct reaction to the Vietnam War. It will be even more interesting to see what she thinks of the last week of class. They have September 11th on the syllabus for that week. The events of that day resulted in our lives being where they are now. There is every chance the war in Iraq never would have started if the events that day had never happened. Her dad may have never enlisted. A deployment wouldn’t have given me a clear view of how unhealthy our relationship was, nor would we be in Texas. Oz wouldn’t have deployed either. He never would have gotten married and divorced from the girl he chose. Most of all, he and I probably wouldn’t have met, so Sanders and Luca may never have existed. Beekee might not have been born either as we only decided to try for another because we wanted to have one more before Corde’s dad left for the military. We weren’t sure when we would have another chance unless we waited until Corde was much older. History shapes a lot in the world, and one major event truly can be life changing. It will be interesting to see how she takes it, especially since, as far as I know, she’s the only one in the co-op with a former military parent. Maybe that’s why she has such a thing against war.

History is hard for her in so many ways. She has to remember facts. She has tests to complete. She needs to fill in answers and actually think about it. It’s not all edible maps of Africa. She also has to learn about a lot of things she just doesn’t care about. Some of it’s neat, like Queen Victoria and the Great Exhibition. Some of it just seems pointless to her. As we get through the Civil War there may be other topics of interest. They talk about Indira Ghandi and Eva Peron, two very powerful women in a world where politics is largely dominated by men. There’s the prohibition and women’s suffrage, of course. We might do a side project on Bonnie and Clyde. I think the kids would get a kick out of that. I want to find some of the old radio shows to go with that era, especially since they have the option to read War of the Worlds. That could be a fun radio show to listen to. There’s also my personal favorite. “Who knows what darkness lies in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” I used to love The Shadow. We could make this a lot of fun, but not if Corde doesn’t want to give it a chance.

Math is another subject causing stress. Since Corde hasn’t been made to memorize her times tables, sums, and all of that, she can’t keep up on the math tests. They do speed tests to test their memory for math facts. Corde isn’t very good at this. As a result we’ve busted out math workbooks. Right now she’s working on place values, since she’s very bad at that. She understands the general concepts. She can actually say the numbers the way she’s supposed to. She just doesn’t get place values the way most kids do. I figure it’s a nice, light place to start. The workbook then goes into large number addition and subtraction, then into multiplication, and finally fractions, which should be easy as she likes to cook! Still, she’s frustrated because she doesn’t feel as smart as the other kids because she doesn’t have the same general education they have. She could talk your ear off about the American Revolution. She lectured her dad and step-mom on the evils of Walmart. She can tell you tons about the food industry and GMOs. Obviously she’s really bright. She just knows different stuff than the rest of her class, which is what I think makes life interesting. She seems to disagree.

As a result of all this, we’ve been hard at work. We covered three chapters in history this weekend. Corde did a bunch of pages in her math workbook. Tomorrow we start on her writing homework. She has to make a list of keywords from a story. This week we’re going to focus on her math and writing skills. We’ll be doing a lot of workbook pages and a bunch of stories to practice her keyword exercises. That will also help her spelling skills as she writes the same words over and over. We have one and a half chapters to cover in history, which will bring us into the Civil War. We also need to start reading Heidi.

For Beekee, the work seems to be fun. He likes his writing and grammar. We’ve been learning about nouns. I like the First Language Lessons way of teaching grammar and all, but the first few weeks seem to be so short. I can get through the day’s lesson in less than ten minutes. The Writing with Ease format is kind of easy for him too. However, it’s got Beekee writing. Today he did copy work from Alice in Wonderland. He only wrote two sentences, but that’s more than Corde was writing at that age. She was mostly working on letter sounds and single words. I feel a little funny having him copy words he can’t yet read, but he’s building familiarity with the words, writing his letters, and all of that. I have no idea what he’s doing in math class, but I suppose I need to get working on his math facts too. For now my focus is on getting him writing a bit more independently. That will make my life easier. Plus, he will undoubtedly start learning to read by learning to write. If you write a word enough times it tends to stick with you. I know Beekee has always lover books. I get the feeling teaching him to read will be opening a door to something that will always have him busy. Boredom may be something he and I don’t have to fight over, at least not for a while.

