Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


There’s Good News and Ugly News, Which Do You Want First?

It’s been one of those days.  There’s just no good way to put it.  There were good things, bad things, and just plain ugly things.  Okay, I can’t even say bad, just frustrating, and that part was only trying to convince Luca to take a much needed nap.

Because I’m the kind inclined to get the nasty part over with, let’s start with the ugly news.  Beekee’s teacher is a (inset something unpleasant here).  I can’t even think of a good word for it myself, at least not without getting vulgar.  She found out Beekee might be homeschooling, and then cornered the poor kid to tell him he doesn’t have to homeschool if he doesn’t want to, and won’t he miss his friends from school?  It was awful to hear him come home and say he suddenly doesn’t want to homeschool because he was going to miss his friends and his teacher told him he didn’t have to.

Now, let me just put something out there, straight as I can be.  The teacher not only had no right to do that, but completely overstepped her bounds in raising my kid.  Beekee is 9 years old.  That is most definitely not old enough to decide for himself if he homeschools or stays in school.  That was not her place, and she completely undermined the preparation I’d done in getting Beekee ready to homeschool.

Well, I’m going to solve that as best I can.  I’m sending Beekee to school with letters to his friends’ parents giving them my contact information.  That way they can set up play dates with Beekee still if they want to.  If they don’t, well, it’s sad that he’s going to lose friends, but it just means we need to work on making more friends.  We’re going to be working on getting a car come tax season, so we can get out and go to homeschool play dates for the local group.  I think it would be good for them.  Plus there’s always trips to the Saturday library events.  Undoubtedly there will be other things we can get out and do for the kids to meet people.  It’s not going to be nearly so bad.  I’m not going to let this one incident scare me off of homeschooling, especially playing on the guilt I’d already been feeling about taking the kids away from their friends.

So, now that the nasty business is taken care of, let’s move on to the good news side of things.  We’re making some progress on the homeschool front.  It’s not going to be long before we’re doing school at home full time!

The first good thing that happened today was making contact with the schools.  The 15th was the day I determined we would have the kids out of school by.  I’ve revised my statement.  The 15th is the day I want to have everything in process with the schools.  If the kids don’t come home for a few days after that, I’m okay with that.  It just gives me more time to get everything in order.

img_20170112_164652_727And learning at home hasn’t been all together a drag either.  Sander and Beekee are starting to get into the reading swing of things.  Both of them are doing their reading out loud every day without too much problem.  Sander is working with the Star Wars Phonics Book Set.  It’s not really curriculum, which I love, and the books are good at vocabulary building, so Sander doesn’t get too frustrated.  It’s a good match for us.

img_20170112_162037_386Then there’s our other discovery.  Sander actually likes the Primary Phonics Workbooks.  He’s been incredibly turned off from reading and writing by school, but this is giving him a good place to start at a level that’s comfortable.  It’s not very “unschooler” of us, but if he likes it, it works for me.  Actually, if he likes it, that kind of makes it unschooling, now doesn’t it?  If it gets him into reading and writing, all the better!

And now for the final thing, he’s something Luca managed to do with my necklace that we’re still trying to figure out how he did it.  We’ve tried to replicate it with absolutely no luck.  I have no idea how it worked.

img_20170112_162610_698These are the moments I’ve missed while the kids were in school, watching them figure out how to do crazy things.  They don’t have as much time for it now that they’re in school full time.  They’re crazy, inventive, playful kids, but school has kind of taken it out of them.  They’re no longer in love with the idea of learning, but we’re getting back there.  We’ll be there before long.


And We’re Back

Okay, it’s been way too long since I’ve updated anything.  It’s been what?  Two years?  That’s far too long.  If you’re a long time reader and still want to check in, welcome back!  If you’re a new reader, well, welcome!  I hope you enjoy our journey.

So, what’s new?  We’re no longer living in the trailer park.  We’re actually living a far shot north of our previous Texas home.  Do we miss it?  Yes, yes we do.  Will we go back?  It’s hard to say.  A part of me really wants to go back, and I know the kids kind of do too, but my family is nearby here, so that’s incentive to stay.  Even so, I miss the trailer park!  I never thought I would say that!

