Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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Working on Christmas Presents Already

Since the kids are learning how to knit they decided they would make dish cloths for gifts this year. We probably won’t do many, the important ones being my aunt and uncle and my grandmother, but it’s something they can do as gifts.

Over the weekend we went to the craft store to pick out yarn to make gifts with. They had a selection of colors in cheap cotton. I had no idea they had so many options. To be fair, I order most of my yarn online these days and I don’t do dish cloth cotton. Still, the kids had fun picking out colors. Luca picked a tie dyed kind of blue and rainbow. Sander chose a Christmas blend and a variegated green. Beekee wanted orange and a red, white, and blue blend. Corde got three, a tie dyed kind of pink, a similar purple, and a plain baby blue. I got Luca a second set of needles as his are tied up with a scarf, and off we went to check out.

The kids got started with their dish cloths. They had fun getting started. Somehow Beekee keeps adding stitches. It’s not going to be perfect, but for a first go it’s not bad. He’s getting the idea, and that’s what counts.

Sander gets a lot more help, but he’s still doing well. He works through his rows pretty quickly. He wants to do four rows every day. I’m pretty happy to work at that rate with him. His dish cloth is looking good.

Luca just started today and got two rows in. He’s making slow progress, but I expected that. I don’t know if he’ll get more than one done before Christmas. Still, he’ll be pretty happy to give even one away.

It’s early, but they’re getting started in plenty of time to get something done by Christmas. They’re learning the valuable lesson of starting early to get things done in time. Now I just need to get my own holiday knitting started or I’ll never be done in time!

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Doctor Who

It’s been a while since we’ve watched Doctor Who (at least 2 years), so we decided to start it again from the beginning.  This has been a family thing that we’ve always done together, so it’s been fun catching up again, especially since the kids haven’t seen all the way through Matt Smith yet, and none of us have seen the latest Doctor (though all that’s about to change again).  Needless to say, we’re a little behind.

So what does this have to do with unschooling/homeschooling?  I could just be writing about it because it’s something my family has done together, so there’s that, but really?  I think that this definitely has to do with unschooling.

Think about it, Doctor Who has some really creative story lines.  It throws in a little bit of real science along with the science fiction.  There’s an introduction to all kinds of periods in history, blended with fictional ideas about the future and aliens.  Then there’s all the story telling and the blending of a theme throughout each Doctor’s reign.  Each one has their own story arc, which is almost reset at the beginning of each new Doctor.  It’s got some great ideas for building stories upon.

But in reality, it’s all a good bit of fun.  It’s time we can kick back and relax while still engaging as a family.  It influences what the kids play and what we talk about.  It’s become a part of our family identity, something I think makes us all the better for having in our lives.  We’re a part of a culture of “Whovians” and the kids are getting to grow up as a part of that culture.  It’s really kind of cool how it’s helped shape their identities too.

And then there’s the social, interpersonal thing.  There are so many other Whovians out there.  It gives them an identity that they share with countless other people across the whole world, even if it seems centralized to Great Britain, USA, and Canada.  It can be a conversation starter and a way into like-minded communities.  It’s a great way to meet other people.  I mean, there’s no reason the kids should ever go without being connected to other people that share their interests, or at least one of them.  Whatever else they do in life they will always have that.  It only grows as they get into other fandoms, the biggest one I can think of being Harry Potter.  It’s an identity, something I didn’t have much of when I was their age beyond “Girl Scout” and maybe “horseback rider.”

It’s silly to think a television show has so much influence on how kids grow and change, but it’s definitely made an impact, especially for Corde, who identifies with fans of Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and the countless animes out there.  She’s starting to feel like she’s got a place (or at least a collective) that she can call home.  It gives her an identity in the world, and if you ask me (I know, you didn’t) it’s a pretty cool one because she can not only identify with the greater world, but also relates to her family, the whole family, not just her parents.

As the kids get older they’ll undoubtedly watch more of Doctor Who, and will definitely have the opportunity to get in on marathons of the older episodes.  They’ll grow up with the same immersion to Doctor Who as Corde really got into, and it might even give them a identity, a connection, like it did for Corde.  As they get older they’ll find more kids that have the same interest, which is harder for them right now because some of the episodes are a little scary for kids even Beekee’s age.  It will give them something to hold on to.

