Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Slacking Off

I know this page is called “Trailerpark Unschoolers”, though we haven’t really been unschoolers lately, not in the traditional sense.  We’ve been incorporating some “must do” book work into all of it.  It’s really where we’re at right now, and going forward we’ll see how things evolve.

However, recently we’ve been taking more of an unschooling approach.  Part of that is because Oz is working overnights, which makes it hard to sleep.  Me being up all night means I’m in no place to do traditional school in the mornings.  Instead the kids have been doing “TV school”, which is watching PBS shows and Magic School Bus.  Today was a lot of Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That.  It’s been kind of nice to not worry about getting through workbooks, so much so that it’s tempting never to go back to workbooks again, which would be extra nice.

Still, I’ve gotten to the point where, listening to my kids, I have to worry.  Beekee, for example, was asked by his friend why he homeschooled.  He said it’s because he wasn’t learning well enough in school.  He said he wasn’t smart enough to do his work.  I pointed out that it wasn’t whether or not he was smart enough, he was just bored.  Of course, his friend had to step in and say, “If you went to my school, you wouldn’t be bored.  My school keeps us very busy.”  I wanted to point out that busy doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be boring.  I also did end up pointing out that Beekee was learning tons of stuff at home that he wouldn’t be learning in school, and just tried to leave it at that.  It’s tough when their friends have a fancy private school education.  Something about private school seems to make people think it’s better.  Personally, I went to Catholic school.  I know it’s not necessarily any better, but that’s just me.

And Corde finally asked me if she could homeschool again today.  She’s in a voc/tech now, which she likes for the shop classes, but she really hates the academics.  She feels like she’s just learning the same stuff over and over again and would really like to move past it all.  Besides, she hears about all the fun stuff the boys get to do, and it would mean she could sleep in and wouldn’t have to go out when the weather is bad.  Honestly, I want her to stick it out until she’s done with her exploratory, that way she can decide if it’s really worth it to stick in school for a shop she loves.  I want her to at least give it a chance.  I also told her to ask her guidance counselor if there’s a way she could still do the shops, but do the academic portion of her schooling at home.  That may also be an option.

But we’ll see where it goes from here.  I honestly feel like I may not be the most engaging of unschooling parents.  I’ve kind of got the whole mentality of “let them be free!  I’m not guiding them to anything!”  I’ve seen in a local unschooling group that the idea is to teach kids through alternate means than books and curriculum.  Honestly, I feel like teaching them is the wrong way to look at it.  If they want to spend all their time watching Minecraft videos, so be it.  They eventually go on to do something else.  They’ve been playing a lot of Dungeon Defenders, which teaches them strategy.  We’ve been reading Harry Potter every night.  We haven’t done too much on the science end of things, but that’s something we’ve been observing a lot on our own.  The kids are noticing the weather changing, the effect it has on the trees and the animals.  They’re talking about the prospect of it snowing, and calculating how long until spring comes back around.  They’re observing things from life.  I just don’t feel like I should hold their hand and lead them where I think they should go.  To me, that doesn’t feel like unschooling.  It feels like an alternative method of teaching, changing the parameters of what “curriculum” means.  I know that’s probably not what people are getting at, but still.

Anyhow, it feels more like we’re getting back to our roots.  I’m going to start looking for some recipes we can bake together.  Even just using the same tired cookie recipe gets the kids in the kitchen measuring.  Corde, Beekee, and Sander all like to help with the cooking, though Luca is getting to the point of wanting to get in on it as well.  I really need to have them help me with the grocery budget, though that will probably be more the case when we start shopping together again.  Then there’s the time they spend knitting gifts for Christmas, which is a good life skill.  It’s only dishcloths but still!  It’s something!  Then there’s all the stuff they watch videos about (they’re way into Minecraft and animals).  They get a lot of education from everything.  I feel like leading them to it so that they can learn from it only takes away the joy they get from discovering things for themselves.  The best thing I can do for them is make stuff available for them, that way they have the opportunity to discover something new.  Strewing…  I’m really good at that!  And that’s what we’ve been doing a lot more of lately.

