Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Toothless Is Here!

IMG_20170629_115041Today is the day Luca’s special present for his surgery got here, the thing that made it all better.  We got a stuffed Toothless to hug every time there’s bad feelings over the missing teeth.  Already Toothless has been a big hit.  Luca insisted on bringing him everywhere.  Given how much we were out today, it’s been a long day for Toothless.

We were in pretty desperate need for food stuffs, so we went to the local grocery store for bread.  Deciding that was more expensive than the bigger chain store, we decided to skip on over to the big store after lunch.  Everyone got a Hostess cupcake from the gas station, then it was off to home for lunch.

Here’s where things got interesting.  We decided it was a nice day, so we should just walk to the big grocery store, and go to the closer of the two.  There had been talk of checking out our first geocashe on the way, but we decided not to.  It would be better to do a straight shot and come straight home.

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The kids loved the walk, and they were all good and tired when they got there.  Luca saw this horse and insisted on getting up for a ride.  I remember riding those when I was little.  All of the kids wanted a ride but Corde, but we didn’t have quarters, so we settled with sitting up on it instead.  Maybe next time we’ll splurge and let them all ride, though I don’t know when that will be.

The whole adventure, Toothless rode along.  He went shopping in two stores and even on the bus.  It was quite the adventure for the first day with our family.  Now he’s tucked away in the bed with Luca, sleeping peacefully after our really long day.  The night was capped with Luca falling asleep to the closing chapters of Peter Pan.  It’s really been quite the eventful day.


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Percy Jackson and Screen Time

We just started reading a new book today.  I’m not done with Peter Pan yet, but we decided to mix it up with something more fun.  We’ll work our way through the last 20% of Peter Pan, but we’ll do it at night when the kids are getting ready for bed.

So we started Percy Jackson today.  Corde listened along, figuring she can count it as part of her summer reading (it’s like a book on tape).  She thinks it’s more interesting than the first chapter of Harry Potter, where absolutely nothing interesting happens, not really.  I think she’s wishing she’d read Percy Jackson as her summer reading book instead.  Oh well.  She can always change her mind.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got to limit screen time for Luca.  Now, I’ll be honest, Luca spends a lot of time watching Netflix, sometimes what feels like too much time.  I’ve tried to be the good radical unschooler when it comes to this, but it’s taking over Luca’s life.  He seems to want to do nothing but watch movies, to the point where it’s starting to get in the way of doing anything else.

Part of this is really Sander’s fault.  Well, I guess the origin is Corde.  She complains that reading is boring for years.  Now Sander says reading is boring.  He’s taken it one step farther to say being read to is boring.  This resulted in Luca crying for twenty minutes because he didn’t want to hear the story, he just wanted to watch a movie.

Well, I was having none of it.  Against all of my unschooling desires, I made up my mind that Luca was at least going to sit quietly while the movie was on, even if all he did was munch on his sandwich and ignore us.  He would be in the same room, and the screen would be off.  He didn’t have to listen, but he had to be quiet and let everyone else listen, and he had to be in the room.

After the whole crying, screaming fit over not being allowed to watch Netflix, we’ve decided it’s time for Netflix to go, at least in anything other than watching as a family.  Luca is on a Netflix fast for a week.  Luca’s really got to start doing other things, playing, interacting, reading.  I thought that summer reading and the potential to win a prize would be enough, but apparently not.

Of course, summer reading at our library is decidedly not cool.  All of the libraries I’ve been to before have all done things where you get prizes for reading so many books, so much time, whatever.  I think when I was a kid you would read so many books and you got a book as a prize.  Now everywhere seems to do time.  Even if they’re just little cheap toys (one place did book marks, rubber duckies, that sort of thing), they get to feel like they won something for all their work.  That was the motivation, to get the next prize.