So it may not seem like much, but it’s a whole world for our family, and something we can truly bond over.  And Doctor Who isn’t the only one.  We’ve watched some of the superhero shows with the kids (Supergirl and Flash primarily).  Then there was A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.  Corde and I bonded over How I Met Your Mother, Leverage, and Bones.  It may sound like we watch a lot of television (we really don’t most of the time), but it’s more than just mind-numbing activity.  There’s so much to it, the elements of story and plot, the connection to other fans of the series, even just having something to talk about with other people, strike up a conversation.  It’s valuable enough that we want it to be a part of our family identity, as weird and quirky as we may be.


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Allowance

We finally did it.  We’re in a financial position where we can give the kids an allowance.  True, it takes away from other things we could be getting, but I feel that teaching the kids how to manage their money is a much better life lesson than many of the things we could have afforded with that money.

See, Oz and I came from very different backgrounds when it comes to managing our finances.  Oz had no experience until he was out on his own, where he often spent more money than he should, which got him into financial trouble.  I was the extreme opposite.  I was so worried about not having enough to cover my bills that I never spent money if I could at all help it.  That wasn’t so much childhood that taught me that, because I had an allowance and would save for things, but my ex-husband and I had a lot of financial struggles, which taught me to be a little stingy with my money.

The kids aren’t getting a lot of money.  Luca gets $3 every week, so that only sets us back about $12 every month.  Sander gets $4, Beekee $5, and Corde $7.  That all comes out to $76 every month, which could make a nice little budget for science experiments, art supplies, and other fun stuff for the kids, but this is teaching them something valuable.  They’re learning what money is worth and how to make decisions on where they want to spend it.

Just today the kids decided to make their first purchase.  We had a binge cleaning day and decided we were going to take a walk to pick up the missing ingredients to our shepherd’s pie at the local grocery store.  We told the kids if they brought money we could stop and get some cookies at the dollar store.  They’re not fantastic cookies and they’re not brand name, but the kids wanted us to buy them cookies for their job well done, which was fine, but they each wanted their own thing of cookies, so that’s when telling them to use their allowance came in.

Corde bought more than just cookies.  She also got some headphones (a good value since she kills her headphones so quickly anyway, it doesn’t make sense to get her more expensive ones) and some tacks to put stuff up on her wall.  When the younger three checked out, their purchases came to a dollar even.  Corde asked why hers involved spending some change.  That lead to a discussion about tax, and how sales tax doesn’t apply to anything you can eat.  That was another learning moment.  Things don’t cost what they say they do on the shelf.  Unless you can eat it or wear it, it’s taxable.

This is already turning into a good experience for the kids.  Luca is already proving to be a real saver, having collected all sorts of money between the tooth fairy (yeah, we let them believe, though I think they’re too smart and figured it out) and birthday money.  None of that money was spent, save the dollar today.  Sander has been pretty thrifty too.  Beekee was talking about spending his five and how he would get change from his purchase, though he decided on spending the one from the tooth fairy instead.  They’re learning to manage their money.  They also learned that we weren’t going to let them spend money they didn’t have with them, so if they want to buy extra stuff next time, they should bring more money.  Luca was fine with only getting cookies, but Sander wanted to get a pair of headphones, which he couldn’t buy, but maybe next time.  The store is walking distance from the house, so I don’t see a reason why we can’t stop in from time to time.

Now, we’re not going to go all crazy and tell them they can’t have things unless they buy them.  We’re still going to go out of our way to provide cool experiences for them, but if they want something that’s not on our shopping list, they need to wait until Christmas or their birthday, or they need to spend their own money on it.

