Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


It Was a Science Day

I’m usually that mom that’s horrible about making sure the kids are covering every subject thoroughly.  I’ve always kind of imagined that the kid would just pick up on things, if they were interested.  They’d seek out the things they wanted to know more about and I just need to lead the horses to water.  I’d given them opportunities, but there were no real bites, so I kind of left it alone.

After the weekend I was exposed to some really cool new to me YouTube channels.  I decided that, while I don’t do YouTube, I would check them out.  I figure it couldn’t hurt.  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?  The kids don’t like it?  No big deal.

The first one I tracked down was Animal Wonders.  Some of the older videos weren’t that informative, but we popped forward to the oldest video that gave some good information, and the kids were really into.  It all started here.

After I got them into that, the kids wanted to watch something else, so I looked up another YouTube channel, SciShow Kids.  The kids would have been happy to watch all the videos, but I’ll just share the one Luca got to see and particularly had interest in.


The best part about it?  Luca loved that it featured koala bears.  Those are Luca’s favorite animal right now, aside from real bears.  Luca has been running around telling everyone how koalas stay cool.  This was perhaps the best information anyone could have given Luca.  It was awesome.

After that we decided to keep the science rolling.  During dinner we watched an episode of Street Science from the Science Channel.  The kids were really fascinated at what they were able to do with some pretty normal sounding stuff, and the science put behind all of it was actually pretty cool.  I was amazed at what they managed.  It was a great way to learn something new, and fun enough that the kids got into it.

It’s been one heck of a science oriented day.  Maybe I’m not being the best of moms, pushing all kinds of science on my kids, but I feel like today was a small victory at least.  We learned some cool new science facts, found some new ways of experiencing science, and had some real fun doing it.  I have a feeling these videos are going to become a regular part of our unschooling.  Maybe I can’t do all sorts of epic science experiments with the kids, but I can give them some exposure to some pretty cool stuff we wouldn’t be able to do at home, and some great information in a kid-friendly format!


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My Weekend in the City

Though it happens rarely enough, I actually spent the weekend without the kids.  I went to an event in Boston called Nerd Con: Nerdfighteria.  This was an event a friend of mine was going to and really wanted to bring me along to, so I went.

The whole experience was wild.  We stayed in a really swank hotel, REALLY high above the city.  We were on the 32nd floor.  It was terrifying.  What I learned from this?  I can stay in a really high off the ground hotel room, but I would much rather not.

However, even without the kids, I do have something to write about my weekend.  The weekend was a learning experience for me, which really embodies the whole thing about whole life learning.  How can I be an example to my kids if I don’t learn on my own?

Being a con, there were events and there were panels.  On Saturday I pretty much palled around with my friend and went to what she went to.  There really weren’t many things that day that screamed out to me, so I was mostly a shadow.  I saw some really awesome stuff, including the recording of two podcasts.  Still, it was a pretty fun day.  If I listened to podcasts more I might have checked them out.

However, I did get to go to a couple of panels on education on Sunday.  One was about a new science program for middle school students (though they define this as being between 4th and 8th grades) called Through My Window.  I’d just like to point out that the stuff they offer it for free (all except for the book).  While it’s only a single book and two online adventures to start, it’s bound to grow as interest in the program grows.  It might be worth checking into.

The other panel I went to see is bound to end up with things being featured on the blog.  They talked about YouTube channels, particularly those dedicated to science.  I have a whole bunch of new stuff to watch with the kids (and as I watch it with them, I’ll be sharing it with all of you too), so that’s bound to be featured soon enough.

At the end of it all I also got a Team Awesome pin for my bag, something that reminds me of when (way back) the kids called us Team Awesome.  Well, apparently there’s a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out and they’ve got a fitness team for walks and things called Team Awesome.  It’s worth going over to check it out.  They help support families with children suffering life threatening cancer.  They’re also really good people.

All in all, I learned a lot this weekend.  I don’t think I’ve really joined the number of people who consider themselves Nerdfighters, though I’ve been told I’m definitely one because I was that kind of person before Nerdfighters were Nerdfighters.  The general premise is “to decrease world suck.”  In other words, they do what the kids and I always strive to do, make the world a better place.  I can get behind that sentiment.


Unschooling on a Budget: Breaking the Unschool Rules with Curriculum

This is one of those subjects I’d thought I might avoid.  Given unschoolers generally don’t use curriculum, it’s not a topic that seems logical, but bear with me.  If you don’t have access to everything you need to get your kids interested in certain subjects, or if they want to learn things you have no idea about, a curriculum may not be a bad way to go.