On top of everything else we’ve been doing, we’ve started on the memory work. Corde and Beekee have the chance to earn character cards. They have to memorize the name of the trait, the meaning, and five things they will do to display that trait. They don’t have it down yet, but Corde’s pretty close. They also each have to memorize a poem that’s due in three weeks. I started them early because I thought it would be a challenge, but they’re doing surprisingly well. Corde has to do How Doth the Little Crocodile. She’s just working on polish and delivery. For two days of working on it, I’m impressed. This is from the girl that claims she has a bad memory! Beekee has The Caterpillar, which we made more fun with a couple of gestures for the second half. Hewags his finger when we talk about toads. His hand swoops through the air for the birds. When they talk about spinning he rolls his hands around each other, then accents the final line with a shadow puppet hand motion for a butterfly. He’s having fun with it. I hope we can get a video of that to share. I know the kids would like to show off their poetry reciting skills! They’re both very excited about it since Corde loves poetry and Beekee just loves showing off.

Sadly, today we didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. We had to deal with our most recent CPS problem. Keep our family in your thoughts, prayers, or well-wishes. Things have gotten better, but we’re not out of the woods yet. We’re taking it one step at a time. Oz is once again looking for a second job. I’m looking for a job I can work while still homeschooling or working around Oz’s schedule. We’re looking to upgrade to a nicer trailer park, you know, one that actually takes care of it’s properties. We have leaks and our refrigerator is slowly going out, but they won’t replace it. That’s not even mentioning the bug problem and the waspscthat keep getting in somehow! We’re taking all the positive energy, prayers, well-wishes, whatever you have to offer! We want to find ourselves back on solid ground so we can keep doing pretty cool things and writing all about it!


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The Whole Family at Co-op

Yesterday was an interesting day. For the first time the whole family got to go to co-op. By that I really mean everyone. Oz even jumped on board. He wanted to see what exactly we were paying for and why it was so important to me.

Poor Luca decided co-op is no longer fun. He cried when he went to class and every time he saw me he started crying all over again. It was horrible. He seems to think co-op is the worst thing ever. Of course, after four days in a car and crying for over an hour at nap time last week, I can see why he would be unhappy about it. He’ll get used to it in time.

Sander, on the other hand, had a blast.  He loves his art class, science class, and circle time. He was so exhausted that he fell asleep with Minket during the movie hour at the end of the day. He must have played hard!

For the first week of class, Beekee didn’t do too bad. He made an edible map of Africa. Then he had writing with me. He’s obviously way behind on his writing skills. One kid in his class writes in cursive. The other writes better than Corde. He’s doing pretty well if I have him copy what I write, but he’s not really good at paying attention. The comprehension issues are really starting to become a challenge and we just started. Of course, comprehension isn’t so much the issue as listening. I read and he tunes out. He doesn’t like to listen to people read. In science he caught up on his racer and got to do the experiment with the rest of his class. He went from science to lunch, then came back to Latin, which he said was awesome. After that he seemed to be having a good time in art. (Check out Fiber Arts for Kids for info on what Cords and Beekee are doing in art!) Math and memory was such an inspiring class that Beekeepers remembers nothing about it.

