Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


Unschooling on a Budget: YouTube Is Your Friend

For the longest time I used to say “I don’t YouTube.”  It was true.  I don’t like wading through endless amounts of content to find something good that I have to preview for the kids, fact check, and all of that.  However, there is a lot of good content out there.  (Of course, if you’re reading a blog, you probably already know this…)

Sometimes you hit on good stuff by chance.  Other times you’re led to channels that are generally really good.  I was lucky enough to find a few good channels as a result of Nerdcon last weekend and we’ve been doing a lot with that.  I’m including some of the videos we recently watched at the bottom.  There are plenty of other shows to look into as well.  I’m sure there are hundreds of other channels out there that offer a good deal of educational content too.  These are just some I know about (and if you know of good channels, feel free to add them in the comments!

My kids are (mostly) young enough that they’re not ready to traverse YouTube alone, but I let them be the guide.  We’re working our way through Animal Wonders MontanaSciShow Kids, and SciShow right now.  We’re planning on adding Crash Course KidsCrash Course (for Corde), and The Brain Scoop.  They’re all done by a close network of people, but they’re decent, educational sources, and the kids seem to think they’re pretty fun.  This gives us a whole bunch of topics to learn about, even if it doesn’t all sink in at first.  We can always go back and watch them again if the kids are interested.

The wonderful thing about YouTube is it offers a whole world you might not be able to explore otherwise.  There are cool experiments that are shown online, along with the science behind them.  Some are too dangerous or involved to do at home.  Some are just not practical or too expensive to make it practical.  If you’re working on a budget, this can be a great way to show your kids the science without the cost of doing the experiment.  YouTube is free, so that can help a budget greatly.  Then you can save for the experiments you really want to do at home, or for projects your kids are really interested in.

For older kids, YouTube can be a great way to explore new concepts and ideas.  Corde has watched numerous videos with theories about what’s really going on in My Little Pony, or speculations of what the newest Pokemon could be.  It’s not traditionally educational, but she finds it fun and it gets her thinking.  There are thousands of videos on Minecraft out there and many of them tutorials that can generate new and interesting ideas.  Then there are all the videos that teach kids how to create.  There are art lessons, robotics lessons, even music lessons on YouTube.  I know someone that taught herself to play guitar with nothing but lessons on YouTube.  It’s amazing what kids can learn or be inspired by on YouTube.  The opportunities are endless.

I give Corde unlimited use of YouTube because there’s so much to learn on YouTube.  She mostly uses it to look up stuff on Pokemon, but I feel like it’s her choice to find what she’s interested in.  Maybe she’ll start watching videos on cooking and baking, given she’s interested in going into culinary (and may opt for a vocational school over homeschooling next year).  There’s just so much for her to pursue.  When the other kids are old enough, I have every intention of doing the same for them.

I really encourage you to check out the channels I listed earlier, but if you want a sample, here’s some of what we’ve been watching around our house.



Unschooling on a Budget: Breaking the Unschool Rules with Curriculum

This is one of those subjects I’d thought I might avoid.  Given unschoolers generally don’t use curriculum, it’s not a topic that seems logical, but bear with me.  If you don’t have access to everything you need to get your kids interested in certain subjects, or if they want to learn things you have no idea about, a curriculum may not be a bad way to go.

In my case, I want to make sure my kids can meet the school standards.  Because of this, I’ve invested in a math program and I’ve gotten some phonics stuff from my aunt.  For the most part this is fun stuff that the kids really like doing, so it really falls into the “unschooling” category, even if it’s not “radical unschooling”.  So if you’re one of those radical types, feel free to check out now.  Otherwise, here’s my take on curriculum.

First off, save your money and teach what you can in other ways as much as possible.  Maybe you don’t need a science curriculum because you do a lot of work in nature, kitchen chemistry, or other sorts of things.  It could be that a lot of your history comes from the library, if you really bother with history at all.  A lot of families do a lot with YouTube.  These can be great ways to cut curriculum costs, and stick to the spirit of unschooling.

When you do feel the need for curriculum, plan carefully.  Opt for things your kids will find fun, but also something that won’t cost an arm and a leg.  You can shop used products as well, which may cut your costs, especially if you decide to use something that requires a teacher’s guide.  This can be a great time to employ friends and family that might be willing to gift part or all of a curriculum to you.

Shopping for curriculum can also involve looking at what you can get inexpensively.  For example, we use Math U See.  The cost of the curriculum as a starter isn’t exactly cheap.  Getting the manipulatives and everything means spending over $100.  However you use those same manipulatives through the entire program.  Because all we really need to buy from year to year is the teacher’s guide and the workbook, the price is much less.  Once we get to repeat years it’s only going to be the workbooks that we need to buy.  That makes it a system that’s not insanely expensive, even with four kids.