In my case, I want to make sure my kids can meet the school standards.  Because of this, I’ve invested in a math program and I’ve gotten some phonics stuff from my aunt.  For the most part this is fun stuff that the kids really like doing, so it really falls into the “unschooling” category, even if it’s not “radical unschooling”.  So if you’re one of those radical types, feel free to check out now.  Otherwise, here’s my take on curriculum.

First off, save your money and teach what you can in other ways as much as possible.  Maybe you don’t need a science curriculum because you do a lot of work in nature, kitchen chemistry, or other sorts of things.  It could be that a lot of your history comes from the library, if you really bother with history at all.  A lot of families do a lot with YouTube.  These can be great ways to cut curriculum costs, and stick to the spirit of unschooling.

When you do feel the need for curriculum, plan carefully.  Opt for things your kids will find fun, but also something that won’t cost an arm and a leg.  You can shop used products as well, which may cut your costs, especially if you decide to use something that requires a teacher’s guide.  This can be a great time to employ friends and family that might be willing to gift part or all of a curriculum to you.

Shopping for curriculum can also involve looking at what you can get inexpensively.  For example, we use Math U See.  The cost of the curriculum as a starter isn’t exactly cheap.  Getting the manipulatives and everything means spending over $100.  However you use those same manipulatives through the entire program.  Because all we really need to buy from year to year is the teacher’s guide and the workbook, the price is much less.  Once we get to repeat years it’s only going to be the workbooks that we need to buy.  That makes it a system that’s not insanely expensive, even with four kids.

Look for stuff that’s offered in inexpensive workbooks.  Some programs offer their work in reasonably priced workbooks, and while they may not have the same amount of work as those expensive curriculums, unschoolers rarely rely on all the work in a curriculum.  This may be enough to supplement the other learning experiences you’re working with.  That might make the curriculum more of an add-on than an actual full curriculum would be.

Most importantly, when you can get away without the curriculum, obviously don’t use it.  It’s meant to be a tool, one of many options you can use for educating your child.  It’s by no means a necessary requirement for unschooling.  In fact, a lot of families do just fine without curriculum at all.  They work independent of all of that, helping their kids learn from nothing but pure life experience.

Coming from a perspective of someone who is low income, having a bit of curriculum at the core of our unschooling means the kids are learning in ways I couldn’t necessarily teach them.  I can’t afford the experiences other people provide for their kids, so this at least gives me a feeling that, at the end of the day, some of the core subjects I feel less capable of teaching are learned by my kids in a way that they particularly enjoy.  That’s what’s important at the root of all this.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to using what works for your family.  If having a little bit of curriculum as a backbone for your unschooling makes you feel more secure, by all means, use it!  If you want to try it with out, go for it!  No matter what you do, feel confident that you know your family, your state laws, and your needs better than anyone else.  You’re doing the right thing for you!

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Two Days of Sun

Can I just tell you how amazing the past two days have been?  It’s been amazingly warm outside.  Who knew we’d have the windows open in February?  We took advantage of the nice weather and spent two days outdoors.  It was great!

Yesterday we wanted to go to the park, but we ended up playing at the neighbor’s house instead.  The kids had a blast.  They even busted out the water table to play on, that’s how warm it was.  They ended up coming home wet and happy.  Who can beat that?

The park day got pushed off for today instead.  The weather was even nicer, if you can believe that.  It was 68 out yesterday.  Today it peaked at 73!  From what the weather reports told us today was supposed to be cooler than yesterday.  I guess that tells you how accurate weather reports are!

The kids had a lot of fun at the park today.  They ran around for a good long while, longer than I’d anticipated.  We’d planned to stay for an hour but we ended up staying for almost two hours.  Now they’re eating a quick snack before it’s time to get dressed and ready for jujitsu.  (No, I really can’t go a post without mentioning it!)

img_20170224_142056_957I even got a couple of good pictures of the kids.  For some reason Beekee always looks so serious and intense in pictures.  As I’ve gone back through old pictures I’ve found this to be a regular thing throughout his life.  Funny how he’s so intense!

img_20170224_142205_769Corde, on the other hand, was hard to grab a picture of.  She was running from the camera like it would kill her.  She finally settled to let me take a picture of her when I told her I just wanted one good one.  Her personality really shines through!

