Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Busy, Busy

Things have gotten a little chaotic around here. I took a job to help make ends meet. We want to be able to get a science curriculum for next year, so having the extra money would really help. We also want to do a handwriting curriculum because Sender’s writing is awful and I want the kids to learn cursive. It’s more curriculum and less unschooling, but the kids seem to think it’s fun, so why not?

With all the fuss over starting my new job we decided to take some time off of jujitsu. It’s just more in the week than we can handle right now. I know that’s the only real socialization we do, but It’s just too much. Even the kids were pretty burnt out on it. I think we all just needed a break.

Because we’re spending a lot of time on curriculum, we’ve decided to take two days out of each week for “TV school” where we watch documentaries as our daily work. I may just make that the end point to all our school days, but two days each week we try to do nothing but. So far we have four shows going. Two are on animal life. One is on castles. The last one is called Mega Builders and is about incredible building projects. It’s a good mix of stuff for the kids.

All of this end of the year stuff has me planning for next year. Luca has already made it through the first book of Get Ready for the Code. Sander finished his first book of Primary Phonics. That’s two things we can just put aside and call done. Thankfully I have the next set of Primary Phonics for Sander and up to Explode the Code book 2 for Luca. That should keep us going on phonics skills for a while. I’m less of a fan of Primary Phonics as it seems to really be set up for classroom use. I don’t have a board to write on, nor do I have the cards that go with the set. Still, It’s free, so I’ll use them.

The big reason I want to go with a curriculum for science next year is the experiments. I’m kind of rubbish at coming up with projects to do and I’m even worse at making sure I have the supplies on hand. I kind of stink at explaining the science behind things because It’s hard for me to explain things I haven’t studied in years. Having a curriculum gives us projects to start off with that are age appropriate with all the resources to explain what’s going on. The kits I’ve seen with all the experiments aren’t cheap, somewhere between $100 And  $200 per grade level, but I think It’s worth it. It may not be so much for someone else. The way I see it, I would probably spend just as much coming up with experiments to do myself. And we can always try it for a year and see if the kids like it. It doesn’t have to be a heavy curriculum with lots of writing and reading. Just some fun experiments should be enough.

This year I’m really not getting so far with the science I was hoping to do. I wanted to get some plants going on the back porch so we could use gardening as one of our lessons. I haven’t even started on that. Our budget has been too tight to really allow it, and the weather has been too gross to allow for much gardening anyway. I’m hoping this new job opens up some more opportunities for growing a garden. I’ve got some great ideas, though I’m not sure how practical all of them would be. I found these really cool apple trees called Urban Apples. They grow in a narrow column instead of branching out, which makes them ideal for urban settings. I may have to try some. Right now fruit trees are my main focus. I think those are easiest in the long run because I don’t have to replant them every year, which makes them more than pay for themselves. Plus, It’s a science experiment that just keeps growing, so the effects can be studied through the seasons and year after year.

This is mostly just me rambling about what we’ve been up to. It seems like it hasn’t been much, just the same old routine day in and day out. We’re living a kind of quiet existence these days and I’m really okay with that. I think we all needed some down time. Life has been too busy.


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I’m Not Doing School Today

That’s how the day started. I was so not motivated. I pulled the blanket back over my head, determined to do nothing, even if it meant sending the kids back to the public school system. I would not do school today, or perhaps ever again.

That’s how the day started…

The next revision of this plan involved computer school and nothing else. We were going to do that since we’re paying for it, and that’s about it. We didn’t need to do anything else, right?

What is the reality? Luca has done everything today except computer time. Sander finished his computer time. Beekee is through his math and is on to his other subjects. We’re cooking through the work today, even though I said we wouldn’t. All we haven’t tackled is history, something we’re going to be skipping out on some because there’s a good on Story of the World so it can’t be renewed. We were two thirds of the way through it anyway. We may end up buying it in the long run, but we may just start with Volume 2. We’ll lose some content, but I’m not so worried about that. Most kids their age don’t even cover history in school. If we skip over the rest of Greece and Rome It’s no big deal.

This is how it’s gone the past week too. I get up, determined to do nothing, then we always end up doing more than I planned. Last week we did have two cheat days, one for my birthday and the other for Beekee’s. This week we have no excuses, and April Vacation starts in two weeks, so we’ll probably take the week off since Corde will be home. Of course, I say that now, but it will come time for break and they’ll all be working through the week.

I really don’t do well at taking days off. We end up working through all of the stuff anyway. It’s right up there with taking time off of jujitsu or missing appointments. Even if I feel like I’m dying I still get off my butt and go. It’s about commitment, and I think I’m teaching my kids a valuable lesson about commitment and dedication. It’s good that they see I have trouble getting motivated, but I still manage to get things done.

