Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Back to Freedom

You know the whole bedtime thing?  We decided it was time for a change.  It really wasn’t working out.  We were having tears and stomping up stairs the moment we said it was time for bed, courtesy of Sander.  He and Beekee would be wild at night, meaning someone had to go talk to them, several times, and the light had to keep being turned out.  It was frustrating, and it really didn’t seem to be doing any good.  We still had tired, miserable kids, for all our efforts.

That’s when we decided to go back to the radical unschooling approach to bedtime.  We stopped giving them one.  Would you believe the kids have actually been getting more sleep?  There’s no tantrums and tears.  There’s no fight to get them to go to sleep.  Most importantly, there’s no flipping on and off with the light.

How do we do it with the neighbors?  Well, that’s simple.  We’ve laid down some ground rules.  9 pm is quiet time.  Sander and Beekee need to be upstairs in their room.  They can be talking, reading, or even playing, so long as they’re doing it quietly.  The neighbors next door moved out, so we don’t have to worry about the kids disturbing them through the wall, so we decided this was the perfect time to try it.  Luckily we haven’t had a reason to worry.

As for Luca, we’ve decided he can’t play with Sander and Beekee quietly.  Luca can be upstairs watching movies with Corde, or on our bed watching movies or reading books in my room.  Who am I kidding?  The answer is watching movies.  Luca isn’t a huge fan of reading books, unless it’s something he can read himself (which isn’t anything at the moment, so it’s a struggle.)  Luca is perfectly content to sit in my lap, watching Oz play video games until he falls asleep, or watch shows with me in the living room.  At the same time, we have a “bedtime” for Luca.  When I go to bed the lights go off and Luca has to lay down with me.  We still cosleep, so having respect for my sleeping needs is a must.  More often than not, Luca agrees to lay down until I fall asleep, then he can get up and turn the movies back on, which results in Luca falling asleep anyway.

Surprisingly, this has resulted in the downstairs neighbor commenting on how quiet the kids have been at night.  We haven’t had any fights and only had tears on one night when Sander had to go upstairs because he wanted to watch a movie.  We don’t have a television upstairs in the bedrooms, so that’s a challenge for him.  Corde’s room might be getting a television, but that’s yet to be determined, and she may not want the boys in her room watching movies all night.  I told them once they find one of the missing Kindles they could use that, but no luck as of yet.  Since they were the ones that lost them, I feel it’s valuable that they learn their actions have consequences.

Now that the kids (well, all but Corde) are no longer in school, the lack of bedtime makes a lot of sense.  It’s not like they can’t take naps during the day.  Sander often does.  They don’t have to be up early for school, though they generally are up with the sun.  Most nights they all fall asleep quickly.  Best of all, they’re learning how to be responsible for their own needs.  It’s another whole level of independence.

This is just one more small way we’re edging in to a more “unschooling” kind of lifestyle.  We have no bedtimes.  The kids are free to eat or not eat as they like (so long as they don’t waste food…we’re not made of money!)  We’re not super formal about the “school” stuff we do happen to do, and as we go a lot of the “school” stuff is being phased out.  I have a feeling a lot more will go when we’re finally in a position to have a car again.  Things are moving in the right direction.  I couldn’t be happier about that.


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Letting It All Go

For the past couple of years I’ve got to confess that I’ve had my doubts.  I didn’t think I could unschool.  Leaving my daughter to her own devices to learn ended up with her doing nothing but playing all day and working on art projects like crazy.  My oldest son didn’t seem much interested in anything but playing and looking at pictures.  I had family members getting on my case like crazy because here my daughter was at 8 and still unable to read or write.  My older son didn’t know his alphabet and still had accidents where he’d poop in his pants past 5 years old.  I was being an irresponsible mother and I needed to put my children in school because I was doing them an incredible disservice.  Oz was the first one to feel the pressure and in turn put the pressure on me.

