Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Reading Is Hard…

Sander has been having the most difficult time with reading.  It’s been a challenge for him for quite some time, which is why I pulled him out of school.  They were teaching him whole word reading, which wasn’t helping him any when he encountered words he didn’t know.  It was a frustrating experience for him, so we decided to do something different for him.

Now we’re working on phonics.  It’s already made such a difference in how Sander reads.  It’s not the natural “when he discovers it” kind of experience I’d hoped for, but we’re trying to keep with state standards.  We don’t read together as often as we should, and most of our reading is the easy readers as a part of the Primary Phonics workbook set, but we’re getting there.  He’s building the skills he needs to read, which is the general idea of it anyway.

Today we read one of the Rookie Reader series.  As much as I love the idea of those as beginner readers, they’re really not so easy.  I’ve come to discover that many “beginner” readers have a lot of really challenging words, several with multiple syllables.  They’re not exactly easy reads for a kid that’s just learning to read, which makes it challenging, especially for Sander who is definitely a reluctant reader, if you want to throw a label on it that way.  He finds those books really challenging, which makes enjoying the time reading them that much harder.

One of the problems Sander has with reading is sounding things out.  He tries, but he keeps mixing up the sounds and adding sounds where none exist.  This leads to the frustrating challenge of trying to straighten him out and getting him to read only the letters that exist and in the right order.  It’s really hard to have patience with him while he struggles through.  I’d almost rather read to him instead of watch him struggle to figure it out and get frustrated.  While the whole word method of reading made him equally as frustrated, I think phonics and sounding things out are equally frustrating for him, though he’s definitely making more progress this way.

I have to admit, it also helps that I’m not the best about getting him to read either.  We’ve been known to skip whole days instead of working with it every day.  I don’t feel like fighting with him for daily reading is really going to help him love reading, even if it’s going to make his reading skills that much better.  It’s hard to be motivated to push my kids to do things they really don’t want to do.  I don’t see it as necessary.  I guess this ties back to the days when we used to be pure unschoolers, something I really hope we can get back to as my confidence with working with the system grows.

In the mean time I’ve gotten a lot better at reading to the kids before bed.  Luca doesn’t last long through the stories.  Generally halfway through the chapter I have a sleeping Luca on my lap.  Sander isn’t a huge fan of reading stories before bed, which doesn’t help things much, though I think it’s because he’s just not a fan of Peter Pan.  I think if we were reading a story he was more interested in, that would help.  We’ve talked a bit about what comes next and we’ll see what we end up doing.  We’re halfway through Peter Pan (which isn’t surprising as it’s not an overwhelmingly long book), so we’ll be on to another book soon.

I know reading aloud to the kids isn’t really helping Sander with his reading skills, but I can’t help but think it may eventually increase his love of books.  If I can read stories he really gets into I’ll be able to inspire his love of books.  If he loves books he may be motivated to work on his own reading skills so he can get the stories without having to wait for me to get around to them.

Isn’t that really how unschooling works, though?  You inspire your kids to get into things because you expose them to those things.  Your kids want to read because they learn books are enjoyable.  That’s how you unschool reading.  They learn to read because the words show up in their video games and they want to be able to read it on their own.  They learn to read because they get tired of having to wait for someone else to read everything for them.  They learn to read because it’s a useful skill, not because it’s something they have to do.

Of course, that backfired with Corde.  She just wanted me to read everything for her.  “Reading is boring,” she still says even now, but she would listen intently whenever I would read a story aloud.  She’s a bit old to enjoy read aloud stories, but she still hasn’t gotten that spark of wanting to read on her own.  She’s started reading Coraline and hasn’t gotten past the first chapter, and she’s been working on it for a almost two weeks.  I honestly think she’s never going to take to reading.  She much prefers to watch Netflix or play silly little games on her phone.  At least texting is making her spelling improve.

Luca, on the other hand, has really taken to reading.  It’s frustrating because Luca wants to read everything, but doesn’t have the skills to actually read any of it.  It’s frustrating for Luca because he wants to read the same as the rest of the kids.  It’s doubly frustrating for me because I have to explain to Luca that, until he can develop the skills himself, I still have to do the reading.  In the end it would all be so much easier if Luca would learn to read.  I have a feeling once Luca learns, nothing will stand in that kid’s way!

Beekee is much more of a reader than Sander and Corde.  He can sit for hours reading on his own, though given the choice he would rather play video games or watch television.  I’ve taken to instituting reading time during the day so that Sander and Beekee have to read.  Once Corde is home, that’s when she’ll do her summer reading.  Beekee really seems to like this time, though he does have a tendency to just look at the books rather than actually reading them.  At least the idea is there.