So maybe I start the day thinking we should take a day off, but at least I still get stuff done. It doesn’t make for much unschooling, but we’ll get there. For now I think just getting through stuff to keep the state happy makes me feel more secure about what we’re doing. Until I’m feeling more confident, I guess we just don’t have many days without school.


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I Would Like A Voice, Please

Learning has been interesting this week. Last week I went to a concert and didn’t lose my voice. This week, out of the blue, I have no voice. Doesn’t that figure? It’s made it an interesting week of homeschooling.

However, not having a voice allowed me to make some interesting observations. For example, I really don’t like Primary Phonics. Doing it right requires an obnoxious amount of talking, and I feel Sander isn’t getting as much out of it if I just say, “There are the workbooks pages. Have at.” It feels like I should be putting in the effort to read through the lessons. I’ll be honest, this is why I haven’t put more effort into doing Primary Phonics with Luca. I think Explode the Code does the same basic thing, but better. The only advantage to Primary Phonics is the basic readers that really make it easy for Sander to build some confidence with reading. I prefer the phonics box sets for that kind of stuff though. To be honest, Primary Phonics seems like a dated system of learning phonics. Will I still use it? Yes, if for no other reason than feeling guilty that money was spent on it for both Sander and Luca, but I much prefer Explode the Code. It’s a lot more fun for both Sander and Luca.

I’ve also realized that having a curriculum doesn’t suit me so much. We really are unschoolers at heart. I hate sticking to the curriculum and the workbooks. I feel like I’m spending my whole day working through books, even though we really don’t spend that long. It’s not my favorite thing. We’re it up to me we would do Explode the Code and Math U See and call it a day after that.

It’s also struck me how much time I spend reading to the kids every day. Our homeschool days have been really short without having reading as a component. We cruise through our daily workbook time without it. It feels like our last few days have been severely lacking. We usually read so much!

And it’s not just the reading we’ve been missing out on, but the discussions as well. We generally spend a lot of time talking about what we’ve been learning or doing. We haven’t been able to do that because my voice (when it’s there) sounds like talking through gravel. As a result, we haven’t been able to do much of that either. It’s been tough losing that whole part of it. I never realized how much talking I do as a part of homeschooling these days!

As for what you missed in the last six days I wasn’t able to pop on the computer (which I’m now posting from my phone, so I’m still not on the computer…) there’s been some good moments. I think I need to share some pictures to show what kind of week it’s been.

This was when Luca decided to serenade me with Beekee’s guitar. It was super cute. The song was called “I love mommy!” Can I just tell you how that made me feel? Luca is awesome like that.

We took last week off of jujitsu, and we’re taking today off as well due to Luca’s dental consultation. (Poor kid needs caps on a bunch of teeth, so that’s a whole ordeal…) We did, however, go on Monday. The kids had a blast on the walk and they loved getting out in the warm weather. If only it was warm like that today!

Sander had crazy spiky hair after his shower. He looks so much more like himself since we hacked off his crazy mop of hair. He wants to keep it that short and spike it up every time he showers. He thinks it’s the most fun part of having short hair.

And then I got this. It’s perhaps the best picture I’ve taken of Beekee in a long time. He’s hard to get a picture of at the best of times. This one just worked out well. He was in the middle of doing his math work for the day. Homeschooling seems to suit him. He still gets easily distracted, but we still get through the content, and that’s what matters, right? It’s working out for us.

Then this happened to my living room. Luca had one tent from last Christmas and got another one this Christmas with a tunnel. This makes for an epic fortress in my living room. Thankfully, they fold up flat so I can put them away when not in use. That means I get my living room back most of the time, aside from when Luca decides to set up the tunnel towers again. I need a bigger living room. That’s what it comes down to.

Today Luca had the consultation for the scary amount of dental work (surgery! Yikes!) I’m glad Oz is going to be taking Luca in for that. Luca needs caps on the upper front teeth and an extraction. I don’t know why either. Luca’s teeth have been treated the same as the rest of the kids. We would have had it seen to earlier but there was that whole moving around thing a couple years ago and once we were settled it was already too late. So that being said, we’re doing the best we can with a bad situation. (Also, this is why I think even radical unschoolers should encourage their kids to brush their teeth!)

Luca came home with an apple fritters as a special treat for being good at the dentist. Luca called it an “apple critter.” It was super cute. That made my day!