img_20170224_142728_672Then there was Luca and the snow.  Luca was so excited to be standing in snow in sandals, shorts, and a t-shirt.  After being bundled up in the snow, it was a lot of fun to be able to stand in what little was left without having to wear layers.  As the kids said, “If only it was always like this in the snow!”

img_20170224_142854_424Speaking of standing in the snow…  Corde wanted to show what she was made of.  She said she wanted to be barefoot in the snow, see what it felt like.  Her answer to this?  “It felt mostly wet, like stepping on ice someone dropped on the floor.  It wasn’t really cold.”  I’ll take your word for it, Corde.  I certainly wasn’t going to find out!

img_20170224_151015_503Even Oz got into the fun.  He was playing zombies with the kids, then wanted to lay down with Sander on the double slides.  They were just laying there, looking so chill.  He really had a great time with the kids, though.  It was pretty awesome to see him playing with the kids again.  He hasn’t had much opportunity to play with the kids outdoors because of the weather, but today happened to be a perfect day for it.

Then, of course, there’s all the other observations we got to make.  Since Nika came with us, she observed how fun it was to chase shadows on the swings.  I couldn’t get a picture of it, but I wish I had.  Then there was the kids making footprints in the sand.  I managed to get my boots slogged in the wet sand when I was going to take pictures.  I started to feel like I would be stuck there forever!

I kept an eye out on the way home to see if we could spot any other signs of spring.  We didn’t see any, but I hear the crocuses are starting to come up.  I saw some of what looked like leaf buds beginning to form on some trees on my walk earlier.  I just didn’t see any when I was out with the kids.  I have a feeling we’re going to see other signs of spring coming up here soon.

It seems like Mr. Groundhog was wrong this year.  We’re not going to have six more weeks of winter at all.  Granted, we did get one more storm, so maybe that’s what the groundhog was predicting, that winter wasn’t quite over yet.  Either way, it looks like spring is finally here now and I’m glad for it.  We’ve got the windows open and are letting in the warm, fresh air.  It’s beautiful out.  Best of all, it’s not quite going to be dark by the time the kids have to go off to jujitsu.  They’re still going to get to enjoy some of the nice weather for just a little bit longer.  That’s definitely going to be a nice walk to class!

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Someone Needs More Sleep

Luca was super cranky today.  This all came on the tails of not enough sleep the night before.  A late night plus an early morning leads to a very cranky Luca that threw a number of tantrums and fought going to sleep like crazy.  I finally ended up agreeing that Luca had to lay down for two minutes, and after that there was no requirement to lay down.

About a minute in Luca was asleep…

So why did Luca stay up so late last night?  Well, part of it is unrestricted screen time.  The long and the short of it is usually the kids are pretty good at moderating their own screen time and spend plenty of time doing other things.  Unfortunately, this means Luca would rather be up watching movies than sleeping.  Since the downstairs neighbor doesn’t like to hear Luca running around after 9pm, that means Luca’s kind of got to be restricted to one spot, which I think is pretty unfair, but it’s better to stay on good terms with our neighbors.  It just isn’t easy because the kids get home from jujitsu so incredibly late.  We don’t walk in until 8:30.  The kids don’t want to just go straight to sleep.  Even if we had a car we wouldn’t get home much earlier, and the kids wouldn’t have had the walk to wear them out.  It makes it tough to get the kids to settle down on the best of days.

I digress, the point is, Luca isn’t tired at 9 because of the late nights for jujitsu, so that means keeping Luca settled down in one spot.  The best way to do this is to let Luca watch movies while sitting on the bed.  Unless I go in and lay down with Luca, that’s what it continues to be, or a lot of tears.

The awesome part of co-sleeping?  Luca actually sleeps well at night and doesn’t fuss and wake up in the middle of the night.  If that happens, I’m always right there.  It hasn’t been an issue to this point.  The downside?  Luca doesn’t want to go to sleep unless I’m settling down to sleep too.  That often means Luca doesn’t go to bed until I’m ready to sleep, which can mean late nights, like last night when I wasn’t ready to go to sleep until 11.  Yes, Luca had a very late night.

That brings me to a perk on the other side of the night for co-sleeping.  On the plus side, Luca tends to sleep later being comfortable having me right there.  If we have a morning where Luca wakes up early, I’m right there to settle Luca down to sleep again.  It also means I wake up when Luca wakes up, which is a total benefit.  There isn’t much of a downside here unless I want to sleep in.  There’s no hope for sleeping in after Luca climbs over me to get me up, kneeing me in the gut in the process.  That part is not so fun.

