Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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How They View Charity

Today the kids collected donations at church. They were doing their small part to help support missionary work in Africa. In this case, it’s getting an expensive copier for a school so they can mass produce educational material. While I don’t believe in schools or having a school system, I do believe in helping kids help others. Who knows? Maybe those schools will provide opportunities for those students otherwise unavailable.

It was so sweet to see all the kids paired up to collect their donations. Corde and Beekee were actually working together, holding hands and actually getting along. Sander was paired with one of the kids they’ve been playing with a lot lately. He was so excited because his mama gave him money to put in his bucket. It was only twelve cents that I’d found floating around my room and threw in the pocket of my purse. It didn’t matter. He got to put it in his bucket, and that meant so much to him!

The kids really don’t see what those contributions do, even though they’re living by charity. Everything they’ve gotten has come by charity lately, the clothes they wear, the shoes on their feet, the food they eat, even the very roof over their head. It’s hard to teach a kid what charity means that way, when it all seems to magically show up for free. It’s not like they see the people contributing. They don’t see the results of their contribution. It makes it hard for them to truly understand.

This got a conversation started about the idea of donating money. It was all started by a comment I made a week ago. I told the kids that when you give money away, you’ll eventually get that money back. Maybe it won’t be someone giving you money, but in a time of need, if you show good will, good will has a funny way of returning.

We’ve always been givers in some means. Whenever we see Salvation Army buckets at Christmas I try to have a few coins so all the kids can drop one in. My mom always did that when we were little. I still don’t know what’s so fun about running up to drop a coin in the bucket, but to this day I still enjoy that satisfying clink if the coins in the bottom of the bucket. It’s just not the same to drop a bill in. The kids seem to love it too. With four kids, even a quarter means a dollar every time. If left to our old habits, that would equate to close to thirty dollars in a holiday season, just to one charity. I always try to do more when I can, but it’s not always the case. But the kids are learning, all my pocket change ends up in the Salvation Army bucket, or the Ronald McDonald House box in the drive thru, or any of the many collection boxes, bins, and tubs I see. Sander and Luca both get especially excited, even if all I have is a couple pennies to let them drop in. They love paying street performers too. There’s just something fun about putting money in a box or bin or hat or even a guitar case. They’re starting to learn even now, give every chance you can, even if it’s just a few cents. It’s the joy of dropping things in a box for the little ones, for the older ones, it’s a chance to feel like they’re helping in some little way.

Today when we talked about giving, Sander said he would want to give all his money away. He doesn’t want any money because I buy everything he needs, so he needs to give his money to people who don’t have any money so their mommies can buy them everything they need some day, like candy and birthday presents and shirts with superheroes or My Little Ponies.

Beekee is under the impression that you give money to get money. I guess he sees it like some kind of karma. The more money you give away, the more money you’ll get back some day. I tried to explain that it doesn’t work that way, but who knows. Maybe he’ll be one of those people doing mission work or doctors without boarders, or something like that, and he may give away every cent he makes to find all his needs provided for him by the people who support his cause. You never know.

Corde gives because of the return too, but in a very different way. She likes doing it because it feels good to help. She’s old enough to understand we don’t have money and that means we can’t have a lot of things. Still, she wants to donate her dollar from the tooth fairy to the church and she used her last money to buy candy to share with her brothers. She wants me to have the money to take care of us, but she would rather hit the thrift shop for clothes, preferably one that supports a charity, and donate the money we save to some cause or another.

That’s one thing I’ve tried to inspire my kids with, the spirit of giving. It may not be more than pocket change or a dollar or two, but it adds up. That’s not even getting into “the Christian ten percent” or any of that. I have every intention of following Dave Ramsey’s advice and giving ten percent of my income, just because it’s a good way to live, but that’s not going to stop me from going above and beyond, tossing spare pocket change in my kids’ hands for buckets and boxes as we go. I’m teaching my kids that charity doesn’t come with an amount tied to it. Ten percent is a good number, but give what you can, when you can, because even pocket change can go a long way.

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Mom…That’s A Crazy, Gigantic Bee Thing!