So now you’re caught up with us. Now I’m off to watch Jurassic World with the kids. It’s their first Jurassic Park movie. This should be interesting


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All Work and No Play

Today it took Beekee forever to get through his work.  Today was like the days his teacher used to complain about at school.  The difference here is he can keep working on a task until he completes it, even if it takes him all day.  If he gets distracted a few times, it’s no big deal.

Sander, on the other hand, cruised through his work like it was nothing.  It was one of those days where he was on it.  We had a couple millisecond meltdowns about reading words he was unfamiliar with, but we moved on quickly.  It was like it was all too easy for him, and maybe it was.  I have a feeling once he gets the routine down he’ll be flying through his work today.

And then after Sander’s work was done, we started talking about bees.  This started because there was a spider in the house.  Normally I would insist on the spider being taken outside, but given the cold, I decided it could stay, so long as it keeps out of our way.  I’m not responsible for it accidentally being squished.  We talked about how spiders are arachnids, but that makes them bugs.  Insects are also bugs.  I said that some examples I could think of as insects were ants, wasps, and bees.  This got the kids all excited.  They really like bees, and I have no idea why.  They have a personal want to save all the world’s honey bees, which is a good thing because we’re well aware of the worlds vanishing bee problem.  It’s good to know my little nature lovers are geared towards saving the bees.

And it’s not all about work and play for the kids either.  I’m going to have fun tonight too.  I know I don’t mention what I’m doing much, because this blog wasn’t started about me, but we’re all a family, which means what we do impacts each other.  So tonight I’m going out to a concert, Dropkick Murpheys!

Now, what’s important about this in a greater family context, aside from Corde being really jealous that I’m going, is that I have a chance to do something for me every once in a while.  It’s good to know I have a chance to be someone other than mom now and again.  This has been a more common occurance in more recent times.  I get to have more time to be me, which makes me a better mom in the end.

This brought up another idea I was thinking about.  I’m going to start looking for all ages shows that I can take Corde too.  She’s old enough now that she’s interested in that kind of thing, and I think it would be fun for her to go.  I’d love to be the person to take her.

Years ago my dad took me to my first concert.  It was a free concert at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River.  We went to see a bunch of artists, the biggest one being Paula Cole.  At the time I’d heard her on the radio quite a bit and was really excited to get to see her performing live.  It was quite the adventure, and a great day in the cuty.

I hope that I’m the one that gets to take all my kids (if they’re so inclined) to their first concerts.  I know I won’t be able to afford taking them often, but it would be great to be able to say I took them to their first one, even if we can’t afford to do anything after that.  Concerts are expensive!  And so many of them are not all-ages shows.  It would mean I’d have to look around for something that is, and those are generally bigger shows that are much more expensive.  I’m sure we can find something good for the kids.

But for tonight it’s about me and my fun.  Since my birthday is in a couple weeks, this is kind of a birthday present for me.  As an added bonus I’ll be picking up a shirt or something from the show, because I want something to remember this by.  I’ve only wanted to see them for I don’t even know how long.  As they’ve only been around since 1996, I guess you would say I’m an early adopter of the band.  I’ve wanted to see them since high school, so I’m thinking it can’t be long after they became a band in the first place.  This is one thing I can check off the list of life experiences I would love to have!

So, here’s hoping you all have as wonderful of a night as I will!


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The Cold Makes Us Lazy

It was cold out today.  We’d been enjoying such nice weather that the cold seemed to hit especially hard, resulting in none of us wanting to do anything.  We plowed through the stuff we really need to knock out every day, then moved on with our day.  Everyone but Corde took a nap.

Oh, did I mention Corde was home today?  She missed her bus.  I’ve determined that this is the last time she misses her bus.  If she misses again I’m just going to tell the school we’re withdrawing her to homeschool for the rest of the year.  She wants to stay because it means she can go to all of the end of the year events, but she wants to homeschool next year.  Personally I think she might be better off going to the local vocational school for culinary, but that’s just me.  I can’t decide her life for her.

As for the rest of us, we skipped out on jujitsu today.  It was cold and none of us really felt like going.  Given there’s supposed to be snow tomorrow and Wednesday, we’re not going to Wednesday class either.  The kids are going to be home on Friday, so it’s going to be a whole week off.  I just hope the weather turns nice next week so that we can get back to going again.  I don’t want to miss too many days.

Tomorrow is going to be a snow day for Corde, which means more working from home.  It’s going to be good having her home in a lot of ways.  She helps Sander with his work much better than I ever could.  There’s something cool about having big sister help instead of mom.  Sisters are so much cooler, right?

I’m honestly looking forward to the warmer weather.  I have a feeling we’re never really going to be home.  I plan to do a lot of science in nature.  We’ve already started with making note of the signs of spring.  I hope to do a lot more outside time.  It’ll mean falling behind in math, phonics, and writing, but I’m okay with that.  The kids need to be learning from life more than they need to be sitting down with books anyway.

