Trailer Park Unschoolers

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

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Reading with Corde

Today we had an all too rare moment. Corde decided she would read the Cyclops story from the Oddessey to Luca and Sander. She had a great time with it. She didn’t do voices (aside from making Odysseus sound like a Monty Python character once), but she did keep it interesting. She talked about how this poor Cyclops was just minding his own business and these people invaded his home demanding to be fed. She pointed out how dark it was that they made the humans crunch as they were eaten. Then she pointed out how cute the sheep were. It was a great time for all of them.

All this has me thinking we need to do this more often. It’s really worked out well for all three of them. Corde is funny to watch read. It’s good sibling time for them too. Plus, my secret favorite reason is it gets them all interested in books!


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!


The Biggest Myth of Homeschool Seems to Be Time Spent

I have to admit, I envy those moms who can get all their kids through their lessons in a matter of two hours every day.  In my house it seems like we’re working from 9am until 2:30 when A.J. would have gotten home from school.  That’s not all that far different than their school hours.  The difference is it’s a more relaxed pace and we seem to get a whole lot less done, in a round about way.

Maybe I just didn’t notice before my kids went to school, but we spend a lot of time out of our day working on stuff.  Even the stuff that doesn’t come in the format of curriculum based schooling gets a lot of time.  Each of the kids spends 30-45 minutes on the computer, which is followed by the same amount of game time.  We spend no more than 30 minutes on math.  Sander does all of four pages in his phonics workbooks, and they all do more than 20 minutes of reading time.  A good chunk of that is me reading to them.  We end up spending a good part of our day working together.

It also feels like we don’t get that much done for the time we spend, which may seem kind of silly.  I mean, we get a lot of information out there (though how much is retained is a mystery to me), and I do my best to make sure my kids are educated to the best of my ability, but it feels like we could be doing more, or maybe should be doing more.

I have to wonder how these other moms do it.  I keep hearing that homeschooling takes an average of two hours a day for elementary kids and I’m just not seeing it.  We’re working for a steady five hour block at least, and while it’s not all formal school work, we go through a lot of information.  It doesn’t feel like we do much, but we do.

Take today as an example.  We learned about Hammurabi’s Code.  We read about the making of a mummy.  Beekee and I read about recycling.  Luca and I read about frogs.  Sander and Beekee did their math.  Then we watched these videos:


Granted, the videos were both short, but it’s just one more thing I can add to the stuff we did today.  It all adds up over time.  It works into quite a long day of learning.  We seem to fit in so incredibly much every day.

And this all goes back to the idea that unschooling really takes a lot of time with younger kids.  I kind of think of it like throwing a lot of information at the kids to see what sticks.  At the end of the day I’m pretty happy if any of it sticks at all.  Anything they find particularly interesting we can go into deeper.  Things that are less interesting (which seems to be anything I throw at them) get tossed aside and aren’t gone into any more in depth.  It seems to be working for us so far.

Okay, okay, I take that back.  Some things have stuck.  The kids wanted to learn more about the pyramids and mummies.  They were interested in the You Wouldn’t Want To Be books.  They really like the SciShow Kids shows, and they’re enjoying watching the animals on Animal Wonders.  We’re undoubtedly going to expand our homeschooling videos to include other things that get tossed my way (like this video I just thought to pop up again for no explicable reason other than I was reminded someone sent it to me).


That’s kind of what unschooling is about.  “Look!  This is so cool!  Don’t you think it’s cool?  Let’s totally learn about it!”  Granted, I don’t have the knowledge to back up a lot of what I’ve seen in these shows.  I’ve been out of the science world and can’t tell you why this stuff is cool, but I hope that by exposing the kids to some of this stuff we might be lead to other things that the kids want to learn more about.

That comes down to the whole point of all this.  All this stuff takes a lot of time.  Reading together takes time.  Finding and sharing videos takes time.  Watching documentaries takes time.  Introducing the kids to cool new concepts takes time.  Even the basic curriculum stuff takes time.  All of it carves out time from my usual day (which was typically spent kicking around online while Luca was napping and playing guitar).  It’s not something you can really go into thinking “This is going to be so much less work, only two hours a day!”  This is something that takes dedication and really becomes a lifestyle.

I guess the one thing I can say about homeschooling, and really unschooling, is I hope you like your kids.  If you choose this path it means spending a lot of time with them.  Of course, it also means you get to learn a lot of really cool things right alongside them, so I suppose that’s cool.  It makes it really worth it in the end, but boy do I wish someone had warned me about all that.

It’s funny, though, sending the kids to school made me forget what the “work” of homeschooling is really like.  It’s less work than fighting the school system, that’s for sure.  If nothing else, at the end of the day I can never say I’ve had a boring day at home!

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My Weekend in the City

Though it happens rarely enough, I actually spent the weekend without the kids.  I went to an event in Boston called Nerd Con: Nerdfighteria.  This was an event a friend of mine was going to and really wanted to bring me along to, so I went.

The whole experience was wild.  We stayed in a really swank hotel, REALLY high above the city.  We were on the 32nd floor.  It was terrifying.  What I learned from this?  I can stay in a really high off the ground hotel room, but I would much rather not.