I knew early on this was going to be a rough day.  Not only did the lack of sleep give me warning, but early tantrums were also a huge tip off.  We had a tantrum over breakfast.  (The milk had to come from the little jug, not the big one!)  We had a tantrum over computer time.  (Sander had to go first and that was just it!)  We had a tantrum over the tablet.  (Luca wanted to play the baby panda games and nothing else would do!)  At the point we had a tantrum because the kids decided to turn off Netflix and play Minecraft, that’s when I was done.  Sure, Luca wanted to watch Mighty Med with the big kids, but no one else wanted to.  If I didn’t bring an end to these tantrums, there was no way we were going to make it to jujitsu.

It’s too bad it worked out that way too.  It’s a beautiful day out.  It would have been a great day to get out to the park.  Our temperatures are approaching 60 out there.  The snow is almost all melted.  The birds were chirping like crazy this morning.  It’s starting to feel like spring is actually rolling in, but I couldn’t take an already tired and cranky kid out to the park to get more tired and even more cranky, to then go to jujitsu where that kid was going to get even more tired and cranky, and still have to walk home.  It was already bad enough that we had a tired, cranky kid because Luca’s class was cancelled on Monday due to lack of participation.  I don’t need Luca to be upset at jujitsu again.

Oh well, Luca got a much needed nap and that’s what really matters in the end.  Hopefully Luca will wake up to be a much happier sort of bear.  That would definitely make the day flow a lot more smoothly.

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Minecraft, Writing, and Playing Guitar

It’s vacation, so what are we doing?  A whole lot of not so much.  I have a feeling when all four kids are home we’re going to stop observing school vacations, but for the time being we’re going to go with it.  It only makes sense when we’ve got one still in school.

So what have the kids done today?  The same thing they’d do every day, if you gave them the chance, play Minecraft.  This is incredibly in line with the unschooling thing.  I’m not directing them on what to build.  It’s an exercise in cooperation, given they’re playing on console, not the computer (which is how I’m able to be writing this at the same time).  A good deal of what they do is conflict resolution.  They don’t always get along.  It’s always in creative mode, but they like to come up with stories for their building.  They also like to create their own houses and to live as neighbors, which sometimes means getting in each others way.  I have had to institute a couple of rules (like no TNT), but for the most part I let them go and do their own things.

As for the writing part, I’m not just talking about me.  Corde has started her own blog as a part of trying to get her into writing more.  You can check it out at Jolteon Fan Fic.  As the name would imply, she’s writing fan fiction, though her current project is really more of a creative writing project.  I haven’t edited any of her work, so it’s all in it’s raw form, spelling mistakes and all.  I’m hoping over time she slowly improves, but that blog will help show her progress.  It’s also cool for her to get her ideas out.

And the guitar playing?  That’s all me.  How can I show my kids how to follow their passions and learn new things if I don’t live by example.  Playing guitar doesn’t come easy to me, and I’ve had to work really hard to learn what little I have.  I’m really struggling through it, but I’m learning, slowly.  I think that in itself is a lesson.  I’ve taken a few months off because my skin has been doing what my skin does.  It was painfully bad for much of the winter.  Now I’m picking up where I left off, which isn’t exactly easy.  I have to work hard at it.  It would be different for my kids to see me do something I’m good at, something that comes naturally to me, but now they see me working and working hard.

That’s a part of this whole unschooling adventure too.  The kids need to see me working on things I’m learning.  They need to see me following my passions and learning things that are new to me.  If I want my kids to be readers, I need to do more than just read to them.  I need to show them that I read too.  If I want my kids to follow their passions and work hard at learning something new, I need to work hard at learning something I’m passionate about.  If I want them to take on challenges, I need to be willing to do the same.  Whatever I do, I’m modeling what adult life is to them.  And how can I expect them to do things I can’t even do myself?

Over the next few months I intend to start working on things I’ve been meaning to do again.  I’m going to be picking up my guitar more often.  I’m doing yoga every night, and I’m going to start working on doing yoga in the morning too.  It’s an intense workout, but I’m never going to build up to it if I don’t just do it.  Once we’ve got the chance to get a couple more dance DVDs, I plan on getting back into dancing too.  (Yes, I know, as a belly dancer I should be able to make up my own practices, but without a DVD to follow, I tend to get lazy about it…)

This is something I think a lot of people don’t realize about unschooling.  It’s a lot of work.  It’s not just work in getting kids to do something more than playing video games all day.  It’s also work because you have to model for your kids what you want them to do.  If you live by example, they’re likely to follow.  If you show them that you never do anything hard, never follow your passions, and do nothing but veg out all day, why would you expect them to do any different.