This all brings me back to Sander.  I’m not sure how I’m going to help him become a reader.  Maybe if I keep picking up Kindle edition books that will help.  I like the Kindle edition books because I can download them as many times as I like and they take up no physical space to store.  If the kids want to read them when they get older I can always get them their own Kindles to load up with all their favorite stories.  That may be what it takes to get Sander interested in reading.  The challenge then is picking out books that he’ll really enjoy.  Peter Pan is not a win, in spite of the adventures and everything else.  I think it’s far too wordy and not enough action.

If anyone’s got suggestions, I’m all ears.  I’ve already decided we’re going to do Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and likely the Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Extraordinary Children.  We’re definitely going to read Coraline.  I just don’t know where to go from there, maybe the Redwall series.  There are too many options and I’ve got to admit, I’m not up on what kids are reading these days.


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A Day of Antique Cars

I’ve been busy all weekend with work and all that, but while I was gone, Sander and Beekee got to see some awesome antique cars with my aunt and uncle.  I’m pretty wiped from work, but I wanted to post some photos anyway, just for fun.  We may have more on this later, though more likely it’ll just get lost in the shuffle of everything we’ve got planned this week.  But here are some awesome pictures anyway!

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This is a cool looking old tractor.  I’d seen one of these when I was a kid, but they never have before, so it’s all new to them!
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This is a tank, so Sander tells me.  “Everyone calls it a ‘hopper tank’,” so says Sander.  It looks like it’s probably from WWI.
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And, of course, we’ve got the classic cars.  The State Police car in the background actually looks like one that used to live at our house before Corde was born.  It was a fixture in the back yard because it no longer worked. It’s funny how the mind recalls stuff like that.

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It wouldn’t be a trip out with my aunt without reading!  She’s really good about bringing books for those dull moments of downtime, waiting for things to start or simply just sitting around with nothing else to do.  It makes the slow times fly by that much quicker!


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Peter Pan

I’ve got to admit, I’ve been a horrible mom when it comes to reading to my kids.  I really should do it more often, but it never seems to be a good time.  There’s a whole big push in my area that reading to your kids 20 minutes a day is good for them, or having them read for 20 minutes a day.  Most days we manage 20 minutes of Sander and Beekee reading.  Corde (not surprisingly) hardly reads at all.  I try to squeeze in reading to Luca, but it’s not always that easy.

After watching an episode of Once Upon A Time (on Netflix) with Peter Pan, we decided I would read Peter Pan to the kids again.  We read it quite a few years back when we still lived in the trailer park.  Beekee was so into the story that I managed to read the whole book without a break when all the other kids had fallen asleep.

Now, I have to say Peter Pan isn’t the perfect read aloud for so much time off of reading together.  It’s long and wordy so the kids tend to glaze over and zone out.  They couldn’t even pull from the text that Nana was a dog.  Still, they’ll get used to hearing me read and eventually the stories will start sinking in.  On top of Peter Pan we also have the complete Wizard of Oz series, all of Anne of Green Gables, all of the Judy Moody books, as well as the ones about her brother, Stink, and Coraline.  We’ve got plenty of stuff on my Kindle to keep us reading aloud for quite some time.

I have to admit, I kind of like doing the read aloud stories on Kindle.  They’re easy to store and I don’t have to worry about losing the book from one night to the next.  I misplace things all the time, so having something so easily found (it’s in a bright turquoise case) is a definite benefit.

And poor Luca couldn’t last the whole chapter.  I had a floppy Bear draped over on my lap, perfectly content to sleep there.  I needed help to move the sleeping one out of my lap and onto the bed.  Luca actually managed to stay asleep straight through the night until morning, falling asleep almost two hours before the usual time.  I think we may need to keep that up, for no other reason than to get Luca to bed earlier.

As time passes I’m sure my skill at reading will improve again.  Like I said, the kids will get used to hearing my voice and hearing me read to them.  They’ll get used to the idea of books being a part of our regular day.  Their exposure to new ideas and vocabulary will definitely help, especially since books have a much more challenging vocabulary than television shows (except maybe some of the educational ones).  It’ll be good for them, and it’ll help their brains grow.

All of this will also continue to link back to other things in their lives.  They’re going to hear about Peter Pan and Captain Hook, characters they’re seeing in the television show.  Then they’re going to hear about the Wizard of Oz and we can watch the movies that go with that theme.  They can hear about Coraline’s adventure, then watch the movie again to compare.  There’s even a series on Netflix called Anne with an “E” that we can watch as we read Anne of Green Gables.  It should be fun.