This library does it different.  You get tickets for every so many hours you read.  The first one is free.  You get another at 1 hour, another at 5 hours, then 15, 30, and 50.  Each of the tickets can be deposited into a box to try and win a prize.  I won’t lie, some of the prizes are some pretty nice stuff, like the gardening kit and the Lincoln Logs.  Still, I find it hard to motivate them when their only reward for all that is a chance to win something.  They could work hard all summer to read all 50 hours and not win a single thing.  And what do I do if one of them wins, but the rest of them get nothing?  This didn’t matter last year because Sander and Beekee only got far enough to do their 1 hour tickets and then we forgot about recording their time, not that we did much reading last summer.  This year I’ve got all three of them doing the elementary summer reading program, and they’re not super excited about it.

I had really hoped to use the summer reading program to motivate the kids to get their reading done.  I wanted them to become stronger readers, and hopefully get Luca started on reading through exposure, but it’s not really happening.  They’re just not motivated for a chance to win something.  I mean, at 5 hours they get a t-shirt, so that’s something.  I just really don’t see this as giving them something to work to.  They like it a lot better when there’s a clear goal in sight.  This is just a maybe, and they don’t like maybes.

Still, it’s getting them to sit for a story every day.  We’re counting read aloud (I don’t know if we should) because Luca can’t read yet, and we’re spending a half hour each day with the reading aloud.  That means Sander has to read one or two more books to get his hour every day.  Luca needs to have two more books read to him.  Beekee gets to read for a half hour quietly.  That gives them a good chunk of reading time down.  Anything else is just a bonus at that point.

It’s especially hard because Sander is a very reluctant reader.  He’s taken on Corde’s cries that reading is boring, so he doesn’t want to read, ever.  He’s also taken on her argument that reading is hard.  That’s trickling down to Luca, who now says he doesn’t want to read because reading isn’t fun.  It’s just a whole mess of a thing.  I think they all need a role model (not me) to show them that reading really is fun.

Oh well, for now we have Percy Jackson, and that seems to have lit a spark in them for wanting to hear a good story.  That’s definitely something.  I’ll take it for what it is.  We’ll count that towards their reading (whether it’s permitted or not) and run with that.  Hopefully that will help them see how great reading really can be.


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Happy Birthday, Mystery Bear!

Luca and Mommy

Fox and Luca, just born

Five years ago, Luca came into our lives.  From the moment of Luca’s birth there were little growls, indicating Luca was content, or trying to fall asleep.  These little growls earned Luca the name of Little Bear.

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Luca enjoying his spoons

That little adventurer soon became Mister Bear.  Back then we hadn’t put a thought towards gender neutral parenting, so it seemed a fitting name.  Luca became Mister Bear instead of Little Bear, and everyone was happy.

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Then something happened.  Out of the blue, Luca became Mystery Bear, because no one knows, it’s a mystery.  It just seemed a far more appropriate name for our magical Little Bear.  Luca really seemed to love it.  We’d call for Mystery Bear and he would giggle the cutest little giggle.  It was awesome.

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Now our little Mystery Bear is five!  Can you believe it?  I started this blog back when he was still a bitty little thing.  Now we’ve got a five-year-old, and such a cutie at that.  It’s amazing how time flies.  I just wish it would go by a little slower.  It seems like it’s all getting away from us too fast.

IMG_20170626_121801_289Today our Mystery Bear went shopping for the first time.  I gave him some money to buy bread and butter, so we could make grilled cheese sandwiches.  It was originally $5, but it wasn’t enough, so I changed it out for $10.  He wanted to use his tooth fairy money to buy bread and butter, but I wouldn’t let him.  I told him that money was for something fun.  Better still, he got to keep the change.  You can almost see the dollars in his little paw, while he’s doing his “money pose.”

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And what did our Mystery Bear get for his birthday?  A pretty blue boom box!  Luca picked it out this weekend when I asked what he would like for his birthday.  He said he wanted a radio, but a blue one.  I looked on Amazon and found one.  The reviews were kind of mixed, but I figured for a five-year-old, it wasn’t too expensive, and it was the right color.  I got the service plan, so if it up and dies on us, we’re covered.  I figure if it lasts out the three year service plan, it was worth the money.  Luca played the radio for a good long while, dancing to the music in the living room.  It was a great little scene.  It’s a sign of just how grown up he is that he’s asking for a radio rather than toys for his birthday.  Such a big Little Bear, my little Mystery Bear.