When I set out to write today I didn’t think I had anything to write about.  Nothing special happened today.  It was just more of the same, with a little more arguing than usual.  There were no shocking revelations, no incredible moments of understanding.  It seemed like just another boring day in our house.  I had no idea I’d be the one to have that incredible moment of understanding myself.  This is why I absolutely love being an unschooling family.

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Mama, Can I Give You A Kiss?

Today was the first official day of February vacation in the local schools.  You know what that means?  All four kids were home from school today.  It was actually kind of awesome.  We had a nice chill day, all considering.

We started the morning out with reading.  It began with the second chapter in Story of the World.  Overall I think the kids don’t hate it.  I have to engage with them every single paragraph for them to do anything other than glaze over and tune out.  If I keep asking them questions after every paragraph they actually listen.  I can’t make them be history lovers, but at least this is a start in getting them engaged.  The only down side I see is it brings in Biblical stories into the history, which isn’t really something I follow with.  We’re not a religious family, and at the risk of upsetting someone, there’s little historical fact to support that the Bible is an accurate account of history in any way, shape, or form.  Still, I think it’s a good base to work with.  The best part?  Even Luca was engaging with the reading when I took it paragraph by paragraph.  I was so proud of my little Bear!

From there we went on to You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Sumerian Slave.  The kids liked that well enough, even Corde.  It wasn’t the most comprehensive history book I’ve found, but it at least got them to be interested in the subject.  It gave them a different view of what life was like back then, and had more of a personal feel.  Those books are short enough to make them fun and easy reads.

After that the kids cycled through doing their work on the computer.  Sander and Luca played on Starfall for a good while after they were done.  They loved that program.  I’m so glad I payed to get the full content.  It wasn’t expensive ($35 for the year, I think?) and the kids really like playing on it.It’s been great for teaching Luca to read.  It’s been helping Sander too, though not as much.  He even read a book to me today, with some help along the way.  His skills at reading have gotten so much better.

Then, out of the blue, Luca said to me, “Mom, can I give you a kiss?”  I almost didn’t catch it at first.  I said okay and I got the sweetest little peck on my cheek.  Luca then gave the happiest little grin.  These are the moments that make me love having the kids home, sweet moments that I would miss if they were all in school all day long.

We’ve taken a bit of time out from our regularly scheduled homeschooling tasks to keep the state happy this week.  Instead we’re focusing on having a good week as a family, and doing some reading because I know the kids are at least picking up on a few facts that way.  It fulfills the suggested amount of reading twenty minutes a day.  We usually go way above that, mostly because I enjoy reading to my kids and they seem to get something positive out of it.  Besides, I would feel lost if we didn’t at least do something.  So computer time and reading it is.

I’m really happy to be getting back to our unschooling roots again.  This week has already been really good for that.  I think we’re going to be borrowing some stuff from classical homeschooling again, like the suggested reading list (because it ties in with the Charlotte Mason living books thing I like so much), but for the most part I want to keep our bend towards unschooling.

Today I really learned something from my kids.  The best moments are those spent doing things we enjoy.  I like reading to my kids, and they seem to enjoy it, so I suppose we’ll be keeping more of that.  The kids seem to like their math program, so we’ll keep up with that.  Luca and Sander really like Explode the Code, so we’ll keep working with that.  Sander and Luca both like Starfall (which is to be honest, a very unschooler way to learn reading, through playing games on tech), so we’ll keep with that.  The kids are enjoying their work on the computer, so we’ll keep up with that too.  Because when it comes down to it, doing those activities that they seem to love really inspires some beautiful moments with them.  I wouldn’t want to miss it.

And that’s what I love about this.  I love hearing A.J. say his land is called “Mesopotamia” because it means “the land between rivers” in his play.  I like working with Sander on his reading, and watching his vocabulary and his ability to read slowly growing.  I love getting kisses from Luca for no reason other than to give me a kiss.  These are things I never saw when the kids were in school.  These are the moments I missed.

Today’s beautiful moment was a kiss from my littlest.  I have no idea what tomorrow’s moment will be.  I just know that, whatever it is, it will make my day that much brighter.