So, here’s to slacking, and here’s to getting back to where we started in this crazy mess.  Hopefully we can find our balance here soon.  And hopefully I can have the courage to stand up and say “This is how we’re going to roll!” without worrying about what people will think.  Chances are that’s going to happen right about the time we get a car and start going to co-ops in the area.

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WWII Reenactment

We got a chance to go see a WWII reenactment this past weekend with some of my family. They had all kinds of vehicles and planes to look at. We spent much of the early day inside because of the rain, but it gave us a chance to see some really great stuff.

They had two camps set up, one allies and the other German. We were out by the German camp, where the kids got to sit in one of the trucks and Luca got to see the rounds they would be firing for the event. On the American side Corde got to hold one of the guns. She commented on how heavy it was.

They had a small group of the German side set up, complete with some kids portraying Hitler Youth. It was surprising to see such young kids out there.

The battle itself was pretty intense. There was smoke and explosions all over the place. The kids loved seeing the tanks ride out. I think that was their favorite part.

It was an awesome experience and I hope we get to go again next year. It was a lot of fun. Besides, it’s a great way to experience history!


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Back to School (or Not)

It’s that time of year again, when my Facebook feed blows up with kids going back to their first day of school, sometimes their first day in general, other times their first day in a new grade.  This time last year I was getting ready to send my own kids back to school, which wouldn’t last out the year for Sander and Beekee.  Now I’m only gearing up to send one back to school, Corde, and she’s not even sure she wants to last out the year.

For Corde, this year is basically a big experiment.  She’s going to do the career exploratory at the local tech school, and if she likes it, she may stay on long-term.  We may also look into working out a deal where she can homeschool for her academics and go to school for the technical training.  We’re still not sure what we want to do for that, but it at least gives her an idea of what she can do for a career, so it’s worth it.  She’s going to get a chance to try some things and hopefully narrow down what she wants to do with her life, and as a result, where she wants to go to college and what she studies when she gets there.

For the other three, this is a time of getting back into it.  We’ve been doing phonics and math through the summer, but for the fall we’re adding some workbooks that the kids actually enjoyed doing, now that we won’t have the distraction of Corde at home.  There are this series of workbooks that are listed as Daily (Subject).  The kids really like these books because it’s a short (10 minute or less) delve into a topic.  Last year Sander and Beekee did Daily Geography and Daily Science.  Beekee also did Daily Reading Comprehension, which I think Sander is going to do this year as well.  Since the kids like it, I don’t see why we wouldn’t keep doing them, for now at least.  If they enjoy it, why not?  Even if it really is curriculum, it’s still unschooling if it’s fun, right?

I’m sticking with the math and phonics.  These are really just core subjects that the school can use as measurable goals to make sure the kids are on track.  Their reading and math levels really matter when it comes to the school system, so I’m trying to keep them “on track.”  Sander needs to be reading and reading independently, which is an important milestone for the schools.  Once he’s doing that we can slack off a bit there.  Besides, some of the work is kind of fun, so that’s something.  Sander gets to color and enjoys reading all the new books with Primary Phonics, and some of the exercises in Explode the Code seem to be kind of fun.  It’s not the most “unschooler” approach to things, but I want to make sure we’re at least toeing the line on this one.  And the math?  The kids seem to enjoy doing the math with the blocks (even if some of it is more playing than doing their problems), and they’re doing pretty good with the exercises.  If I can get them through to the point of being “ahead” in math they can definitely slack off in that department.  Again, it’s just enough to keep the school system happy, and they’re making good progress (and having fun with it) so why not?

