Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Toothless Is Here!

IMG_20170629_115041Today is the day Luca’s special present for his surgery got here, the thing that made it all better.  We got a stuffed Toothless to hug every time there’s bad feelings over the missing teeth.  Already Toothless has been a big hit.  Luca insisted on bringing him everywhere.  Given how much we were out today, it’s been a long day for Toothless.

We were in pretty desperate need for food stuffs, so we went to the local grocery store for bread.  Deciding that was more expensive than the bigger chain store, we decided to skip on over to the big store after lunch.  Everyone got a Hostess cupcake from the gas station, then it was off to home for lunch.

Here’s where things got interesting.  We decided it was a nice day, so we should just walk to the big grocery store, and go to the closer of the two.  There had been talk of checking out our first geocashe on the way, but we decided not to.  It would be better to do a straight shot and come straight home.

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The kids loved the walk, and they were all good and tired when they got there.  Luca saw this horse and insisted on getting up for a ride.  I remember riding those when I was little.  All of the kids wanted a ride but Corde, but we didn’t have quarters, so we settled with sitting up on it instead.  Maybe next time we’ll splurge and let them all ride, though I don’t know when that will be.

The whole adventure, Toothless rode along.  He went shopping in two stores and even on the bus.  It was quite the adventure for the first day with our family.  Now he’s tucked away in the bed with Luca, sleeping peacefully after our really long day.  The night was capped with Luca falling asleep to the closing chapters of Peter Pan.  It’s really been quite the eventful day.


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Science Means Yogurt

Yesterday we started the process of making yogurt as a part of our summer activities.  I almost said “homeschooling” then wanted to correct it to “unschooling”, but the truth is it’s really just living.  I guess that’s what unschooling is about.

It was bright and early in the morning (and by that I mean 8:30) that we got up and went over to our neighbor’s house.  It all started with reading the ingredients list on the yogurt container as a starter.  We talked about the different bacteria, and how the bacteria aren’t bad germs, even though they are germs.  The kids thought that was pretty cool.  Our only regret is not having a microscope to view the bacteria with.  That would have been cool.

We talked a bit about what makes an “active culture”.  Our neighbor was funny about it.  She had the kids pretend to be inactive if it was too cold to do anything, then they all jumped around the room when they were the “active” culture at the right temperature, then got sluggish and slow again when the temperature got too hot.  It was a great way to show the kids the difference between active cultures and inactive ones.  I never would have thought of doing it that way.  As much as I teach kids, I really don’t teach kids.  I teach as though I’m talking to adults.  Our methods really differ, but I think that’s a good thing.  It’s good for the kids to learn from different teaching styles.

After that each of the kids got to pour some of the milk into a giant pot.  We heated the pot to 180 degrees (to kill all other possible bacteria sources), then waited for it to cool down to 120 before we added the yogurt culture.  In the mean time the yogurt was mixed in with some of the milk that had been set aside and cooled so it would be liquid enough to mix in with the other milk.  We called this the “mother culture.”

Of course, when I think of “mother culture” I think of a book I read last summer, Ishmael.  It was a good read, but “culture” was viewed as a cage, trapping people from having real and meaningful experiences with each other and the world around them.  The idea of “mother culture” made me laugh because in my head that was not a good thing, but I suppose it fit.  We were “infecting” the milk with this “mother culture” to make something new, so I was amused.  I think we may end up reading Ishmael when the kids get a little older, or when we become more accustomed to reading together.

After the yogurt had cooled enough, we mixed the “mother culture” in with the yogurt to make our yogurt.  The kids quickly put all of the yogurt jars onto the table at the center of a towel, which was wrapped around them so the yogurt cultures could stay warm and do their magic.

That’s when the hard part came, the waiting.  We ended up going back there today to check out the yogurt because it would have been done too late for the kids to go check on it.  The yogurt was put up in the refrigerator to wait for them to check it out.

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Luca was super excited to make the yogurt, but was the only one who didn’t want to try it.  It was a little more runny than the neighbor had hoped, but about par for the course for commercial yogurts, from everything I could tell.  Here Luca is telling us all about the yogurt and what it looked like.

I’m seriously considering looking into a yogurt maker.  I know we can make it without one, but I would feel a little happier with one.  We can always get some fresh berries and things to mix in with the yogurt, and smoothies would definitely be a good thing to add in.  I bet even Luca would love a strawberry smoothie with fresh yogurt.  It’s something to look forward to doing in the future.

As for today, I’m posting this while I’m home from work.  Luca was restless last night for the second night in a row, so I got no sleep.  Luca wanted me to stay home today, so I did.  Hopefully Luca will get settled and follow a regular sleep routine soon.  As you can see from the picture, we’ve started to keep Luca’s hair up too.  We just found out Luca’s hair is long enough to French braid, and with keeping up the routine of brushing any time Luca eats anything this helps keep hair out of the way for that too.

Also, up and coming, Luca is getting a special present for his surgery ordeal.  More on that when it arrives…  And Luca’s birthday is coming up.  Poor kid lost all those teeth just as a birthday was coming up!  It’s okay, though.  It just means we’ve got to make sure Luca gets an awesome present for being so brave.  On top of that, Luca got $20 from the tooth fairy for all of that.  It’s been an ordeal, but awesome is on it’s way.


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Luca’s Big Adventure

Today was a big day for Luca.  The problem with Luca’s front teeth was finally going to be dealt with.  His enamel chipped away, causing major cavities in all of his front teeth.  Normally this is considered “bottle rot” caused by babies sent to bed with bottles in their mouth.  Since Luca was never bottle fed, we’re at a loss for what caused it.  And having no reasonable dental care while we were living in the shelter, we had no way of getting it taken care of when it should have been.  It was an all around awful situation.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I’ve got a lot to say about access to proper medical and dental care by families living in shelter situations, but that’s for another day.