Look for stuff that’s offered in inexpensive workbooks.  Some programs offer their work in reasonably priced workbooks, and while they may not have the same amount of work as those expensive curriculums, unschoolers rarely rely on all the work in a curriculum.  This may be enough to supplement the other learning experiences you’re working with.  That might make the curriculum more of an add-on than an actual full curriculum would be.

Most importantly, when you can get away without the curriculum, obviously don’t use it.  It’s meant to be a tool, one of many options you can use for educating your child.  It’s by no means a necessary requirement for unschooling.  In fact, a lot of families do just fine without curriculum at all.  They work independent of all of that, helping their kids learn from nothing but pure life experience.

Coming from a perspective of someone who is low income, having a bit of curriculum at the core of our unschooling means the kids are learning in ways I couldn’t necessarily teach them.  I can’t afford the experiences other people provide for their kids, so this at least gives me a feeling that, at the end of the day, some of the core subjects I feel less capable of teaching are learned by my kids in a way that they particularly enjoy.  That’s what’s important at the root of all this.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to using what works for your family.  If having a little bit of curriculum as a backbone for your unschooling makes you feel more secure, by all means, use it!  If you want to try it with out, go for it!  No matter what you do, feel confident that you know your family, your state laws, and your needs better than anyone else.  You’re doing the right thing for you!


Unschooling on a Budget: Use Your Local Library

Okay, it’s been a while since I wrote the last one, but I think it’s time again for Unschooling on a Budget.  This one, I think, will be a no-brainer.

My last post was on where to wisely spend money, on technology.  Since you know where I advise you do spend money, I thought the next step only made sense to talk about where to save money next.  Go visit your local library.

Okay, so maybe you already know the wonders of your local library.  Maybe you go visit every week.  If you do, good for you!  You’re already making the system work for you.  If not, you should really consider making it a part of your routine.

We do a lot more at our local library than just pop in to take out books.  Of course, books are a wonderful resource and I highly recommend every family take use of the wonderful books the library can hold in store for you, but there are other benefits with most local libraries that you should fully take advantage of.

For example, there’s generally space in the children’s section to play.  This is awesome not just because it gives kids a chance to play, but it’s also an opportunity for that wonderful thing people think homeschool kids don’t get enough of, socialization.  We particularly love the library because it gives the kids a chance to play with things we just don’t have the room for at home, like the train table and the large building blocks.

Most libraries also offer other social opportunities for kids, not just through the summer.  Some libraries have book clubs.  Our library has build days with LEGO blocks and KEVA plank building.  There’s the “Book Buddy” program where kids can practice their reading skills with one of their friendly dog visitors.  They have a teen movie day and a teen game day during February vacation.  These can be excellent, free ways to get out, be social, and make a few friends.  Depending on what your library has to offer, you might find some topics that line up with areas of interest as well.

img_20170211_151825_880Most libraries these days have computers as well.  Ours also has some tablets set up in the children’s section.  This can be a great time to have kids access whatever programs or safe websites are set up for the library.  This can also provide a quiet space for teens to work or research things that interest them while younger kids are off to play.  In the kids’ section the computers are very kid-friendly, offering an inviting place to play and explore.

This is also a valuable resource if you don’t have a lot of technology at home for your kids to explore with, or if there is a lot of competition for the technology you do have.  This can also be a great opportunity to explore if you’ve got some kids looking for books still, or involved in another program at the library and you’ve got another kid that’s just trying to pass the time.

img_20170208_173826_237And let’s not forget the books.  Our local library is part of a large library network, meaning we can get books from all sorts of other libraries we wouldn’t normally be able to visit.  All I have to do is go online and reserve them.  Even if your library isn’t a part of a larger network, libraries often have a variety of books on any number of topics, allowing you to freely explore without the need to buy and store books on every topic.  This is a great (and free) way to help your kids learn about the topics that interest them.

img_20170211_151525_555It’s not just books you can get at the library either.  You can get out music, DVDs, and even comics and manga.  Corde particularly likes getting manga from the teen section of the library.  Manga, comics, and movies can get expensive and take a lot of space to store.  Just like books, they can often only be used for a single read through, then they just end up taking up space.  Having the opportunity to borrow these things saves a lot of money and gives your kids a lot of freedom to explore.

Some libraries (like mine) also offer free or reduced passes for local museums and zoos.  You may have to wait for the passes to come in and probably have to reserve them ahead of time, but this can be a great way to get out to see local attractions for free or for cheap.  Of course, how free or cheap it is may depend on how large your family is.  If the pass is good for a family of four and you have, say, six, that might change how effective those passes are, but it’s a lot cheaper to pay for two admissions than for a whole family of six.  It’s worth looking into because it can save you a healthy chunk of change.

What if there’s no events at your library that your kids want to go to?  Well, you can always suggest your own.  Most libraries are open to starting new events.  Maybe your kids are into Pokemon and want to set up a Pokemon league.  Perhaps they’re interested in having a knitting day.  It’s great not just for the opportunity to do something they love, but for the experience of organizing an event and getting it running.  It’s definitely a good life skill, and can be a lot of fun.