But history we’re definitely taking a more “unschooling” approach.  The kids liked Story of the World, so we’re going to start on Story of the World Vol 2 in the first few weeks of the school year.  I’m going to be ordering it early into the year.  We’re also going to be reading a lot of fairy tales, just for the fun of it.  You can learn a lot about a culture from their fairy tales.  We’re hopefully going to end the year with a trip to the Renaissance Faire in the spring, though that all depends on us getting a car.  We’re probably also going to talk about swords, archery, and other cool stuff like that.  You can’t start the middle ages without talking about that cool stuff.  And, just for the fun of it, we’re going to add playing Skyrim to the curriculum.  It’s not exactly an accurate portrayal of history in any means, but it does introduce concepts like armor, weapons, and castles.  We can find some cool videos online about siege weapons and there are more than a few on armor.  This is a period of history I absolutely love learning about, so we’re going to have some fun with it.  We may even throw in learning to make chainmail (or any of the numerous spellings), just for the fun of it.  Why not?  Oz knows how to make it.  It may be a bit too hard for Luca, but Sander and Beekee are definitely old enough to put together a simple piece of jewelry.  Best part is it gives Oz and I reasons to get back into some stuff we really love, which is never a bad thing.

And what about science, you may ask?  I had planned on ordering a science “curriculum” with lots of experiments for the boys to do, but I think I may just order a book of experiments to do at home.  I think we’re going to make sure we do everything scientifically, from forming a hypothesis to developing a conclusion.  Thankfully this is my home, so a conclusion of “That was really awesome!” counts as far as I’m concerned.  Well, that and a few details about what happened.  I’m expecting to record these answers for them and keep the “lab reports” in a big binder so the kids can all review what we’ve done later.  Maybe we’ll pick up some science kits at some point in the year, but for now we’re planning on keeping it simple.  We may also look into getting one of those snap circuit kits so the kids can learn about circuitry and that kind of thing, but I think sticking with stuff we can do with household goods, even if it’s not stuff we have readily on hand and have to purchase, sounds like the best place to start.

And, finally, on the essential skill of writing, I’m hoping we can get a letter writing thing going on.  Luca and Sander have a half brother they haven’t yet met, but lives almost clear across the country from them.  I’m hoping Oz can convince his mom to let them start writing letters.  I’m also going to be talking to my aunt (their great aunt) about maybe doing a letter exchange/penpal thing.  It’s a great way to get good at writing, but it’s also always fun to get stuff in the mail.  That’s going to do the boys a lot of good, even if they only send out one letter every other week or so.  It’s skill building, and something they’ve all expressed interest in doing.

Not only will they be doing letter writing, but Sander and Beekee both have asked about doing more writing projects.  Beekee wants to learn to write well so he can go to college some day.  Sander wants to learn to write stories.  Both of them have agreed to work on a paragraph a week, then maybe illustrating their paragraph, just for fun.  We’ve decided (while the kids have interest at least) we’re going to pick a topic every week (or more often if they choose to) and all three will get to write about it.  Sander and Beekee will work on doing a paragraph (maybe more for Beekee) and Luca will get to write a sentence.  They’re all really excited about this.  I plan to put this in each of their portfolios so they have a collection of work for the end of the year to look back on.  This will allow us to have dated samples of their work, should we be asked for it in the future, but also it’s a really cool way for them to look back at their writing skills.  Hopefully this will help Sander build into a creative writer, and teach Beekee the skills he’s going to need to write college papers, even if he’s still a ways away from having to do that yet.

I’m pretty excited about this year.  We’ve got some cool stuff we want to do in history and science.  We’ve got some daily lessons to keep the kids busy.  We’re making progress in math, which we’re blowing through the lessons faster than I expected.  Phonics is coming along pretty well, which means Sander will be reading independently before long and Luca will be reading in no time.  We’ll have plenty of pieces of work to put together in a portfolio, and tons of new experiences on the way.  I have a feeling Corde’s going to be sad she’s being left out, but she’s got half the year to decide what she wants to do.  Who knows?  Maybe all the fun the kids are having will inspire her to come home and join the fun too?  Or maybe school will be really awesome for her.  Either way, it’s going to be a wild year!


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Unschooling Is Back, Baby!

This week I did something I didn’t even realize I needed to do.  I called to find out where I have to send in a progress report for my children’s year of homeschooling.  I had expected to go in with portfolio in hand to show them the work we’d done (which is why we even bothered to keep a portfolio in the first place).  As it turns out, I don’t need to do that at all.  The process is much simpler than that.