We were out walking the other day when we noticed a group of these creepy giant bee or wasp looking things inside an abandoned record store downtown. It was so strange seeing these giant bugs on a faded poster of Elvis. The kids said it looked creepy.

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The kids were glad there was glass between us. As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about. These are cicada killer wasps, very docile and pretty harmless to humans. The males don’t even have a sting!

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These little buggers are apparently pretty friendly. They’re more likely to flee than attack. They only sting if they feel their lives are in danger, and a human can barely feel it. Their bite is so mild it can’t even break human skin.

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As you can see against the tape and my hand, they are pretty big. The females are larger than the males, so when they kill a cicada, they lay the male eggs on one body and the females on sevaral. The adults apparently eat pollen and other plant matter, like fruit. This means, for wasps, they have no need to be dangerous. They just need enough venom to kill a cicada. They carry them back to nests dug in the ground. They’re typically born in June and July and die in September to October, which means there’s not a lot of time in the year to see them.

What these wasps were doing in that store, we may never know. The kids wonder if they’ll die in there or if they’ll find a way out. We’re pretty sure there was some killing each other going on in there as that’s how the males determine breeding rights, but beyond that, who knows. What we do know is that gave us a cool amount of creep factor for the day, which made for cool stories of giant bees, and that it turned into a pretty cool lesson…involving “killer bees!” Yeah, it’s that kind of awesome.


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More on Politics with Kids (or A Healthy Respect for History)

Some call it the Civil War. Others call it “the War of Northern Agression”. Whatever you call it, it’s an interesting subject to ponder. After all, is it really very similar to the Revolution, or what it would have been if the Brittish had won.

We talked about the reason for the war, that slavery, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t the cause of the war. The southern states, also known as slave states, objected to the new president. They believed Lincoln didn’t represent their best interests, so they chose to leave. The Emancipation Proclamation happened after that, and only applied to the states that left the union.

Because of this, I asked a simple question. Who were the “good guys”? Who was right in all of this? I know this is a complicated subject for a child to understand, but it’s good to think about. After all, if they don’t start thinking about it now, when will they?

Corde’s already had a good look at fair treatment. The American Revolution and women’s suffrage are both good examples of this. In both those cases, the people got what they wanted and it seemed like those fighting on the side of right won out. The situation was clear enough for a child to understand with a fair amount of certainty. This is just the next logical step.

When I was a kid I had it pounded into my head that the Union was right. They were the hood guys, fighting on the side of freedom for all. I never questioned it. It was just a fact. The Union was right. The Confederacy was wrong. There was nothing more complex than that.

Now I had Corde sitting in front of me. She was thinking on the subject, without someone telling her the answer. It wasn’t easy. She asked questions. She wanted to know why it mattered if the Confederate States of America succeeded. I told her the states in the south were pretty wealthy. It would be a dangerous risk if those states broke free and decided to attack the Union. It could be out of fear of aggression. It could be the need to keep getting income from those states without the cost of importing goods. There are any number of reasons. For all we know it could be that they thought land, wealth, and population meant power.

After getting her answers, there was a pause. First she said, “The Confederates were right. They should have been allowed to leave and rule themselves if they didn’t like the way the United States was working. If I were the Confederate States, I would have been pretty upset about being told I didn’t have the right to leave if I wanted to. It’s just not fair.”

There was a huge pause, and I have to admit, I felt a little guilty about what she said next. She declared, “Abraham Lincoln was kind of a bad guy. He wasn’t really all that nice, was he?” Okay, that’s not what I was going for. She was so proud of her Abraham Lincoln beard. The kids were both so thrilled with learning about him. He was a pretty cool guy as far as they were concerned. Now that was all gone. I’m starting to think she may come out next saying John Wilks Booth was a martyr. Wouldn’t that be something?

As much as my goal wasn’t to demonize Abraham Lincoln with the kids, I’m proud of her. She gave it some honest thought and picked an opinion most would find unpopular, but it was hers. She wasn’t coached or guided. She thought it out on her own.