As for what else we’ve been up to?  We live in an apartment now.  That’s new and different.  I’ve got to be honest, I hate it.  At least in the trailer park we had a little bit more privacy.  We could shut our doors and the neighbors were shut outside.  It was smaller, to be sure, but it was almost more worth it.  It’s not fantastic being able to hear the neighbors yell through the wall.  I’m not a fan of this living.

And here’s the shocker…the kids were put in school.  I know, the horror, right?  When we moved up here I was pretty much not given an option.  I didn’t realize that would be the case when I moved.  Having no other option, I put them in school.  Now I’m finding out that I could still homeschool here and I’m taking steps to do so.  I guess that means we’re going to be “The Apartment Unschoolers”, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Besides, our eventual destination is probably back to the trailer park, or eventually to our own land.  Then I may have to buy a domain and call it something else entirely.

There is so much more to say, but none of it seems particularly important right now.  What’s important is that we’re back, we’re about to be homeschooling/unschooling again, and we’re going to be right back on track!

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Our Two Week Experiment with School

If you’ve been following along, you already know I’ve been doing the single mom thing. It’s hard to get a job when you’ve got four young kids at home, so I was encouraged to give school a chance, if I was open to it. Actually, the woman helping me out was very supportive of homeschooling, so she wasn’t pushy in the least. The kids were interested in trying it, so we did it. There were only about two and a half weeks left in the year, so it would be a good time to give them a sample. I was assured no testing would happen in that time and placement wouldn’t be effected until next year. They would just be passed through to the next grade.

It started out with a huge disappointment. Sander was supposed to start preschool. Last minute, the school said he couldn’t start so late in the year. He cried for days, all because he wanted to go to school.

Next I hear that Beekee is constantly in trouble. Of course, I don’t here this from the school. Beekee tells me himself. He’s constantly in trouble for breaking the rules.

Then Corde complained about being bullied. The kids at school were teasing her because she spent time with the boys. It got to the point where she wanted nothing more than to quit school.

Near the end of our experiment, I get a call. Beekee has been acting up in class. He won’t stand in line. He apparently can’t count past three. He can’t read. He can’t hold appropriate conversations. The principal and his teacher had decided to retain him.

I fought the decision to the bitter end. I know my child and I know it’s not a lack of education or that he just doesn’t have experience in a school setting. He’s just not handling these changes well. As much as he appears to cope with change well he really doesn’t. He acts up a lot and tests people. Of course, they don’t know my child, so they didn’t know that. The answer was adjusting from homeschool and he clearly wouldn’t know the difference. “Lots of kids get held back.” Yeah, in my experience with Texas schools, I know maybe five people that weren’t held back at some point. And blowing it off like that gives me no confidence in the school system.

Then there was the final blow. I was asked why I didn’t go to all the school events, the graduation, the award ceremonies, field day, and all of that. I’m a single mom with two small children at home. I was trying to care for them and look for work. I have no car, and I lived two and a half miles from the school, not walking distance for Sander. Since I have no toddler carrier, that meant Luca got the stroller. However, I was judged poorly because I couldn’t attend. Maybe if I had they would have worked with me.

As things stand, Sander wants to go to school. Beekee only wants to go back if he goes on to second grade. Corde doesn’t want to go back at all. I might see if I can find some kind of class for Sander to attend as “school”. Beyond that, I’m done with school. I gave it a try, like everyone I knew kept telling me I should. Now all my friends that do prefer school can stop telling me to give it a chance, even though I know they’ll excuse bullying as “normal” or blame me for encouraging my kids to be weird. They’ll probably tell me to try a different school. I’ve just had it. I gave it an honest try, hoping Corde would enjoy having friends and we might be able to find out what’s going on with Beekee. I found out, at best, they wouldn’t test him until halfway through the year next year for a learning problem, and that’s pretty standard across the state. So I’m done with it. I went in pretty positive and in two weeks the school managed to get under my skin, make Corde hate it, and made me the bad guy on telling Beekee he was being held back, which he told me I couldn’t do. He was a second grader. If that’s what they do in two weeks, I’d hate to see what a school year would do.

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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!


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.


Taking a Deep Breath

Today we all had a day off. The kids were at a sitter for a while. I had to go do a mandatory evaluation thanks to CPS. It gave us a little time to do our own things.