All of that seemed like it was just around the corner, and then the forecast called for snow.  I’m not thrilled about that.  I’m ready to be over the snow and I’m waiting for a chance where we can move down south again where it’s warm.  (Of course, I talk a big game, but I’ll probably find myself in an RV traveling the country first, which isn’t going to happen any time soon.)

Instead of a lot of work tomorrow, we’re probably going to be doing a lot of gaming.  The kids like playing Minecraft and Little Big Planet.  They haven’t even gotten to the creator stuff in Little Big Planet.  They’ll really like it when they get there.  I have a feeling, in spite of the snow, we’re going to have a good day tomorrow.


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The Things My Kids Don’t Know

We’ve been following through with Story of the World, and the kids discovered that Anansi is just a really cool character.  They absolutely loved the story of Anansi.  So what does this have me doing?  As a good mother I go to the library website and request every story known to man with Anansi…because I’m that mom…

It got me thinking about something I hadn’t even realized I’ve never done with the kids.  We’ve never read Aesop’s fables.  We’ve also never done Just So Stories.  These were so much of a factor in my own life that I can’t believe we haven’t done anything with them.  They are living proof that (to some degree) I am a failure as a mom.  How can I neglect these things that were such a part of my own childhood?

I’ve already realized that my kids were growing up in a weird little bubble when I realized my kids don’t know how to sing Twinkle, Twinkle or The Wheels on the Bus.  I’d never taught them to sing Do Your Ears Hang Low.  We never sang any of the classic kids songs.  For that matter, we rarely sing as a family.  The only one we regularly do is On Top of Spaghetti, which Luca insists on me singing at least fifty times over when we’re walking to or from jujitsu.  I really need to brush up on some other fun songs because that one’s getting kind of old.  (Of course, it might help if I actually remembered the other three versus, so that’s a thing.  Luca would probably find that MUCH funnier.)

But my kids really do seem to live in a bubble where they don’t know the traditional stuff kids know at their age.  I mean, how many kids Sander and Luca’s age are studying history?  I find it not at all a problem that they don’t know how to sing those childhood songs every other kid seems to know.

And as Sander’s bus drives by the house, I’m reminded again why I’m so glad he’s home.  I don’t have to worry about him getting off the bus at 4pm, then still having homework to do, and being too tired to do it.  Jujitsu wouldn’t even begin to be an option if he was in traditional school.  He wouldn’t be home for more than an hour and a half before I had to bustle him back out the door!

I digress…what was the point I was making?  Oh, yes, that my kids don’t know the stuff I knew when I was their age.  I guess that makes me feel that my kids are growing up with a weird existence.  I’m not raising them on a healthy diet of children’s songs and things like that.  The kids hardly watch television (aside from Luca who binges like nothing else), and we don’t listen to the radio tons, so they don’t get a whole lot of that poured on them.  They live in this weird state of reality that was so much different than my life growing up.

Yet I can’t help but feel their lives are somehow lacking because these really cool things haven’t been explored by them.  They haven’t learned about Aesop’s Fables or read the Just So Stories.  Now they’re being introduced to Anansi, which is the closest they’ve come to any of that.  While those stories are really cool, we’re just now getting to them, and those were the only ones.  We need to incorporate more of that into our learning time, I think.  The kids would probably dig that kind of stuff.

At the same time, the things my kids have been learning are pretty awesome.  They’ve gotten to watch a garden grow last year.  They’ll be seeing it again this year.  We’re going to be spending time in nature as soon as the weather gets warm, and we’re going to start making note of the things that indicate the change of seasons once Daylight Savings hits and we’ll still have light when we go to jujitsu.  We’re delving into a lot of history, which is great for the kids and they’re really digging into it.  These are things I thought were pretty cool when I was a kid and it’s great to see they’re enjoying it as much as I do.  They’re really getting to experience some awesome things that way.

It isn’t too late to introduce the kids to things I feel are missing in their lives.  Aesop’s Fables will continue to be around.  I’m sure I can find a free ebook with them on Kindle.  The Just So Stories can be gotten from the library, I’m sure.  Since we’re homeschooling there are far more options to bring them up as a part of our homeschooling activities, and I no longer have to worry about Sander getting off the bus at 4 and not being interested in doing anymore school related anything after that.

Now we’ve got this incredible opportunity to fix what I feel like is a major failing in raising my kids (at least the younger three).  I still have time to get them knowledgeable about the things they don’t know, things that I’ve come to understand most kids don’t know anymore.  It’s a chance to open up a world to them that they’d never even known to consider before.  I have a feeling we’re in for a really great experience.