Another thing to think about?  If you’re able to get out to other towns’ libraries, sometimes they offer events that would be of interest to you and your children.  It might be worth the extra travel to go to an event a little further away if it matches with your family’s interests.  I’ve never to this day heard of a library that will turn people away from their free public events simply because someone doesn’t live in that town.  Definitely check out the neighboring towns for what they have to offer too.

For most of you, I’m sure this is old hat.  I know a lot of homeschooling and unschooling families spend time at their local library.  It’s a common and well-known resource.  If you’re not making the most out of it, you definitely should look into everything your local library has to offer.

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Unschooling on a Budget: Tech Time

Okay, here’s a new segment I think I’m going to throw in when the need strikes me.  Today seemed like just the day to inspire it.  This recommendation is certainly not a cheap one, but I highly recommend the investment, computers.

Now, one thing I’m learning is having one or two computers for my house of six isn’t really enough to suit all of our needs.  This may seem less important for kids who are purely unschooled with no online curriculum to follow, but even then, it could make a huge difference.


This may not seem as important if you’ve only got one kid, younger kids, or if you do a lot of learning through field trips.  It’s easy to negotiate parent time around one or two kids, or even with a bunch of younger kids.  I’ve found for younger kids or kids that are just really into looking stuff up, a tablet may be a good option, but if they like writing, graphic design, or playing Minecraft on the computer, it might just be best to invest in one of their own.  That can make life easier.

If you plan on backing your unschooling up with any kind of computer games or programs, especially if those things help you have accountability for state standards, that can also create competition.  We’re using Time 4 Learning as a fun way for the kids to learn, and with four kids, it’s going to keep my computer busy all day to make sure they each have a chance to get a turn.  All of the time your kids would be online, you’ve got to think about how that factors into the daily competition for computer use.

What about families that do most of their unschooling through field trips?  They’re not going to have as much of a need for computer time, right?  While that may be true for some families, other kids will like the ability to look up more information on the things they’ve learned.  If they like doing any kind of tech based activities, like blogging, writing, or graphic arts, their time will be more limited due to all the time out.  The more time you’re out, the less time they have to coordinate who gets computer time when.

So what do I recommend?  Think about getting your kids each their own laptop from the time they’re old enough to want to use it with any regularity.  I’m not talking a super expensive laptop (unless they’re into computer gaming).  I’m not suggesting getting them each a Microsoft Surface.  Those are awesome options if you’re inclined and have the funds.  I’m just suggesting a cheap computer that will get the job done.  It doesn’t need to be high powered, just powered enough to do whatever they intend to do on it.

When I say inexpensive laptop, I think maybe I should support this with what I mean by that.  I’ve got a friend that works with computers and his suggestion was not to go with the cheapest computers you can buy, not unless you’re comfortable with frequently replacing the computer.  Remember, you get what you pay for.  His recommendation is to look for something in the $400 range.

How is this on a budget?  Well, the cost of a laptop for each kid isn’t exactly cheap, but if you’re going to budget for one big purchase, this is it.  You can aim to do just about everything else for free or dirt cheap, but this expense is one I find worth it.  Making a decent investment now will mean you’ve got a product that will last for quite some time.  Depending on how old your kid is, it just might mean a gift they can take to college, if they go, or the ability to set up a website for their own business, if they choose to run one.  It opens up lots of options, especially as they get older.

And, if you think about it, it’s not hard to build your budget around buying a laptop.  If you’ve got tax returns in, chunk out some of that to put down on a computer.  If you’ve got multiple kids, start with one they can share, then add more as your budget allows.  You can also suggest to family that they might want to pitch in and get one as a gift for a birthday or holiday.  Set aside $10 per week and you’ll have enough by the end of the year.  It’s worth it.  I know that’s what we’re going to be doing in my house, saving up to start buying computers, working our way down from the oldest to youngest.

I know some families would rather have a desktop, but there’s an advantage to having laptops.  You can use them anywhere in the house, which is nice if your kids want to move their work to somewhere quieter or more peaceful, or if they want to easily be able to show off what they’ve found.  They’re small, which means storing them takes up very little space at all.  Unlike a desktop, they can also be put away, so the work space can be cleared for other things when not in use.  This is my favorite aspect of having a laptop.  Of course, you probably already know these things, but when thinking about how many computers you may have in your house if you start buying them for everyone, these features may just be the biggest asset.

This may not sound like an important way to spend money, but if you’ve got a kid that’s entered the modern technological era with joys of programming, graphics, writing, and beyond, I highly recommend it.  Even if most of your schooling is out in the world, it’s a good option to come home to.  And again, I suggest a good laptop for ease of movement and storage.  It can be a huge asset to any unschooling family.