Today I took a walk on the nature trail. I’ve been with the kids before, but it was so much different without them. Instead of having a herd of mountain goats, I was able to go at my own pace. It was relaxing. I really needed it after that evaluation. I felt like I had someone looking down on me the whole time. It reminded me way too much of school, written tests, filling in dots like a standardized tests, all the reasons I hated school. I was all stressed out, so I really needed that walk. It was refreshing.

When I picked up the kids we went back to our old house so I could pack while waiting for Oz to get out of work. It was cool out with a nice breeze, so the kids played outside. Corde was up in the tree. The boys all played in a patch of dirt. If only you could have seen my dirt children. They were filthy. It was awesome!

Watching the kids play was a huge reminder of why I love homeschooling. The kids are free. They don’t have to sit through standardized tests, filling in pointless dots in an endless stream. They won’t have to have someone commenting that they didn’t work fast enough. They won’t have to pass through the same trials of judgment I did. I want them to be able to have freedom. I want learning to be joy, to be an adventure. Instead of having their heads bent over test papers, worrying they won’t do well or that they won’t pass. Instead they can be lost in imagination, a fairy born from a tree, Peter Pan (who is born from an egg and is immortal, which means zombies can’t bite through his skull to get his brain because immortals are too tough to bite through), a construction worker clearing land for a new railroad, and a little wild creature that roars at everything and fights invisible monsters with sticks. Yes, this is what kids should be doing, using their imagination and being creative. My kids are not just at home, but they’re at home with themselves.

To top it all off, a friend of mine just confessed how much she loves homeschooling. That totally caps off my good day. Sure, it started out rough, but I had a lot of reminders of just why I do what I do. Tomorrow I have co-op to look forward to. I can’t wait. It feels good to know my kids are getting not just a good education, but a diverse, real education. Yes, life is definitely good.


Real, Run of the Mill Homeschoolers?

Is this what it is to be a “normal” homeschooler? We get up in the morning to recite poetry and character traits. Next we bust out the books. There’s workbook pages, copy work, variations, coloring, and reading. We explore history in something other than the haphazard, chaotic way we have before. One idea leads to another and we can see the progression of events leading up to their current outcome. It’s fascinating. At the same time it seems like some alien life force has taken over. This is not my family! This is not how we do things! This isn’t how we learn!

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty. We’re usschoolers. This isn’t the way preschoolers work. Workbooks are supposed to be evil or something. Copy work is the worst thing in the world. I must be torturing my children with making them do all this boring stuff. It’s very much in the style of school at home. I feel like I’m giving up something so very central to my life and to our family.

At the same time I can’t deny that the kids are having fun with it. Beekee likes his copy work and writing his letters. He likes to point out how all the words need their personal space. To him it’s all a game. They like memorizing their poems because it makes them feel good to have accomplished it. They’re also having fun with delivery techniques. Cords and I practice reciting like it’s a stage act, or like Anne does in Anne of Green Gables, which we will also be reading this year. It’s been a lot of fun.

I know unschooling is all about the kids and they’re having fun with it. I’m trying to focus on the fun that’s coming out of it. The kids are strengthening their memories and learning skills. For Beekee reading and writing may be the passport to everything he wants to learn. Corde is getting a chance to embrace some things she never tried before, like Latin. Sander is mostly just playing with other kids his age, but he is also learning his letters. His speech is improving. He’s getting confident with his counting. It’s been good for them.

And as radical of an unschooler as I see myself, I find myself debating the idea of keeping this up even if we move away from the co-op some day. Isn’t that shocking? I always rebelled against the traditional model because it wasn’t free enough. Now I’m embracing it. I like it so much I could keep up with it until all the kids are grown! What’s happening to me?!?

All joking aside, I’m glad this is fun. I could totally do this long term. I also won’t complain about going back to our crazy unschooling ways. We’ll be a little wiser after all of this. Corde’s math skills will be better. Beekee might just know how to read and write. Sander will see that more traditional school doesn’t have to be boring. Luca won’t see much difference at his age, but I’m sure it’ll filter down. It’s amazing how things get passed on from one kid to another. He’ll probably benefit from this some way or another.

This is an exciting new adventure. It’s about time to a new one.