Years of programming in me shrieked out. Abraham Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents. The Union had to be the good guys. It’s still hard for me to accept that the Civil War was really a war of aggression. I know in many ways it’s true, but that doesn’t make it go any less against the things I learned in school.

I’m so happy for the way my kids are learning. They’re proving themselves to be free-thinkers. I almost wanted to cry when my Yankee-born daughter said her opinion was with the right of a state to choose for itself. She’s such a bright girl!


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Sharing Politics with Kids

Until recently our home education has been lacking. Sure, in some ways my kids have learned more than I did at their age. We’ve talked about gear ratios and internal combustion engines. We’ve talked about how food interacts with the body and how the food they eat effects them. They’ve learned about budgets, cooking, and other life skills. Those are all pretty good things to learn, but something was missing.

I’ve started to notice a relation yesterday between unschoolers and a knowledge of politics. Generally it’s with a more Libritarian kind of bend. This makes sense, in a way. Unschooling is about preserving a child’s freedom, so Libritarianism is like the adult continuation of that process. It’s the logical next step. That has to start somewhere, so why not as children, right?

My family really kind of avoided that subject. We focused on everything else and politics took a back seat to it all. I didn’t really see much need to bring my kids into that. The political system is messy and complex, and nothing they really needed to worry about. I wanted them to enjoy being kids while they could. There would be plenty of time to worry about the state of the union later.

With all the involvement from CPS because of this summer’s events, I’ve really been feeling rather annoyed at our political system. I’ve always just played nice with CPS. I never liked it, but I tolerated it. This current invasion of our lives has kind of put me over the edge. They’re citing me as neglecting the medical needs of the children because I choose not to vaccinate. They’ve disapproved of my lack of a “formal school setting” because my kids aren’t in school. They’ve assumed my kids are behind educationally because my ex assessed them to be, even though our state doesn’t consider educational neglect to be an offense, even though my kids are very bright, but may struggle in more traditional areas, like spelling and written math. This isn’t even considering that Beekee would just be starting school since kindergarten isn’t compulsory in Texas. They believe my parenting skills aren’t good enough to care for Luca and Sander since they’re not old enough to care for themselves all because I let Sander make his own lunch if all he needs to do is put it in the microwave or put it together likely sandwich. And why shouldn’t I let him do it when he’s begging me to do it? I’m teaching my kids poor hygiene habits because I don’t force them to shower or take a bath every night if they don’t choose to. Luca and Sander are not allowed to share my bed. The kids aren’t allowed to use a sibling bed. All of our babysitters need to consent to, and pass a background check. Oz and I both have to go through a psychological evaluation and counseling. Corde and Beekee need to go through a psychological evaluation as well. See all the hoops we have to jump through when I’ve been repeatedly told that our problems are not being able to exterminate, which should be at the landlord’s expense, and I tend to not have the most tidy, organized home. I’ve seen too many families face trouble with CPS because they homeschool, don’t vaccinate, and are otherwise alternative. It has me feeling like CPS has a side job as enforcing conformity. What’s worse is denying them access means losing my children and fighting to get them back. In the end, I have no choice since I’m not a family wealthy enough to take them on in court. They really have me in a bind.

Add all the other political discussions going on at the moment and I’m feeling pretty disgusted with the political system. I should feel good about my country, but I honestly feel like the government is trying to enforce conformity, at least in the poor. The healthcare act is a removal of choice. It doesn’t help me get affordable healthcare and I really don’t want to buy into the system, but it’s buy in or be fined. I don’t want to let CPS in for home invasions anymore when they’ve continually overturned the cases. Clearly I’m doing nothing wrong my kids are healthy and happy, so why harass me and control my life? It’s unconstitutional. The welfare system only keeps people trapped in the system. Everywhere I turn rules are being made to let the government spy on people or control something else, so where’s the freedom? Unless I want my kids to grow up thinking this is okay, I need to start enlightening them now.

In some ways this has been easy. Corde rolls her eyes and complains every tone she has to see our case worker. She’s so sick of the home invasions too. Every time I talk to the kids they ask if she has to talk to them. Sander thinks it’s a game, but Corde and Beekee always ask if they have to. They’re done with it. Corde even thinks CPS should be illegal because they’re just bullies that like to pick on us.