Reading to the kids has always been on and off a thing that I’ve done.  Being radical unschoolers, we never really had a set routine, which made it difficult to keep the reading thing going.  Now that our lives have more structure it should be a lot easier to keep it going.  I’m not sure how it will fit in when we start going back to jujitsu, but we’ll find a way to make it work.  I’m really excited about being able to do this with them.


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Mama, Can I Give You A Kiss?

Today was the first official day of February vacation in the local schools.  You know what that means?  All four kids were home from school today.  It was actually kind of awesome.  We had a nice chill day, all considering.

We started the morning out with reading.  It began with the second chapter in Story of the World.  Overall I think the kids don’t hate it.  I have to engage with them every single paragraph for them to do anything other than glaze over and tune out.  If I keep asking them questions after every paragraph they actually listen.  I can’t make them be history lovers, but at least this is a start in getting them engaged.  The only down side I see is it brings in Biblical stories into the history, which isn’t really something I follow with.  We’re not a religious family, and at the risk of upsetting someone, there’s little historical fact to support that the Bible is an accurate account of history in any way, shape, or form.  Still, I think it’s a good base to work with.  The best part?  Even Luca was engaging with the reading when I took it paragraph by paragraph.  I was so proud of my little Bear!

From there we went on to You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Sumerian Slave.  The kids liked that well enough, even Corde.  It wasn’t the most comprehensive history book I’ve found, but it at least got them to be interested in the subject.  It gave them a different view of what life was like back then, and had more of a personal feel.  Those books are short enough to make them fun and easy reads.

After that the kids cycled through doing their work on the computer.  Sander and Luca played on Starfall for a good while after they were done.  They loved that program.  I’m so glad I payed to get the full content.  It wasn’t expensive ($35 for the year, I think?) and the kids really like playing on it.It’s been great for teaching Luca to read.  It’s been helping Sander too, though not as much.  He even read a book to me today, with some help along the way.  His skills at reading have gotten so much better.

Then, out of the blue, Luca said to me, “Mom, can I give you a kiss?”  I almost didn’t catch it at first.  I said okay and I got the sweetest little peck on my cheek.  Luca then gave the happiest little grin.  These are the moments that make me love having the kids home, sweet moments that I would miss if they were all in school all day long.

We’ve taken a bit of time out from our regularly scheduled homeschooling tasks to keep the state happy this week.  Instead we’re focusing on having a good week as a family, and doing some reading because I know the kids are at least picking up on a few facts that way.  It fulfills the suggested amount of reading twenty minutes a day.  We usually go way above that, mostly because I enjoy reading to my kids and they seem to get something positive out of it.  Besides, I would feel lost if we didn’t at least do something.  So computer time and reading it is.

I’m really happy to be getting back to our unschooling roots again.  This week has already been really good for that.  I think we’re going to be borrowing some stuff from classical homeschooling again, like the suggested reading list (because it ties in with the Charlotte Mason living books thing I like so much), but for the most part I want to keep our bend towards unschooling.

Today I really learned something from my kids.  The best moments are those spent doing things we enjoy.  I like reading to my kids, and they seem to enjoy it, so I suppose we’ll be keeping more of that.  The kids seem to like their math program, so we’ll keep up with that.  Luca and Sander really like Explode the Code, so we’ll keep working with that.  Sander and Luca both like Starfall (which is to be honest, a very unschooler way to learn reading, through playing games on tech), so we’ll keep with that.  The kids are enjoying their work on the computer, so we’ll keep up with that too.  Because when it comes down to it, doing those activities that they seem to love really inspires some beautiful moments with them.  I wouldn’t want to miss it.

And that’s what I love about this.  I love hearing A.J. say his land is called “Mesopotamia” because it means “the land between rivers” in his play.  I like working with Sander on his reading, and watching his vocabulary and his ability to read slowly growing.  I love getting kisses from Luca for no reason other than to give me a kiss.  These are things I never saw when the kids were in school.  These are the moments I missed.

Today’s beautiful moment was a kiss from my littlest.  I have no idea what tomorrow’s moment will be.  I just know that, whatever it is, it will make my day that much brighter.


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Llama, Llama in Pajama

Sometimes the things I hear really make me scratch my head.  For example, waking up to the Legend of Zelda theme.  In case you don’t know it, here’s an awesome video by Lindsey Sterling with a whole medley of Legend of Zelda songs.  We particularly love her in this house, especially for her nerd video gaming stuff.