It was Corde that was unhappy about the co-op from the start. She thought the classes would be hard and boring. She was surprised at how much she enjoyed it. In art she carded wool. Her writing class got mixed up and she went to the wrong room, but she got it all figured out. She made an edible map of Africa too. She seems to like her history class. After lunch she had Latin, where she learned the days of the week. She also learned what carpet diem meant, though we’d already talked about it in the car on the trip home. I always thought of her as being one of those kids that likes to participate, bit it seems she’s more the kind that likes to sit back and chat with her friends. I’m not sure how much she’ll get out of co-op time. At least I know we’ll get some learning in between classes. After that she went to science. She’s almost caught up on her racer, and by next week she’ll be right on track. I think that’s possibly her favorite class. She complained about math and memory because they’re doing times tables and she’s not good at that.

Next week we go back to literature. I need to find a copy of the lit book we’re using. I think the lit teacher for my class might swap with me to teach math and memory. I’m not so good with the math and don’t know where to start. I’m decent with higher level math. Give me equations to solve and I’m great, but don’t quiz me on my times tables, or even on simple addition and subtraction! However, explaining literary concepts isn’t hard for me at all. I love talking about all of that.

Something else I didn’t realize we would be doing is character cards. Each month a new character trait is introduced. The kids all memorize theocrats and the “I will” statements. Once they memorize it, they recite it. After that they earn a card to put in their math and memory notebook. I think that’s kind of neat. It’s a good reminder of ways to build a strong, positive character.

Finally, I have to start working with the kids on memorizing their poems. They aren’t due for another three weeks, but it may take three weeks to get them memorized. Neither of the big kids have good memories, at least from their own admission. Corde can’t recall something we read about in history five minutes before, but she can recall random facts from six months ago like she just learned them that day. I just want to be sure the kids succeed. It would really stink if they started getting down on themselves because their first real brush with a more traditional homeschool curriculum leaves them far behind. These families are no slackers either. They clearly push reading, writing, and math. My kids have a very different background.

Anyhow, we do have one thing going to our advantage. The history book has a few chapters as a free download, so the kids won’t be too far behind. The whole book is $25, but the Kindle edition is only $10. The Latin book isn’t the cheapest, but we only need one for Corde. I can probably get the writing book for Corde later. I can borrow the books for Beekee’s class. That certainly helps until I can get my own. Three books, one being so much less expensive on Kindle, won’t be too bad. We’ll be back in the swing of things in no time! I really can’t wait!


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Opening New Doors

Today was a busy day. We tried to catch up on all the co-op stuff from last week, and to get all the work from this week done. Two weeks of work just can’t be done in two days, especially with missing two books and the required supplies to do some of it. I feel like we accomplished nothing, yet so much all at once.

This year is going to be hard for Beekee. He’s got to sit down, pay attention, and follow directions. Those are things he isn’t good at. He didn’t pay attention to any of this week’s history lesson. He’s supposed to do a narration tomorrow for his class, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to. That implies he’ll know anything about what we read. He’s not used to this sort of thing.

Corde thought the science was interesting. She couldn’t wait to build her racer. We just ran out of time. There was also a lot of use of a glue gun, and I don’t know where my glue gun is. We’re going to have to play catch-up tomorrow in class. I hope they don’t mind. I would have loved to do it, but we just ran out of time. Getting home on Tuesday night really slowed us down. I only read the first chapter of history yesterday, so I didn’t get much of a start. I had hoped to build the racers today, but there was just so much to do.

History isn’t much fun for Corde right now. She wants to be studying ancient Egypt. The thing about Queen Victoria and the Great Exhibition was interesting, but it didn’t captivate her. The Sepoy revolt was of no interest. The opening of Japan’s borders for trade was just as dull. The Crimean War only held little interest. She was really just having none of it. I hope history picks up for her. I have to admit, The Story of the World series is interesting, but kind of flat. It doesn’t read like a text book, but it isn’t the most engaging. The people and subjects it picks up are pretty great though. I just wish Corde would be a little more open to it. She could find out about some really interesting parts of history she didn’t know about before.

Writing and Latin are my weak spots right now. I don’t have the books, so I can’t catch Corde up. Of course, we just plain didn’t have time. I couldn’t fit all of that in two days. Even if we did have the books, it would be too much for our schedule.