So the conversation began yesterday. We talked about socialism. I explained that socialism requires everyone to be thecsame and equal. It would be like going to the co-op and lunch was provided. Instead of getting options, everyone can have a ham sandwich, apple, celery sticks, and water. That’s it. Sure, if you’re lucky they’ll have a few add-ons, like cheese or mustard that you can choose, but if you don’t want a ham sandwich at all, you’re out of luck. Our government isn’t much different. Instead you get two options, beef or chicken. The problem is you can only have one, and it’s a majority vote. 55% of the co-op voted for chicken, so everyone gets chicken. The other 45% have to suffer. This is when Corde tells me how stupid that is because she thinks one of her friends at co-op is a vegetarian, so chicken or beef doesn’t even represent her. No matter what decision is made, that friend can’t have something she wants. She determined the only fair thing to do is let everyone pick their own lunch, like the co-op already does.

Then we talked about traffic laws. There are lights in some parts of Texas with cameras. If you run a red light they take a photo of your car and mail it to you. Corde thought that was unfair. What if someone else had borrowed your car? Tough. Even if you weren’t driving, the car is registered to you, so you have to pay the ticket. In other words, you get punished for a crime you didn’t commit.

Then we took it one step more. Let’s say it’s midnight. No one else is at that intersection, and it’s a really long wait at the light. Is it okay to run the light because no one is effected by breaking that law? Corde and Beekee agreed that the light was there for safety, and if no one else was in sight, and you knew you could safely get across the intersection, why should you have to wait? I informed them they would both have a ticket, courtesy of the cameras on the light.

This got them thinking about how laws should be enforced, and whether or not the government is fair. They decided a two party system and majority rules aren’t fair ways to make decisions for a small group, much less a whole country. We talked a lot about the power CPS has, because it’s effecting the kids now. We talked a little about the healthcare mess. We even talked about the government shutdown. We covered a lot of ground for a short period of time.

I no longer feel like we’re missing something. My kids are being encouraged to think about the world they live in, and how to make it a place they want to live in. They’re not likely to be passive and just let things go on, even if they don’t think it’s right. They’ll be taught to stand up for themselves and what they think is right.

In all of this political stuff I see all too many people uttering the same things. They either complain and say the government is too big to change, or therein themselves to the fact that majority rules. The scariest are the ones that swear up and down that the government can be fixed by things that don’t make sense, proving they know nothing about the political system, like saying the rich need to be forced to get jobs so they can pay taxes, ignoring the fact that many rich people do pay a good deal in taxes on their interest from their accounts, dividends, property taxes, and all of that. It shows a complete lack of understanding of financial matters, taxation, and overall how the government works. I don’t want my children to grow up that hopeless or that uneducated.


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Why Not School?

This question comes up all the time. Why don’t I just put the kids in school? I swear, I get tired of answering it. Still, I find it useful to remind myself from time to time. I get tired of the questions. Sometimes I wish I could just print out an FAQ and hand that out to everyone!

Why do you homeschool?

This is always the first question. I’m always tempted to turn around and ask, “Why do you send your kids to school?” I never do because in many cases I get non-answers thrown at me about how it’s normal or they couldn’t do anything else for this or that reason. For working moms, I get it. For most moms, their answers are more of an avoidance of the issue. They don’t want to take the time to think about why they do it beyond social norms. But that’s not answering the question, is it?

I choose to give my kids an education at home for many reasons. Keeping my kids at home means spending more time with them, creating a closer family bond. I think I can do a better job educating my kids than an overworked teacher with little time for one-on-one attention that is forced to adhere to some standardized routine. My children are learning in a true-to-life model, where they might have to take the initiative and pursue their own interests. This also means learning and working in a diverse age group instead of structured to only work with kids their own age, something that only ever happens in schools. They learn their social skills by interacting with family, friends, and adults, which reduces the bad habits they learn in school and keeps bullying to a minimum. The kids also have an opportunity to work at their own pace, which really means no child is left behind. They’re supported through their struggles and aren’t punished for being too successful. Finally, and this one may make me sound like an anti-government conspiracy theorist, I don’t want the government to tell me what, when, and how my kids should learn. It’s bad enough I’m forced to pay for it. If I could boycott the school system, including pulling my tax dollars from it, I would. That’s just how strongly I feel about it.