Then there was the thing about llamas, hence the name of the post.  Sander was saying, “Llama, llama, pajama!”  I have no idea what brought that on aside from me talking about alpacas.  The kids were asking what the difference was, so I told them the only real difference I knew is that alpacas were smaller and generally thought to be nicer.

This whole thing led to a discussion about llamas and alpacas.  (I think this may warrant more books from the library, but not until we return some of them.)  The kids have decided we need to raise alpacas.  I’m okay with this.  I’m a knitter and hope to some day be a spinner, so having alpaca fleece (which makes my favorite kind of yarn) on hand will not be a problem for me.  I think we may need to consider buying some land so we can have alpacas and rabbits for Corde.

We’ve been doing a lot of reading in the house so far.  I pulled out some of the DK Eyewitness books we got from the library and told the kids to page through them this morning while I write this (and wait for my headache to dissolve) which has kept them occupied quite well.  Beekee has been learning about Mesopotamia.  Right now Sander is looking at a book on ancient China.  Luca pulled out a book on frogs that I’d gotten for Sander (who absolutely loves frogs).  I guess we’re really making good use of those library books.  It’s a good thing I got so many then.

Undoubtedly I’ll be writing about Mesopotamia soon.  It’s currently Beekee’s favorite subject.  (Oh, yeah, in case you didn’t get the memo, A.J. and Beekee are the same person.)  He learned about it with Time 4 Learning and has been interested ever since.  He’s got a section on ancient civilizations, so we’re going to go through all of them one after the other.  It can’t hurt to spend a good long time studying them.  I guess it ties back to our time with classical homeschooling (the exact antithesis of unschooling).  I kind of want to take us through history from beginning to modern.  We’ll see how that goes.  For now, I should let Sander hop on the computer and get some work done.


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Our Local Library

I’m sure you’re glad to see me writing about something other than math, writing, computer time, and jujitsu.  You’d think that’s all we ever did, but I swear, it’s not.  There’s plenty of time playing Minecraft, building with LEGO blocks, watching movies, and doing those things that all families do when they have free time.  Still, it’s time I write about something interesting.  It’s time I wrote about our library.

Now, our library isn’t as awesome as the last one we went to in Texas with their crafts and their LEGO days.  We did some pretty awesome things at that library.  Still, it’s got it’s own sense of charm, and I really like the librarian there.  She knows us by now, and even asked where Nika was because I didn’t bring her.  It’s a comfortable little place.

img_20170208_172925_786The kids really love the library too.  Like most children’s libraries it’s got plenty of stuff to play with.  They don’t mind if the kids get a little loud because they’re on their own floor with a separate entrance from the rest of the library.  It’s in the entry way between two sets of sliding doors and downstairs in the basement.  The kids love to play down there, and they play together fairly well too.  It’s a huge distraction from the reason we’re there, to get books out.

img_20170208_173826_237However we did get books, and not a small amount of books either.  This should keep us busy for some time.  I went to get more books on turtles and saw something on hurricanes.  I know A.J. used to be big on natural disasters, so I pulled that out.  Next thing I know we’ve got books on snowflakes, climate change, the food chain of the tundra, and I don’t even know what else.  I picked up one chapter book to read with the kids too, if we find the time.  I know they like having me read to them, and it will give us something to read when The Princess Bride is done.

I know unschoolers have this thing with “strewing” for the kids.  Basically take a bunch of interesting things and leave them lying around for the kids to get interested in.  I can’t help but feel like that’s the public library for us, a whole bunch of strewn topics all over the place.  Walk the stacks and things just jump out at you.  Well, that’s exactly what happened.  I meant to have the kids pick up more books on turtles but we got bogged down with weather related topics, something about the food chain, and a pirate adventure (which I have no idea what that could be about when stacked in with the weather books).

img_20170208_174510_636After all our good book hunting, Luca decided to say hi to their dear friend the turtle, Fred.  Fred is short for Winifred, as we learned from the information sign next to the tank.  She’s about 15 years old and is a form of box turtle, but I forget what kind.  We found books on turtles because there’s the call numbers for the books listed along with her information.  That’s how I found the books on turtles and frogs.  Luca was so excited to see the turtle that we were almost late for jujitsu.  (No, I apparently can’t write anything without writing about jujitsu it seems!)

This is one of my many reasons for homeschooling, and why I took to unschooling in the first place.  The kids can learn so much just by showing up at the library and taking home a bunch of books that seem interesting.  We could pick a different shelf every time and just pull random things that the kids want to read.  We’ve got three weeks to read all of these, but I don’t think it will take us that long.  We generally go through one book a day, so we could totally blow through all of those books in no time.  Of course the Sea Turtle Scientist and Frog Scientist books may go back to the library unfinished.  Those books are long and a little bit to advanced for the kids to really be interested in, but they did learn.  They were each able to tell me facts from what was read to them, so I don’t know.