I just feel like maybe I’m breaking too far away from unschooling. At the same time, this is a great way to open new doors for the kids. Beekee will ha’ve so much more ability to explore the world around him if he can read. Corde’s writing skills will improve. They both get the chance to study parts of history I didn’t learn about in school. They get to work on science projects I would never have thought of. Even Sander is being exposed to science, and history too, if I remember right.

This co-op also does us a huge service. My ex was going on and on about the education level of the kids. He complained that Corde couldn’t even read first grade level books. Beekee couldn’t count to twenty. Therefor I must not be educating my kids. Honestly, I know my kids will learn the skills they need in life. I don’t want to force education on them. At the same time I kind of want to prove my ex wrong, especially since he’s the reason I homeschool. He used to think school was horrible and swore his kids would never go. Next thing I know I have Corde telling me he was trying to convince her school was so much better. It would be great to show him just how much more the kids know than his step kids. Of course, he’ll probably credit them with being smarter than his step kids, not with how much they’re exposed to, but it would make me feel good. It would also be nice to have the proof of their education should he decide to bring their education in court. It would just help smooth everything over.

No matter how I look at it, the co-op is going to be so good for the kids. We may go back to schooling next year, or we may continue this format and co-op next year. Either way this will help the kids open their minds a bit wider. That’s all I really need.


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Home Again

Wow, that was some weekend. I went to Georgia to pick up the kids. It turned into a three day trip. It wasn’t at all what I wanted to do. It was a long trip. The little guys were along for the ride too. That certainly made it harder. (Check out our pictures on Instagram! Look for sarasynfox)

The reunion with the kids was less than stellar. It was raining. Sander and Luca were pretty sweaty, stinky, and gross from traveling. Corde and Beekee didn’t want to get in the car. I didn’t even get a hug. Their step-mom kept whispering things to them. It was awful. Sadly, a lot of what happened was very telling that something was wrong. I just couldn’t tell what until hours later. Corde eventually spilled and told on her Georgia family. I felt bad for her situation. Her visit didn’t have to go that way. She could have had a great time. Instead she came back with so many bad things to say.

The first ten minutes I was getting the picture Corde would never forgive me.  It turns out she was made to pinky swear she wouldn’t talk to me. Beekee was hyper and refused to listen to me. Things that were sworn to be happening for the good of the children turned out to never have happened at all. Corde is even convinced her step-mom was trying to get them sick. They both came home on antibiotics. Neither are terribly convinced they need them, nor is it convincing that they were ever sick. They don’t act it. It turns out they weren’t even getting their meds right. They were told twice a day bit have been getting it once a day. I can see why she’s concerned. There’s too much that worries me about ever sending them back, including completely ignoring dairy-free with Beekee and our conclusion that he can’t have sports drinks. They told him he had to try the Georgia kind, yet Corde knew that wasn’t true. Neither one causes a deadly problem. Not all allergies have you puking in the ER or getting a shot. I should know. I have enough of them. I’m furious about that because now I need to get him in good habits again and he’s resistant. I understand it’s hard for him. Like me, he craves the things he shouldn’t have. Once he’s had a taste he wants more. Of course, real juice is more expensive than sports drinks. Milk substitutes are far more expensive than milk. I know they were complaining about money a good deal.

However, we did make it home. The kids had a fun time stopping at all the places we saw. They all got excited with each new state. Beekee was only a little sad that we were in Texas instead of taking him back to Georgia. They even got to see a freshly burned out car carrier vehicle and the emergency crews. It was quite the adventure for them.

Unfortunately, we now no longer have the money for the kids’ school books. They are supposed to be back on track this week, but I don’t have the money to spend. If anyone knows where to get inexpensive or free school books, let me know! It’s going to be tight for a while until child support is back and we get refunded for the trip. We’ll get through this. We always do. It’s just yet another challenge.