But wouldn’t it be easier? Think of all the free time you would have!

Wait, free time? We’re clearly not on the same page here. This often comes with a break from the kids and time to myself. In other words, life is supposed to be easier if we send the kids to school, but is it really?

Let’s look at my schedule if I sent the kids to school. I would have to get up every morning at about five in the morning. This is when would get the kids fed, dressed, and ready. Then I would have to pack all four kids in the car, regardless of their ages. At this point, Beekee would go to the elementary school and Corde to the intermediate. By the time all four kids are in school I would have to drop off and pick up at four schools. They could take the bus, but parents are charged for that, so I avoid it. For the time being, I would still have two little ones at home, so I wouldn’t have that magic kid-free time. Around three the routine would be to drop everything I’m doing and pick the kids up. This means errands, visits with friends, appointments, and whatever else I do needs to fit into that window along with naps, chores, and everything else. When the kids come home I would be helping with homework. By the time that’s done, I need to get dinner done, manage baths and showers, and send everyone to bed. Having such an early morning means I would make lunches, but be too tired to do more than go to bed. There goes my time with Oz after he gets home. It would leave me to be busy and disconnected with my family, not to mention the kids being upset at having to miss their favorite shows. Then there’s meetings with teachers, picking up sick kids, and who knows what else would come up.

Currently my schedule is so much easier. I get up around seven on most days, six on co-op days. The kids get up when they’re ready, some days as late as nine or ten. They go outside after breakfast and run around outside hour or two if the weather is nice. Then they come in and sit down for some school work. Thanks to the co-op, this is about twenty minutes to an hour for Beekee. For Corde it’s about an hour. We read a chapter or two of a book together, usually their classic novel for co-op. Corde works on her reading for a half hour. Then we include other lessons, like cooking and baking. We go outside and learn from nature. We watch television (not that! Anything but TV!) When I go run errands we take our lessons on the road. We hold conversations too, like why something works a certain way, or about laws, or whatever it is the kids are curious about while we’re out. At the end of the day we watch shows like Bones and Sleepy Hollow together. The kids also like Master Chef, especially since this time is with kids. American Ninja Warrior is also a hit. It encourages the kids to be super active. On top of that, we know someone that’s going to try and make it on the show. In general, it’s chill and relaxed. I get things done on my schedule. I can relax while getting them done. Best of all, my family can stay connected and in touch with what everyone else is doing. I have so much more free time than I would if I had to run around doing all those crazy errands.

You would save so much money!

This one makes me laugh. School supply lists in our area have some ridiculous things. Since when do school kids need Clorox wipes? Between crayons, markers, glue, paper, notebooks, pens, pencils, folders, and all the other crazy stuff, it gets expensive. That’s not even counting the supplies for projects to be done at home, posters, science fair projects, and all that. From a friend’s estimate, school supplies cost her somewhere around one to two hundred dollars per student. Then there’s the cost of school clothes. Most kids I know have a set of school clothes and their play clothes. How much does a new wardrobe cost these days? I can easily see spending a couple hundred dollars at non-secondhand prices. With all the pressure to keep with the trends, I can see my kids begging to buy whatever is in style that year. Maybe not Beekee, but definitely Corde. Then there’s the cost of transportation. The bus starts off at thirty dollars for one child per month. If I wanted to put Corde and Beekee both on the bus it would be just under sixty dollars, since they’re nice enough to discount additional children. By the time all four are school age I would be paying about a hundred dollars a month, not counting for price hikes. The cost of gas to get them all where they need to go wouldn’t be much different if I end up getting a mom-car, something I’d really need if I were taking all the kids to school. Oz and I would have massively conflicting schedules, so I would really need my own car. That’s yet another expense.