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The Art of Negotiation

One thing I’ve learned as a parent, especially as a homeschooling parent, is the art of negotiation.  I’ve tried not to be that parent that manipulates.  I try to let my kids be my kids, but sometimes I really have to set my foot down on things.  I hate doing it, but it’s necessary for my household to operate.  Things such as bedtimes (because of neighbors) are non-negotiable.  Other things?  They’re a lot more up for discussing.

While there are a lot of things that are up for discussion, I’ve come to learn to choose my battles.  There are some things (like lunch time) that have become fixed points in time, but other things are a lot more fluid.  Even the things I try to use as fixed points have been bending a lot lately.

For example, I had curriculum that the kids were supposed to do every day.  The problem with that was how incredibly daunting it was to face a day of solid block curriculum.  Though I know she has the best of intentions, my aunt keeps giving us more homeschooling curriculum and supplies and it’s starting to feel like our day is turning into a solid block of structured learning, exactly what I wanted to avoid.  I’ve got a lot to figure out with making it all work.

This is where negotiation comes in.  Today none of us were feeling homeschooling (that happens), so I was debating on just not doing it at all today, but knowing how things would turn out if I just said they could do whatever, I opted to at least do something.  We decided to do the Story of the World along with a book on Imperial China.  Then the kids did their computer time (which they pretty much love), and we moved on to workbooks.  Beekee was the only one that really dug the workbooks.  Sander did some of his math, some sight words, and a couple easy science and geography things.  Luca did nothing at all, not even Starfall today, just the computer time.

While on some days this would seem like a fail, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is what parenting is about, being able to negotiate with your child to get the things that must be done accomplished while letting go of things that don’t matter as much.  This factors into everything we do.  The important stuff is fixed (like bedtime), but the less important stuff (like what they wear to bed) is up to them.

In some ways this is easier than others.  I hate the “You have a choice between these things and that’s just the end of it,” but there are times it’s practical.  “We’re going to have dinner.  These are the things I’m willing to make.  Everyone gets a vote.”  I don’t want to leave the kids to pick anything in the house.  As much as I might not care if the kids want pancakes for breakfast, if I’m not feeling up to making it, I’m not making it.  That’s just how it has to be sometimes.

And isn’t that teaching them about life anyways?  Sometimes the world isn’t full of options.  Sometimes you’ve got to pick from a list of things that aren’t always appealing.  Maybe you have options on jobs, but none of them are going to be quite what you want to do.  Doesn’t matter, you still have to have a job to pay the bills.  Waiting for a fun job to come along may not be an option.

Sometimes it’s a matter of respect too.  In the case of dinner, it’s respecting my boundaries.  “I’m tired and I don’t feel like making anything at all, but here’s what I am willing to make.  Which one do you want?”  They need to understand that sometimes I’m all about the roast turkey with all the good stuff with it.  Other times it’s all I can do to throw together mac and cheese.  Some days Oz makes french fries from scratch.  Then there’s most days, where he works and isn’t up to doing anything but being home and playing video games.  It’s about respecting the other person’s needs.  That’s important too, especially if it goes both ways.

Teaching kids to negotiate is also an important life skill.  If they have to do a lesson they don’t want to do because they’d rather continue learning about something else, more power to them.  If they want to spend all day watching YouTube videos, and I feel there’s stuff to get done, it’s good for them to learn how to get what they want, and to meet their responsibilities too.  It’s healthy for them to learn to negotiate in their environment.

It’s reasons like these that I leave wiggle room in a lot of things.  Lunch is always at noon, but we can make it later if the kids are really into doing something.  Normally we don’t break for lunch until we’re done with what we’re doing, but sometimes they eat lunch while working.  We normally do snacks when lessons are done too, but sometimes we have them with lessons.  Bedtime is generally at 8pm for the younger three, but they stay up an hour later, sometimes an hour and a half when we go to jujitsu.  Because of that I leave them some wiggle room on the days they don’t go to jujitsu too.  I like to keep our home flexible so they can find things to practice their negotiating skills on.  After all, they can’t learn how to navigate their own way in life without being allowed some freedom to flex those muscles, so to speak.

But, speaking of jujitsu, it’s almost time to get rolling out.  We’ve got to get ready, especially if I want to pop into the library before class.  We missed Friday last week so I’m feeling the guilt of paying for something we’re not doing bad this week.  If we’re going to be paying for it…again, negotiation.  I don’t really want to go, but I’m willing if the kids are willing, and they’re definitely willing.  Oh the lessons we teach by example…