We’re also not giving them their money for nothing.  They’ve got to do chores around the house in order to earn their wages.  Luca has to feed the dog and clear the dishes from the table.  Beekee then does those dishes.  Sander (by choice) is in charge of cleaning the bathroom.  He loves that chore, though I can’t imagine why.  I always hate cleaning the bathroom, but if it makes him happy, more power to him.  Plus, it’s something he only has to do once a week, even though it’s more work than the rest of the chores.  Corde has the most to do.  She’s responsible for keeping the kitchen clean.  That means wiping down the table and counters, sweeping and mopping the floor, and taking out the trash and the recycling.  We want them to learn that you don’t just get money for doing nothing, you have to earn it.  Oz works to earn the money we get every month.  When I was working I was making my own income.  They have to earn theirs too, because that’s how life works.  You don’t just get money for no reason, you have to earn it.

This is a new experience for them, one I wish we’d started doing earlier.  It’s going to teach them a whole new level of responsibility.  If they save up to $20 they can open their own bank accounts, which is good for whatever money they want to save.  Luca has that much now, but he’s pretty partial to keeping his money in the little jar on my desk.  They can make that decision when they want, and I think we’re going to be encouraging them to put away at least a dollar of their money into savings, maybe more for Corde because she’s got less time to build up a savings.  Then again, she can get a job of her own before long, so that’s something too.

They’re already starting to start talking about what they want to spend their money on, which is great.  Beekee wants to get new games for his DS.  Sander is saving to replace his DS (which he dropped in the Charles River on the 4th of July).  Luca wants to spend his money on getting games we can play together.  I have no idea what Corde wants to spend her money on, but she’s a teen and will definitely have reasons to spend money, like at the mall with her friends, or a trip out to the movies.  She can save some of it for spending money at Rainbow Grand Assembly or Rainbow Camp next year too.

Overall I’m excited for this.  The kids will be able to make some more decisions for themselves and have a whole new level of freedom.  They no longer have to ask our permission to get things they want, though we’ll definitely be there to advise them on their investments.  The ultimate decision is theirs.


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Baking with Corde

Okay, maybe it was just a mix, but Corde got some baking in yesterday. It was a Hershey s’mores cupcake mix that a friend gave us. It was a pretty simple deal, chocolate cupcake with a graham cracker bottom crust and a marshmallow filling. Corde couldn’t wait to make it.

Corde wasn’t alone in her baking. Luca decided to help her with the mixing. The two looked so cute together at the table. Corde mixed up the graham crust mix while Luca mixed the cupcake batter. Then they both worked together to fill the cupcake cups.

While they were waiting things got a little crazy. Corde decided to prove she could walk on the half wall to the stairs and Luca, Sander, and Beekee went nuts playing LEGO Batman. They had an awesome time.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the finished product. We all ate them too quickly and I forgot. Even I had one, and they managed to save one for Oz. They were definitely good and gave Corde some ideas for her own baking future, which is always a win in my book!


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When They Grow Up

I have to admit, I’ve been a little worried about my kids and their interests.  So many homeschooled and unschooled kids are doing incredible things.  They’ve got incredible interests and they really invest themselves in what they’re into.  It’s almost like they know what they want to be when they grow up.

My kids aren’t like that.  They don’t really play with LEGOs and build things very often.  They only build their own houses in Minecraft.  I can’t get them to do all the cool, creative things other kids do.  They’ve got no interest in playing music.  They really don’t want to do anything but play video games and watch Minecraft videos on Amazon.  All in all, their interests seem like they’re not all that diverse.

For Luca, I’m not really worried about that.  Luca is only five and is primarily interested in coloring, playing with toys, and having tea parties.  This is no big deal.  It’s age appropriate for Luca to have no special interests or any leaning towards what he’ll do as a grown up.  Crazy ideas are normal at that age.  Luca’s current dream job is to make teddy bears, which is a possibility when he grows up, but we’ll start with teaching him how to sew.  If he hates that, he’s never going to make it as a teddy bear maker.

I know Corde, the closest to being out of the house and on to the real world, is having problems with this herself.  She’s going to a STEM oriented program at a local community college right now, which she doesn’t hate, but she doesn’t want to be doing any of that as a career.  Her discovery is 3D printing is hard, coding makes her head hurt, and engineering isn’t her thing.  It’s not a total loss.  She’s having a good time with it in spite of it not being her thing, but she knows it’s not going to be her future.  At least she tried it and now knows she can rule out engineering jobs in her future.  I just wish she had more of an idea of what she does want to do.