Maybe we’re taking that bend back to unschooling yet.  We may not live in the trailer park anymore, but we’re still unschoolers at heart.  (And you may still yet find us in an RV park, if all goes my way…)


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Learning to Read and Books

And we have a total unschooling moment today!  Sander asked to do Time 4 Learning, which was great.  He sat down at the computer with Luca looking over his shoulder.  One of the lessons was reading stories.  Sander was reading along, using the voice to read him the words he didn’t know, and Luca was behind him, calling out the words Luca knew. It was awesome.  They were reading together for nothing more than the joy of reading together.  That was a proud mama moment!

img_20170208_100330_348Not only that, but one of the lessons Sander did today was a game.  You have to find all the words from the story, but there are several of the same word for each level.  One of them was “help”, for example, which showed up three times on the screen.  Sander had Luca direct him to all of the words, which was great because Luca was learning to read those words.  Sander said he was teaching Luca how to read.  It was awesome.

This is what I miss about unschooling.  I miss the kids saying “Can we do this now?” and then going with it.  I miss the moments of sharing information together.  It’s such a natural form of learning.

We’ve decided we’re going to do our science lessons based on interest and what’s cool at the time.  Sander is really into frogs, so we’re going to learn about frogs.  A.J. is digging turtles, so we’re learning about turtles.  I’ve got to find some good resources on bears for Luca (aka Luca the Pooka Bear).  We’re also going to do some reading about life sciences and recycling, since it’s something we do around the house anyway.  The kids like it when I read to them, so I figure if we keep to topics the kids find interesting, that will be a good way to keep them engaged, and to teach them that reading is actually pretty cool.

This is where the library comes in.  The library happens to be on our way to jujitsu class, and since we’re walking, it only seems logical to pop on in.  Since the weather is warm today, I’d already planned on bringing back the books we were done with and getting out a few new ones anyway.  I have a whole bunch on hold from the library, and while not all of them are in yet, some of them are, which should give us a good start.

Can I just take a minute to tell you I love my library network?  You can reserve books from all of the local branches and they’ll set them for pick up at the local library.  That makes my life so much easier.  I pick out the books to read with my kids, then order them on my phone.  I get a text when the books are ready for pickup.  It’s that simple!  No more need to search the stacks to find what I’m looking for, and hoping it’s available at the library.  Now I’ve got it all right there at my finger tips.  Nothing could be easier!

Okay, that detour aside, we’ve got some awesome books coming in.  I’m fully expecting to have a lot of library days to get them all.  We’re going to have a lot to read about, frogs, turtles, life sciences, states of matter, and ancient cultures.  We’ve got a lot of history and science coming our way.  Sure, it may not be as productive of a science schedule as a real curriculum, but they’re going to be learning stuff based on following their own interests.

I’m pretty happy that we’re getting back to the unschooling track for most things.  I mean, sure, we’re still sticking to curriculum for math.  We’re doing copy work to get a writing sample in the portfolio every week.  A.J. could probably write it himself, but we’ve decided copy work is better for him so he can get the spelling right.  We’re not going all crazy with the graphic organizers and all that.  He tells me what to write, I commit it to paper so he can “write” as fast as the words come out of his mouth.  Then he copies his own words into his own hand and we’re done.  The kids understand that they need SOMETHING in their portfolios for the end of the year, so they get that it’s only so we can keep up appearances.  Even with the math, they’re flying through the subjects, so I may have to cut our math lessons down to two or three times a week.  They’d like that.  My whole point in that is to have a full workbook and test book at the end of the year so I can show their progress in math.  I need to do something to keep the state satisfied.

img_20170208_130222_053But the best (and random) moments of homeschooling are the discoveries of things like the carrot shaped like a bunny head.  They get to share things with me that I would have missed if they were in school, or moments they would have missed if they weren’t home.  They all got to see the bunny head carrot.  They wouldn’t share the moments of reading together or doing computer work together.  There would be no group lessons where we read a book about turtles or frogs together.  We wouldn’t have Luca and Sander reading together.  We wouldn’t have competitions for the highest level of Space Invader.  These are all things we’d miss if the kids were in traditional school instead of at home, all things that happened without any kind of formal lesson plan, just things that they do and learn and share because they’re interested.

Yeah, I’m starting to remember why we were unschoolers.  It’s really awesome to be able to steer our learning ever so slowly back to that.  If we keep this up we’ll be on to unschooling paradise in no time!