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Science Means Yogurt

Yesterday we started the process of making yogurt as a part of our summer activities.  I almost said “homeschooling” then wanted to correct it to “unschooling”, but the truth is it’s really just living.  I guess that’s what unschooling is about.

It was bright and early in the morning (and by that I mean 8:30) that we got up and went over to our neighbor’s house.  It all started with reading the ingredients list on the yogurt container as a starter.  We talked about the different bacteria, and how the bacteria aren’t bad germs, even though they are germs.  The kids thought that was pretty cool.  Our only regret is not having a microscope to view the bacteria with.  That would have been cool.

We talked a bit about what makes an “active culture”.  Our neighbor was funny about it.  She had the kids pretend to be inactive if it was too cold to do anything, then they all jumped around the room when they were the “active” culture at the right temperature, then got sluggish and slow again when the temperature got too hot.  It was a great way to show the kids the difference between active cultures and inactive ones.  I never would have thought of doing it that way.  As much as I teach kids, I really don’t teach kids.  I teach as though I’m talking to adults.  Our methods really differ, but I think that’s a good thing.  It’s good for the kids to learn from different teaching styles.

After that each of the kids got to pour some of the milk into a giant pot.  We heated the pot to 180 degrees (to kill all other possible bacteria sources), then waited for it to cool down to 120 before we added the yogurt culture.  In the mean time the yogurt was mixed in with some of the milk that had been set aside and cooled so it would be liquid enough to mix in with the other milk.  We called this the “mother culture.”

Of course, when I think of “mother culture” I think of a book I read last summer, Ishmael.  It was a good read, but “culture” was viewed as a cage, trapping people from having real and meaningful experiences with each other and the world around them.  The idea of “mother culture” made me laugh because in my head that was not a good thing, but I suppose it fit.  We were “infecting” the milk with this “mother culture” to make something new, so I was amused.  I think we may end up reading Ishmael when the kids get a little older, or when we become more accustomed to reading together.

After the yogurt had cooled enough, we mixed the “mother culture” in with the yogurt to make our yogurt.  The kids quickly put all of the yogurt jars onto the table at the center of a towel, which was wrapped around them so the yogurt cultures could stay warm and do their magic.

That’s when the hard part came, the waiting.  We ended up going back there today to check out the yogurt because it would have been done too late for the kids to go check on it.  The yogurt was put up in the refrigerator to wait for them to check it out.

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Luca was super excited to make the yogurt, but was the only one who didn’t want to try it.  It was a little more runny than the neighbor had hoped, but about par for the course for commercial yogurts, from everything I could tell.  Here Luca is telling us all about the yogurt and what it looked like.

I’m seriously considering looking into a yogurt maker.  I know we can make it without one, but I would feel a little happier with one.  We can always get some fresh berries and things to mix in with the yogurt, and smoothies would definitely be a good thing to add in.  I bet even Luca would love a strawberry smoothie with fresh yogurt.  It’s something to look forward to doing in the future.

As for today, I’m posting this while I’m home from work.  Luca was restless last night for the second night in a row, so I got no sleep.  Luca wanted me to stay home today, so I did.  Hopefully Luca will get settled and follow a regular sleep routine soon.  As you can see from the picture, we’ve started to keep Luca’s hair up too.  We just found out Luca’s hair is long enough to French braid, and with keeping up the routine of brushing any time Luca eats anything this helps keep hair out of the way for that too.

Also, up and coming, Luca is getting a special present for his surgery ordeal.  More on that when it arrives…  And Luca’s birthday is coming up.  Poor kid lost all those teeth just as a birthday was coming up!  It’s okay, though.  It just means we’ve got to make sure Luca gets an awesome present for being so brave.  On top of that, Luca got $20 from the tooth fairy for all of that.  It’s been an ordeal, but awesome is on it’s way.