This spring and summer we hit our breaking point.  I’d started to push for a little bit more traditional of an education, pushing my poor daughter to learn to read and write whether she wanted to or not.  It got so frustrating that we finally decided we had to put her in school because there was no way I was going to be able to teach her to read and write.  She and I would just butt heads over everything.  She’s really stubborn, just like her dad.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I literally cried when I made the decision.  I hated myself for it.  I kept trying to come up with every excuse not to do it.  I just didn’t want to make that decision, yet I felt like I had no choice.

You see, the impression I was given of unschooling was totally misguided.  A well-meaning family member told me about unschooling years ago when I was first considering it.  Corde was all of 4 back then and I was much more impressionable.  She told me that unschooling parents have it hard because they’ve got to work in their children’s interests into every lesson they have.  For example, if your child is into dinosaurs you do dinosaur math, dinosaur reading, dinosaur science.  You have to use dinosaurs as a way to teach your children everything.  From the sounds of it, you had to be pretty sneaky about it.  It was about sneaking in learning the topics your children don’t want to learn without them realizing it.

Unfortunately, being sneaky and coercive about learning like that simply didn’t work for my family.  I felt guilty trying to sneak in learning things my children didn’t want to learn about.  Corde was also too smart for that.  She’d look at me and say, “But, Mom, that’s reading!” as if I was somehow knew I was trying to sneak it in.  She’d throw a fit and we’d be fighting for hours because she didn’t want to read.  “Reading is boring!”  She loved having me read to her, but she didn’t want to do the work to read herself.  I started to doubt my ability to unschool because I didn’t feel right about finding sneaky ways to make my kids learn and my kids were honestly too smart for that.  I was just going to have to suck it up and admit that I was going to have to put my daughter in school so she could “catch up on her basics” and that would be the end of it.

That’s when fate tossed in a hand.  I really got into it with Oz’s dad.  He said that “homeschooling is f***ing wrong” and went on about how all homeschooled kids “are just weird” and “school teaches kids things they wouldn’t learn” in a home environment.  I keep hearing that one statement, vulgarity and all, about how homeschooling is wrong.

I was actually really impressed with Oz’s reaction.  “Let’s do it, then.  Unschooling?  Yeah, we can do that.  Let’s prove him wrong.”  I was shocked.  He so easily caves to the pressures of society towards schooling because that’s “normal” that he and I had had tons of arguments about it.  Before he met me things were just done a certain way.  Babies were born in hospitals after care from an OB/GYN.  Boys were circumcised.  Everyone uses disposable diapers.  The best baby food comes in jars.  And kids, when they’re old enough, go to school.  About the only thing we agreed on was breastfeeding, and that was only because it was how he was raised and because it saves so much money.  Everything else we butted heads on, so this new decision was pleasantly shocking.

That’s when we decided to let it all go, or at least I did.  We’ve been going through a total change in perspective.  Not only are we not forcing education on our children, but we’re not being the element of control in their lives in any other means.  They can eat what they want, when they want to.  They can watch all the television they want or play all the video games they want, with some exception.  Oz gets precedence for video games and television because he works all day.  We’ve thrown bed times right out the window.  We’re working on the gentle parenting thing, though it’s difficult with the stresses of being an excessively low income family.

Suddenly letting it all go was like a breath of fresh air.  Suddenly our need for discipline melted away.  Sometimes we both regress to “the old way”, but usually we’re pretty okay to go with the flow.  Oz has a harder time than I do, mostly because he’s got such a grounding in traditional values and he’s not here during the day to see how it all works.  He’s got a lot more going against him too.  It’s not exactly easy for him.  Still, we’ve found ourselves working into a new type of normal.  It’s freeing.

I have a feeling this year is going to be far different than the years in the past.  So far we’re already seeing a huge difference.  Corde is choosing to read.  Beekee is starting to explore his interest in science.  Sander’s vocabulary has taken off and he’s decided he likes taking care of little Luca.  He seems to think the baby is like having a baby doll that’s even more fun.  It’s fantastic.