Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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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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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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I Have A High Schooler…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.


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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!