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Luca’s Big Adventure

Today was a big day for Luca.  The problem with Luca’s front teeth was finally going to be dealt with.  His enamel chipped away, causing major cavities in all of his front teeth.  Normally this is considered “bottle rot” caused by babies sent to bed with bottles in their mouth.  Since Luca was never bottle fed, we’re at a loss for what caused it.  And having no reasonable dental care while we were living in the shelter, we had no way of getting it taken care of when it should have been.  It was an all around awful situation.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I’ve got a lot to say about access to proper medical and dental care by families living in shelter situations, but that’s for another day.

Oz took Luca in for oral surgery today, where they were supposed to put caps on all of Luca’s upper teeth and a couple of his baby molars.  The idea was to get rid of anything unhealthy so Luca could have all healthy teeth moving forward.  No matter what caused the problem, we were going to have a chance to make sure things only got better from here on in.

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Luca was super brave.  He went in with the attitude that he was getting his teeth fixed and everything would be better after that.  He wasn’t even the least bit scared about any of it.  Such a brave little bear!

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After the surgery we got the full report.  They weren’t able to anchor most of the caps, so he ended up loosing almost all of his top teeth.  Poor kid!  But they assured us with no baby teeth standing in the way, his adult teeth should grow in much quicker.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before Luca’s back to usual.

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The good news is Luca is already back to his normal, happy self.  Right there you can see Luca sucking down a Popsicle, the third one since they got home.  Overall you couldn’t ask for a happier kid, even with everything that’s gone on.

So why am I posting about this?  Well, for several reasons.  The first of which being a caution to families that are so radical they don’t even require tooth brushing…this is what can happen.  This isn’t because of a lack of tooth brushing but a lack of proper dental care while we were living in the shelter system, but the results can easily be the same if you’re not careful.

However, the big reason I’m writing about this?  Luca is the kid I have the most pictures of.  I wouldn’t want people to wonder if they saw smiles with missing top teeth.  I don’t want to make people ask “What happened there?”  Well, now you know.

Because of all of this, we’re going to be cutting as much sugar out of our diets as possible.  I guess this is really going to help with our healthy food push anyway, but this is definitely a kick in the butt to do it.  So out goes anything with processed sugars or high-fructose corn syrup (Corde will be happy).  Instead we’ll be focusing on healthy eating and keeping away from all those crazy additives.  Luca’s big adventure is going to be a huge change for all of us.  I’m just glad Luca is still happy as ever, and loves the idea of getting on a healthy diet kick.


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I Have A High Schooler…

19260294_10155502250101055_2729313268743668774_nCorde made it through 8th grade, her 3rd year in public schools.  While I’m not a fan of the public school system, I’m proud of her for sticking to it once she made up her mind to do something.  She’s going on to high school next year, and that’s a huge thing for her.  It’s hard to believe she’s already old enough for high school!

Yesterday we celebrated her completion of this landmark with going out to Dunkin’ Donuts.  I took her and her friend out to get something for lunch.  Then they wanted to go to the library for a teen day.  While I trust Corde to walk by herself, her friend’s mom wasn’t comfortable with it, so I walked them to the library.  They got bored there and decided to go to the park.

That’s when things got crazy.  Her friend’s mother didn’t know which park they went to and worried.  She drove around to all the local parks to try and find them when she wasn’t able to reach her son on the phone.  I couldn’t reach Corde either, so that complicated things even more.

Now, personally, I wasn’t too worried about it.  I figured Corde would check in soon enough.  She’s been really good about telling me where she was going to be and letting me know when plans change.  It was still early (I didn’t expect them home until 5:30), and they would undoubtedly check in soon.  The thing that worried me was her friend’s mom saying she went to all the parks in the area and she hadn’t seen them at any of them.  I wasn’t ready to worry yet, but I was definitely a bit concerned.