Homeschooling is cheaper. No one cares that the clothes were given to us or they came from a thrift shop. My kids aren’t pressured to follow the trends. They also don’t need school clothes that are kept nice and play clothes. They just have one set. This means my clothing budget can be inexpensive or free. Many of the school supplies can be shared or eliminated. After all, why would I need to get Clorox wipes or tissues for each kid. I can even go green and give my kids handkerchiefs that can be washed. I clean my home with green products, eliminating the need for chemical wipes. We only need one set of crayons and markers that can be shared by everyone. These can be replaced as needed instead of every school year. The same goes for glue, pens, pencils, paper, and everything else. Even with projects and all that, I probably spend less on general school supplies than a family with a single child in school, if you don’t count books. We wouldn’t worry about books were it not for the co-op. And, yes, the co-op is expensive, but even with transportation, books, and the cost of the co-op, it’s still cheaper per child than having them in school. I save a lot by keeping my kids home.

And, sure, you can spend a small fortune on curriculum, supplies, field trips, and all of that. Homeschooling can be expensive. So can sending your kid to school at private or boarding schools. You can put your kids in all kinds of classes, sports, and activities. That can get expensive. It’s all in the choices you make.

What makes you think you’re more qualified than a teacher with a degree in education? They’re trained to teach kids. You should have to have the same training as other teachers.

What makes you think teachers that are trained to churn out equally qualified kids like an assembly line are more effective than I am? I know my kids on a personal level. I know what they are capable and where their challenges are. I can take the time to build a tailored plan to meet their needs. I can move at their pace, focus on their interests, and provide a more diverse education in less time than a normal school day. If I get to subjects I have a hard time with I have options. There are curriculums with teaching guides. I could hire a tutor. I could swap with another parent that’s challenged in areas I’m strong in. There are co-ops and classes available that allow my kids to learn from a different parent. Some kids even take college classes at that level. There are plenty of options for the things I don’t feel ready to teach.

There’s a lot more to say on the topic, but we’ll save that for another day.


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Talk Amongst Yourselves: Copy Work, Reading, and Writing

I’m just trying to get some discussions going here. I can see I have a lot of readers, but not much conversing is going on. I would love to see more of that, and some honest batting around of ideas might just toss me a bit of good info! So, here goes the first topic:

Just a couple days back I talked about learning to read by learning to write. It got me thinking about the how of reading and writing. It’s clear that reading and writing are directly linked. At the very least, in order to have something to read, something must have first been written down. You really can’t have reading without writing. At the same time, there’s no point in writing if no one knows how to read it. It just becomes pointless scratches on paper.

That being said, how do people learn to read? I’m not talking memorizing a few words and being able to recognize them. I mean how do people learn to decode written text, to expand their known words? How do they learn to break down and pronounce the unfamiliar words they encounter? There must be a way to understand how it happens, and more importantly, how it doesn’t.

Obviously phonics is the magic decoder ring that teaches everyone how to decode new words, it comes with all these rules that used to drive me crazy as a kid. I didn’t understand why things didn’t always get written as they sound. In my mind, phonetic spelling would imply it was spelled using the rules of phonics, but that never seemed to ne the case.

More importantly, can kids learn to decode unfamiliar words by learning to sight read? I’m pretty certain they can learn to sight read by copy work? In theory, if someone were to write a word enough times and build the mental association, they would learn to recognize it by sight. Or is something deeper going on here? By constructing the words over and over a letter at a time can someone learn phonics in a subtle, natural way? Will they learn to sound out the letters and combinations as they write, making it sound like saying the word in slow motion as it’s written? Wouldn’t that build phonics skills, not sight reading vocabulary?

More importantly, isn’t one of the eventual goals of reading to see a word and instantly know it? Isn’t that sight reading? And you only default to phonics when entering the domain of an unfamiliar word?

In theory it would seem like it’s perfectly possible to learn reading from first learning to write, in other words, from copy work? In other words, you can’t learn to write by learning to read, but you can learn to read by first learning to write. If that’s the case, why not tackle both at once and start with writing?

What do you think? Can writing and copy work lead to learning how to read? Is it better to learn to read first, then apply that knowledge to crafting your words? Is one way really better or are they both equally as good?