So what do I have to do?  I need to send in a progress report for each of my children talking about what we covered in every subject.  I was also told I have to send in samples of their work, though I’m not sure how that works.  I was told it’s standardized testing OR a progress report OR samples of their work.  I’m still ironing out the details of what exactly I have to include, but we’re getting there.  One thing at a time, right?  For now, I’m going to be compiling a progress report covering what we did with each subject, and putting together my education plan for next year.

The plans for next year are pretty simple, really.  We’re going to keep with the phonics program and the math program, but my goal beyond that is to try and do a year of totally unschooling.  I know I’ve got daily exercise books for the kids that my aunt got me, and if the kids have interest in doing them, great.  I may suggest the geography and science ones on a regular basis because the kids really liked those and they cover some good topics.  I’m thinking we’re going to do Story of the World again next year, though if they don’t totally soak it up, I’m not too worried about it.  But beyond that, anything goes.

More accurately, I’m going to stick it out with math.  We’re going to try and blow through the remaining phonics.  Once we’re done with phonics, we’re going to be done with everything but math, and then it’s back to unschooling time!

So, why are we sticking with math and phonics?  Well, phonics has really helped Sander with his reading, so I figure the more we can give him tools to be successful, the better he’ll be.  I know as long as we live near family, a lot of pressure is going to be put on the kids to be reading.  While I’d love to let them learn it organically, I know things will go much more smoothly if the kids learn how to read and we go from there.  And math?  Well, that’s a life skill that they’re going to need if they ever want to go to college, and while I’m not holding my breath that the kids will want to go to college, I want to keep that option available to them.

As if gearing up for a more unschooling heavy year wasn’t enough, we’re also working on getting back to a more unschooling life in general.  Once we have a car we intend to take to the road a lot more and visit some historic places, museums, and other cool places filled with learning.  We’re definitely going to start going on more nature walks.  It may not be until spring that we have a car, but we’re totally going to be looking forward to that in the coming school year.

It feels so good to know we’re going to be getting back to the roots of it all again.  I can’t wait to take another step forward, progressing into the next phase of our schooling life.  I’m looking forward to filling the house with experiments, talking about crazy inventions on Minecraft, and all kinds of other cool things.  We’re in for an absolutely fantastic “school” year!


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Why She Wants to Go to School

I’m honestly really sad about Corde wanting to go to high school next year.  Part of it is her grades.  She’s a B/C student and feels like she can’t aspire to anything better.  I have a feeling reliance on grades will only hold her back and make her that much less ready for college, if she decides to go.  But there are other factors in all of that.  I just feel like she could get so much better of an education at home.

For starters, no one is teaching her how to write, and I mean properly write.  I’ve heard this complaint from a lot of high school students entering college.  No one taught them the proper way to write a research paper.  No one showed them how to craft a properly supported argument.  They struggle when they get to college because they don’t know how to do these things.  I can honestly say that was the hardest part about peer editing in college, I felt like I had to make a lot of comments and edits.  Actually, that’s not true.  I had a wonderful time in my literature class, but my history class it felt like I was working with a lot of people that didn’t know how to write.

And then there’s other aspects of education.  Corde is tracked into a specific plan for next year.  While she’s not doing great in math (a solid B student, so not horrible), she’s getting through the material quickly.  If she was homeschooled she could advance through the material and get “back on track” that much quicker.  There’s no reason she couldn’t be through Algebra 1 right now if she just applied herself.  We could have easily gotten through it this summer, but what’s the point if she’s not going to be able to advance to the next level next year in school?  She can’t move forward at her pace.  She has to move at the pace everyone else sets for her.

Let’s not forget her woes in science and history.  Those classes are all about memorizing facts, something she’s really struggling with.  I know college will be full of that.  She may not have to remember names and dates in science, but she is going to have to remember things like the laws of physics, or the parts of a cell.  In history it’ll be names and dates.  However, I could teach her to study those things and improve her skills.  Going to school she had a study block, which was where she did all her work.  None of her work came home, so she didn’t study, and because she didn’t study, she didn’t do well in her classes.  These are things we could easily improve upon with homeschooling.