At the prompting of Corde’s friend’s mom, we went down to the police station to report them missing.  Again, I wasn’t too worried, but I can totally understand where his mother was coming from, and they weren’t checking in and hadn’t been able to be reached in two hours.  I figured the worst that can happen is they get tracked down and everything turns out fine.  My prediction was the kids would be found by the police on their walk home and everything would be fine.

Now comes the point when I’m really proud of Corde.  When they checked in, they were exactly where they said they would be, at the park.  It turns out that they were at a park Corde’s friend’s mom didn’t expect them to be at.  She thought it was too far for them to walk.  I wasn’t totally surprised and I felt a little better when I found out she hadn’t checked that park.  To be fair, it’s a big park and it wouldn’t be surprising if they’d been on the far side of the baseball field and hard to spot from the parking lot.  I wasn’t at all surprised to find out they’d been at the park the whole time.  Thankfully they checked in before any kind of police report was filed, so that’s a plus, though the cop we talked to did ask me to say “hello” to Corde for her.  When Corde got lost at the marathon, that’s the cop Corde talked to in order to get help getting back to us.

This is how I learned Corde really has a decent bit of freedom in comparison to her friends.  I let her go off on her own, so long as she tells me where she’s at and checks in if plans change.  I let her walk to the library by herself, all of a mile away.  The park she went to was the bigger one that’s a little further away than the local one.  I have no problems with her walking there from the library.  I would be okay with her taking the bus to the mall or the movie theater.  For the most part, all she has to do is say, “Mom, I’m going to X and I’ll be home around Y.”

That’s not to say we haven’t had a few bumps in the road.  She’s gone over friends’ houses without telling me when she’s going to be home, then she doesn’t have her phone on her, so I can’t reach her.  Then there’s times when she’s late and forgets to tell me.  One time she told Oz I told her she could go swimming with her friend, when I hadn’t given her permission.  I said I didn’t care because I was at work, but she knows when I’m at work she’s got to ask Oz for permission.  These have all been little bumps in the road, but we’ve gotten through them.  Overall she’s learned from these mistakes and things get better from that point on.

Corde is a great girl, and I can’t wait to see the kind of adult she’s going to grow into.  While she can be a bit of a drama queen, she’s also funny, creative, and wacky.  She’s obviously proving to be responsible (even if she’s not always reachable by phone), and for the most part is pretty honest.  These qualities are going to do her well when she gets older and goes on into the adult world.  Now if only that wasn’t so frighteningly close!


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Reading Is Hard…

Sander has been having the most difficult time with reading.  It’s been a challenge for him for quite some time, which is why I pulled him out of school.  They were teaching him whole word reading, which wasn’t helping him any when he encountered words he didn’t know.  It was a frustrating experience for him, so we decided to do something different for him.

Now we’re working on phonics.  It’s already made such a difference in how Sander reads.  It’s not the natural “when he discovers it” kind of experience I’d hoped for, but we’re trying to keep with state standards.  We don’t read together as often as we should, and most of our reading is the easy readers as a part of the Primary Phonics workbook set, but we’re getting there.  He’s building the skills he needs to read, which is the general idea of it anyway.

Today we read one of the Rookie Reader series.  As much as I love the idea of those as beginner readers, they’re really not so easy.  I’ve come to discover that many “beginner” readers have a lot of really challenging words, several with multiple syllables.  They’re not exactly easy reads for a kid that’s just learning to read, which makes it challenging, especially for Sander who is definitely a reluctant reader, if you want to throw a label on it that way.  He finds those books really challenging, which makes enjoying the time reading them that much harder.

One of the problems Sander has with reading is sounding things out.  He tries, but he keeps mixing up the sounds and adding sounds where none exist.  This leads to the frustrating challenge of trying to straighten him out and getting him to read only the letters that exist and in the right order.  It’s really hard to have patience with him while he struggles through.  I’d almost rather read to him instead of watch him struggle to figure it out and get frustrated.  While the whole word method of reading made him equally as frustrated, I think phonics and sounding things out are equally frustrating for him, though he’s definitely making more progress this way.