However, even without the kids, I do have something to write about my weekend.  The weekend was a learning experience for me, which really embodies the whole thing about whole life learning.  How can I be an example to my kids if I don’t learn on my own?

Being a con, there were events and there were panels.  On Saturday I pretty much palled around with my friend and went to what she went to.  There really weren’t many things that day that screamed out to me, so I was mostly a shadow.  I saw some really awesome stuff, including the recording of two podcasts.  Still, it was a pretty fun day.  If I listened to podcasts more I might have checked them out.

However, I did get to go to a couple of panels on education on Sunday.  One was about a new science program for middle school students (though they define this as being between 4th and 8th grades) called Through My Window.  I’d just like to point out that the stuff they offer it for free (all except for the book).  While it’s only a single book and two online adventures to start, it’s bound to grow as interest in the program grows.  It might be worth checking into.

The other panel I went to see is bound to end up with things being featured on the blog.  They talked about YouTube channels, particularly those dedicated to science.  I have a whole bunch of new stuff to watch with the kids (and as I watch it with them, I’ll be sharing it with all of you too), so that’s bound to be featured soon enough.

At the end of it all I also got a Team Awesome pin for my bag, something that reminds me of when (way back) the kids called us Team Awesome.  Well, apparently there’s a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out and they’ve got a fitness team for walks and things called Team Awesome.  It’s worth going over to check it out.  They help support families with children suffering life threatening cancer.  They’re also really good people.

All in all, I learned a lot this weekend.  I don’t think I’ve really joined the number of people who consider themselves Nerdfighters, though I’ve been told I’m definitely one because I was that kind of person before Nerdfighters were Nerdfighters.  The general premise is “to decrease world suck.”  In other words, they do what the kids and I always strive to do, make the world a better place.  I can get behind that sentiment.

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Someone Needs More Sleep

Luca was super cranky today.  This all came on the tails of not enough sleep the night before.  A late night plus an early morning leads to a very cranky Luca that threw a number of tantrums and fought going to sleep like crazy.  I finally ended up agreeing that Luca had to lay down for two minutes, and after that there was no requirement to lay down.

About a minute in Luca was asleep…

So why did Luca stay up so late last night?  Well, part of it is unrestricted screen time.  The long and the short of it is usually the kids are pretty good at moderating their own screen time and spend plenty of time doing other things.  Unfortunately, this means Luca would rather be up watching movies than sleeping.  Since the downstairs neighbor doesn’t like to hear Luca running around after 9pm, that means Luca’s kind of got to be restricted to one spot, which I think is pretty unfair, but it’s better to stay on good terms with our neighbors.  It just isn’t easy because the kids get home from jujitsu so incredibly late.  We don’t walk in until 8:30.  The kids don’t want to just go straight to sleep.  Even if we had a car we wouldn’t get home much earlier, and the kids wouldn’t have had the walk to wear them out.  It makes it tough to get the kids to settle down on the best of days.

I digress, the point is, Luca isn’t tired at 9 because of the late nights for jujitsu, so that means keeping Luca settled down in one spot.  The best way to do this is to let Luca watch movies while sitting on the bed.  Unless I go in and lay down with Luca, that’s what it continues to be, or a lot of tears.

The awesome part of co-sleeping?  Luca actually sleeps well at night and doesn’t fuss and wake up in the middle of the night.  If that happens, I’m always right there.  It hasn’t been an issue to this point.  The downside?  Luca doesn’t want to go to sleep unless I’m settling down to sleep too.  That often means Luca doesn’t go to bed until I’m ready to sleep, which can mean late nights, like last night when I wasn’t ready to go to sleep until 11.  Yes, Luca had a very late night.

That brings me to a perk on the other side of the night for co-sleeping.  On the plus side, Luca tends to sleep later being comfortable having me right there.  If we have a morning where Luca wakes up early, I’m right there to settle Luca down to sleep again.  It also means I wake up when Luca wakes up, which is a total benefit.  There isn’t much of a downside here unless I want to sleep in.  There’s no hope for sleeping in after Luca climbs over me to get me up, kneeing me in the gut in the process.  That part is not so fun.

I knew early on this was going to be a rough day.  Not only did the lack of sleep give me warning, but early tantrums were also a huge tip off.  We had a tantrum over breakfast.  (The milk had to come from the little jug, not the big one!)  We had a tantrum over computer time.  (Sander had to go first and that was just it!)  We had a tantrum over the tablet.  (Luca wanted to play the baby panda games and nothing else would do!)  At the point we had a tantrum because the kids decided to turn off Netflix and play Minecraft, that’s when I was done.  Sure, Luca wanted to watch Mighty Med with the big kids, but no one else wanted to.  If I didn’t bring an end to these tantrums, there was no way we were going to make it to jujitsu.

It’s too bad it worked out that way too.  It’s a beautiful day out.  It would have been a great day to get out to the park.  Our temperatures are approaching 60 out there.  The snow is almost all melted.  The birds were chirping like crazy this morning.  It’s starting to feel like spring is actually rolling in, but I couldn’t take an already tired and cranky kid out to the park to get more tired and even more cranky, to then go to jujitsu where that kid was going to get even more tired and cranky, and still have to walk home.  It was already bad enough that we had a tired, cranky kid because Luca’s class was cancelled on Monday due to lack of participation.  I don’t need Luca to be upset at jujitsu again.