Oz took Luca in for oral surgery today, where they were supposed to put caps on all of Luca’s upper teeth and a couple of his baby molars.  The idea was to get rid of anything unhealthy so Luca could have all healthy teeth moving forward.  No matter what caused the problem, we were going to have a chance to make sure things only got better from here on in.

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Luca was super brave.  He went in with the attitude that he was getting his teeth fixed and everything would be better after that.  He wasn’t even the least bit scared about any of it.  Such a brave little bear!

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After the surgery we got the full report.  They weren’t able to anchor most of the caps, so he ended up loosing almost all of his top teeth.  Poor kid!  But they assured us with no baby teeth standing in the way, his adult teeth should grow in much quicker.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before Luca’s back to usual.

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The good news is Luca is already back to his normal, happy self.  Right there you can see Luca sucking down a Popsicle, the third one since they got home.  Overall you couldn’t ask for a happier kid, even with everything that’s gone on.

So why am I posting about this?  Well, for several reasons.  The first of which being a caution to families that are so radical they don’t even require tooth brushing…this is what can happen.  This isn’t because of a lack of tooth brushing but a lack of proper dental care while we were living in the shelter system, but the results can easily be the same if you’re not careful.

However, the big reason I’m writing about this?  Luca is the kid I have the most pictures of.  I wouldn’t want people to wonder if they saw smiles with missing top teeth.  I don’t want to make people ask “What happened there?”  Well, now you know.

Because of all of this, we’re going to be cutting as much sugar out of our diets as possible.  I guess this is really going to help with our healthy food push anyway, but this is definitely a kick in the butt to do it.  So out goes anything with processed sugars or high-fructose corn syrup (Corde will be happy).  Instead we’ll be focusing on healthy eating and keeping away from all those crazy additives.  Luca’s big adventure is going to be a huge change for all of us.  I’m just glad Luca is still happy as ever, and loves the idea of getting on a healthy diet kick.


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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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Little Artist and Growing Greens

Let me first say that I’m so happy with Luca.  For the longest time all Luca’s pictures were pretty much scribbles.  I was starting to think there may be some kind of developmental delay or something.  So far as I’m aware kids have usually graduated beyond scribbles by the time they’re entering kindergarten.  Luca is almost there and still everything is scribbles instead of proper drawings.

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This is the picture I was given by Luca today.  This is “Bear”.  It actually looks like something.  I had only ever seen one face before, but this is a whole person.  I absolutely love this little picture.  I love that he does the eyes like empty orbs too.  There’s something I find so endearing about it.  I can’t help but be a proud mama after looking at the pictures I’ve gotten today.  Maybe Luca isn’t so impossibly behind on artistic talent as I worried he would be.

Then there’s the garden.  Well, I hesitate to call it a garden.  It’s only a handful of plants on our porch, but it’s doing pretty well for itself.  Everything is growing.  I’m not sure how much bounty we’re going to get this year, but it’s at least something that looks nice and will hopefully yield at least some tomatoes for Corde to chow down on.

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Everything is growing so well.  Those tomato plants were at least half the size when I brought them home, perhaps smaller than that.  The two closest to the house are smaller, but I think that has to do with getting less afternoon sun.  These ones are doing fantastically.  One of my tomato plants even has it’s first flower!  It’s so exciting!

And the strawberries already produced three strawberries.  I wasn’t really sure the tiny blobs they produced really counted as anything, since they were so small and misshapen, but apparently they were actual strawberries.  One of them managed to go bad within a day of it getting ripe.  One was stolen.  The third went bad and dropped off the plant just recently.  I think I’m going to have to keep a better eye on those plants.  Growing strawberries is completely new to me.

I’m going to have to invest in some kind of animal repellent too this year.  Last year we had a number of tomatoes, but they were all consumed by squirrels and left half eaten on the railing.  I don’t want to see my tomatoes go to waste like that again.  I’m not here to feed the squirrels!  Hopefully this year we’ll have better luck.

So that’s been our day in the 90 degree weather we’re having.  We’re just trying to chill and enjoy it for what it is.  We may call it before the public schools let out this year.  We’ve certainly been working hard enough at it!


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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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The Last Day of Future Leaders Program

It’s finally here, the last day of the Future Leaders Program. I think Beekee is a little relieved. He didn’t even want to go today. I think the only reason he agreed was knowing it would be the last day. It’s been tough on him having so much commitment. I have to wonder how he ever made it in school. He must have been so burnt out all the time.

In honor of his last day of his program we did almost no homeschooling today. We really got nothing done. I half watched Tree House Builders while Luca napped on my lap and that was about as educational as we got. That and Luca did one more row of knitting. Beyond that we’ve been all on the unschooling train.

So while we wait for the last class to end, Luca and Sander are playing with the iPads the library has. Usually they’re pretty hopping places, but today they can both play with no one waiting. It’s good for them to have a chance to play, especially for Luca, who never gets a chance to play on them.

Even Nina is having a chill day. She’s normally swarmed with children. Today She’s tucked up under my chair and out of the way. She’s napping while the kids play. Every once in a while a grumble let’s me know she’s still with us.

All of this is happening on a reasonably nice spring day. The walk wasn’t too bad, which is a nice change from the earlier days of the program. Even so, rumor has it we should be getting snow this weekend. We are not excited. At least warmer days have been the trend lately and it shouldn’t be long before we can sign up for these programs knowing it will be good weather to walk there and back. Hopefully that will motivate us.