I have to admit, it also helps that I’m not the best about getting him to read either.  We’ve been known to skip whole days instead of working with it every day.  I don’t feel like fighting with him for daily reading is really going to help him love reading, even if it’s going to make his reading skills that much better.  It’s hard to be motivated to push my kids to do things they really don’t want to do.  I don’t see it as necessary.  I guess this ties back to the days when we used to be pure unschoolers, something I really hope we can get back to as my confidence with working with the system grows.

In the mean time I’ve gotten a lot better at reading to the kids before bed.  Luca doesn’t last long through the stories.  Generally halfway through the chapter I have a sleeping Luca on my lap.  Sander isn’t a huge fan of reading stories before bed, which doesn’t help things much, though I think it’s because he’s just not a fan of Peter Pan.  I think if we were reading a story he was more interested in, that would help.  We’ve talked a bit about what comes next and we’ll see what we end up doing.  We’re halfway through Peter Pan (which isn’t surprising as it’s not an overwhelmingly long book), so we’ll be on to another book soon.

I know reading aloud to the kids isn’t really helping Sander with his reading skills, but I can’t help but think it may eventually increase his love of books.  If I can read stories he really gets into I’ll be able to inspire his love of books.  If he loves books he may be motivated to work on his own reading skills so he can get the stories without having to wait for me to get around to them.

Isn’t that really how unschooling works, though?  You inspire your kids to get into things because you expose them to those things.  Your kids want to read because they learn books are enjoyable.  That’s how you unschool reading.  They learn to read because the words show up in their video games and they want to be able to read it on their own.  They learn to read because they get tired of having to wait for someone else to read everything for them.  They learn to read because it’s a useful skill, not because it’s something they have to do.

Of course, that backfired with Corde.  She just wanted me to read everything for her.  “Reading is boring,” she still says even now, but she would listen intently whenever I would read a story aloud.  She’s a bit old to enjoy read aloud stories, but she still hasn’t gotten that spark of wanting to read on her own.  She’s started reading Coraline and hasn’t gotten past the first chapter, and she’s been working on it for a almost two weeks.  I honestly think she’s never going to take to reading.  She much prefers to watch Netflix or play silly little games on her phone.  At least texting is making her spelling improve.

Luca, on the other hand, has really taken to reading.  It’s frustrating because Luca wants to read everything, but doesn’t have the skills to actually read any of it.  It’s frustrating for Luca because he wants to read the same as the rest of the kids.  It’s doubly frustrating for me because I have to explain to Luca that, until he can develop the skills himself, I still have to do the reading.  In the end it would all be so much easier if Luca would learn to read.  I have a feeling once Luca learns, nothing will stand in that kid’s way!

Beekee is much more of a reader than Sander and Corde.  He can sit for hours reading on his own, though given the choice he would rather play video games or watch television.  I’ve taken to instituting reading time during the day so that Sander and Beekee have to read.  Once Corde is home, that’s when she’ll do her summer reading.  Beekee really seems to like this time, though he does have a tendency to just look at the books rather than actually reading them.  At least the idea is there.

This all brings me back to Sander.  I’m not sure how I’m going to help him become a reader.  Maybe if I keep picking up Kindle edition books that will help.  I like the Kindle edition books because I can download them as many times as I like and they take up no physical space to store.  If the kids want to read them when they get older I can always get them their own Kindles to load up with all their favorite stories.  That may be what it takes to get Sander interested in reading.  The challenge then is picking out books that he’ll really enjoy.  Peter Pan is not a win, in spite of the adventures and everything else.  I think it’s far too wordy and not enough action.

If anyone’s got suggestions, I’m all ears.  I’ve already decided we’re going to do Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and likely the Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Extraordinary Children.  We’re definitely going to read Coraline.  I just don’t know where to go from there, maybe the Redwall series.  There are too many options and I’ve got to admit, I’m not up on what kids are reading these days.