However, she doesn’t want to homeschool.  It’s not about the high school experience.  It’s not even because she’s really interested in the things she’ll learn in tech school.  She’s really only interested in going to high school to be with her friends.  She said, “You don’t understand, Mom.  Once you no longer go to school with kids they don’t have time for you anymore.”  I hate to say it, but there’s every chance her friends won’t have time for her in high school either.  She may choose a different vocational career than them, or they may all choose the same thing to be together, which is the wrong way to choose something.  There’s every chance she and her friends will drift apart anyway.

Going to school just for her friends isn’t a good answer in my opinion.  If she works hard to maintain her friendships, she won’t have to worry about losing her friends when they go to different schools.  They’ll make other friends, I’m sure, but she’ll still be able to hang out with her friends after school.  She’ll have even more time because she won’t have homework to worry about.

Still, I know I can’t change her mind, so we’re going to see how it goes.  I think it would be different if we had a car and could get her to homeschooling events.  That’s going to be a while in coming though, so we’re doing the best we can.  Maybe she’ll decide she wants to homeschool her academics and we can work something out with the school for that.  We may have a compromise yet.


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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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Peter Pan

I’ve got to admit, I’ve been a horrible mom when it comes to reading to my kids.  I really should do it more often, but it never seems to be a good time.  There’s a whole big push in my area that reading to your kids 20 minutes a day is good for them, or having them read for 20 minutes a day.  Most days we manage 20 minutes of Sander and Beekee reading.  Corde (not surprisingly) hardly reads at all.  I try to squeeze in reading to Luca, but it’s not always that easy.

After watching an episode of Once Upon A Time (on Netflix) with Peter Pan, we decided I would read Peter Pan to the kids again.  We read it quite a few years back when we still lived in the trailer park.  Beekee was so into the story that I managed to read the whole book without a break when all the other kids had fallen asleep.

Now, I have to say Peter Pan isn’t the perfect read aloud for so much time off of reading together.  It’s long and wordy so the kids tend to glaze over and zone out.  They couldn’t even pull from the text that Nana was a dog.  Still, they’ll get used to hearing me read and eventually the stories will start sinking in.  On top of Peter Pan we also have the complete Wizard of Oz series, all of Anne of Green Gables, all of the Judy Moody books, as well as the ones about her brother, Stink, and Coraline.  We’ve got plenty of stuff on my Kindle to keep us reading aloud for quite some time.

I have to admit, I kind of like doing the read aloud stories on Kindle.  They’re easy to store and I don’t have to worry about losing the book from one night to the next.  I misplace things all the time, so having something so easily found (it’s in a bright turquoise case) is a definite benefit.

And poor Luca couldn’t last the whole chapter.  I had a floppy Bear draped over on my lap, perfectly content to sleep there.  I needed help to move the sleeping one out of my lap and onto the bed.  Luca actually managed to stay asleep straight through the night until morning, falling asleep almost two hours before the usual time.  I think we may need to keep that up, for no other reason than to get Luca to bed earlier.

As time passes I’m sure my skill at reading will improve again.  Like I said, the kids will get used to hearing my voice and hearing me read to them.  They’ll get used to the idea of books being a part of our regular day.  Their exposure to new ideas and vocabulary will definitely help, especially since books have a much more challenging vocabulary than television shows (except maybe some of the educational ones).  It’ll be good for them, and it’ll help their brains grow.

All of this will also continue to link back to other things in their lives.  They’re going to hear about Peter Pan and Captain Hook, characters they’re seeing in the television show.  Then they’re going to hear about the Wizard of Oz and we can watch the movies that go with that theme.  They can hear about Coraline’s adventure, then watch the movie again to compare.  There’s even a series on Netflix called Anne with an “E” that we can watch as we read Anne of Green Gables.  It should be fun.

Reading to the kids has always been on and off a thing that I’ve done.  Being radical unschoolers, we never really had a set routine, which made it difficult to keep the reading thing going.  Now that our lives have more structure it should be a lot easier to keep it going.  I’m not sure how it will fit in when we start going back to jujitsu, but we’ll find a way to make it work.  I’m really excited about being able to do this with them.