Oh well, Luca got a much needed nap and that’s what really matters in the end.  Hopefully Luca will wake up to be a much happier sort of bear.  That would definitely make the day flow a lot more smoothly.

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Unschooling on a Budget: Extended Family and Family Friends

Yeah, I’m sure this one’s another no-brainer, use the resources your extended family has to offer.  In case it’s not, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help.  They can give you access to a whole world you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Especially for teens, so much can be done with simply networking.  It can be easy to feel responsible for providing every opportunity for your kids yourself, but it’s important for your kids to have their own network.  These could be the people who help them find their first job or help them blossom in an area they’re interested in.  Networking is so important, but I think it’s often underplayed for homeschoolers and unschoolers alike.

One of the wonderful things about unschooling is following your child’s passion.  That’s all well and good when it’s a subject you know something about, but if it’s not, there are more options than to learn together.  This is where your friends and family can come into play.  They can connect your kids to a whole world of opportunities you’d never be able to provide on your own.

For example, your child is interested in architecture.  Well, I know where I stand I’ve got no experience in that field.  We could look up books on architecture.  I’m sure there’s plenty of information out there, but perhaps it would be better to learn from someone with a passion for it.  Put the word out and you never know what might come back.  Maybe someone you know has a passion for architecture and studies it in their free time.  You might be connected with someone who works in the field, or a friend of a friend that took classes in architecture in college.  You never know until you put the word out there.

Then there’s connections to community resources.  I mentioned last week about using your local library.  Connections with friends and family might alert you to events being sponsored by their town or library that your child could be interested in.  I know there have been a few times I’ve had friends offer to take my kids to events that happen to be going on in their neck of the woods.  There might be classes advertised in their local mailers for community center classes that might appeal to your kids.  You never know until you’ve asked around.

Sometimes asking around can also give your friends and family ideas of what to get your child as a gift that might be better than what they otherwise would have gotten.  Maybe instead of buying them a toy or yet another sweater, they might instead take your child on a trip to the local art museum or out to a local theater show.  There is so much potential to guide people to what would give your kids the experiences they desire instead of just one more thing to to fill your house (though it may be different if your kid really needed more sweaters!)  I’m all for the idea of buying experiences, not gifts.

Friends and family can be an incredibly valuable resource from teaching your child how to network and building their social network to hooking them up with experiences they may not otherwise get to have.  Never be afraid to ask your friends and family for help or for what kinds of connections they have.  You never know how they’ll be able to help.


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Sounds Like Rain

Yeah, that’s exactly what it sounds like outside.  The weather is finally warming up again and all the snow we just got is melting.  It means the walks that were shoveled are finally starting to clear up.  It means my street (where plowing was seriously a joke) is finally starting to look like a street again.  This means walking is suddenly starting to become less dangerous!  Yay for that!

The trick lately has been walking to jujitsu and the library.  Most of the main roads had the sidewalks plowed, but on our little side street, no one seemed to care.  It’s supposedly state law that you have to clear the walk in front of your house, but since our street is full of renters, I get the picture that no one really cares.  It’s not like they’ll be sued if someone were to get hurt.  More importantly, in a multi-family, who is responsible for the walk?  It’s hard enough to find someone who wants to be responsible for the driveway.

For the most part walking down our street meant walking in the street, not something I was terribly happy with.  We ended up walking “ducks in a row” between Oz and I on our way to and from jujitsu and the library.  I felt better having the kids walk between adults so that (hopefully) if someone lost control of their car, or just wasn’t paying attention, it would be an adult that got hit, not a kid.  I HATE having to walk in the street, especially on my street where people tend to speed and it’s narrow on top of it, especially with cars parked out there.

While I wouldn’t call today a beautiful day (it’s cloudy, wet, and muddy out there), I’m honestly glad we’re getting this warmer weather after the snow we got this week.  It’s supposed to be really nice this weekend, which is good for us.  We’re planning a library trip to build with the KEVA planks on Saturday.  While that’s not slated to be the nicest day of the weekend, it’s supposed to be pretty nice, and with temperatures above freezing all week, I can imagine we’ll get a decent amount of melting going on.  We may even have clear sidewalks by then!

Thankfully the warm weather is on it’s way.  It won’t be long before spring is hear and you won’t be able to keep us in the house.  We’ll be spending plenty of time at the park, and when we can manage it, out in nature.  Once we have a car again we’re going to be out and exploring the world of geocashing as well.  I’m really looking forward to that.

For the time being, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the sound of melting snow outside, wishing it were rain to wash it all away.  The kids aren’t a fan of the snow and can’t wait for it to be gone so they can have real fun outside.  (I guess that’s what happens when you raise your kids in Texas for most of their lives.)  Instead they’re happily inside playing with LEGO blocks, playing Minecraft, or watching movies, longing for the days they can go out and play in the sunshine.