Of course, I can’t truly say that.  Corde’s got thoughts of possibly wanting to be a detective or a lawyer.  She’s been toying with the idea of being a chef for years.  She hasn’t really pursued the idea of cooking at home, though she’s got an opportunity to do it through the local voc/tech.  It’s something, and she really should have some direction in her life, given she’s so close to being out in the world.

But what about Beekee and Sander?  They need to have some direction in life too.  I mean, they’re both still young and have time to figure out what they want to do with their lives, but it’s better they at least have something they’re passionate about.  If nothing else, it’d be nice if they had some things they wanted to try.

So I finally broke down and asked them today, what would they like to do when they grow up.  If I knew that much I could help guide them to their passions.  We could get on board with the unschooling thing again because we’d have somewhere to start.  They’d do something other than play Minecraft all day and watch movies.  I mean, I know that’s part of deschooling, but the state is going to want to see they’re doing something educational with their time.

Beekee was the first one to respond.  First he said he wanted to make mods for Minecraft.  I told him that was a great goal, but what if he couldn’t make a living that way?  He might want to have another plan for his future, just in case modding Minecraft turns out to not be profitable.  He settled upon making a new game console, preferably one that could play the games of more than one system on it.  Then he got into talking about how he’d like to get into stuff that falls under the heading of “electronics”.  Well, that’s definitely a direction he could go.  Electrical engineering is totally a job option for him when he gets older, and not a bad choice when it comes to income either.

Sander’s first thought was he wanted to make video games.  He decided that might be hard and might not be as fun as it seems, so if he doesn’t like making video games he wants to be “a worker”.  When I asked what that meant, the answer was someone who builds things, like houses.  I can totally see Sander getting into that when he’s older.  He’s a sturdy, strong kid that likes doing physical things.  I can see him having the creativity to make video games too, but right now I think that takes a level of patience he’s yet to master.  He has a lot more patience with physical, hands-on stuff.  That may just be his age, but it may also be what he’s cut out to do in life.  He’s talked about building houses on and off for the past couple of years, so maybe this really is a passion of his.

These are things we can work on now, and I feel pretty good about that.  We can start working on getting the kids started with electronics.  We can do a little bit of programming, if I can find some stuff that’s age appropriate.  And we can definitely start working on some wood crafting projects.  I work at a home improvement store.  I’m sure we can come up with something!

I have to say, I feel a lot better about my parenting skills.  I think it was just they weren’t ready to think about it.  I’d asked several times and they never really were interested in thinking about it and whenever I brought up ideas, they’d brush it off and go back to playing.  Now it looks like we’ve got some good places to start.  They’re finally ready to get into some pretty cool stuff.

So, we may not know what they want to be when they grow up, but at least we’ve got some ideas to start with.  Maybe they’ll love what they’ve chosen as life aspirations now.  Maybe they’ll try it and hate it.  Whatever it is, at least I’ve got kids that are starting to get passionate about things.  We’re back on the unschool train for real!


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Why She Wants to Go to School

I’m honestly really sad about Corde wanting to go to high school next year.  Part of it is her grades.  She’s a B/C student and feels like she can’t aspire to anything better.  I have a feeling reliance on grades will only hold her back and make her that much less ready for college, if she decides to go.  But there are other factors in all of that.  I just feel like she could get so much better of an education at home.

For starters, no one is teaching her how to write, and I mean properly write.  I’ve heard this complaint from a lot of high school students entering college.  No one taught them the proper way to write a research paper.  No one showed them how to craft a properly supported argument.  They struggle when they get to college because they don’t know how to do these things.  I can honestly say that was the hardest part about peer editing in college, I felt like I had to make a lot of comments and edits.  Actually, that’s not true.  I had a wonderful time in my literature class, but my history class it felt like I was working with a lot of people that didn’t know how to write.

And then there’s other aspects of education.  Corde is tracked into a specific plan for next year.  While she’s not doing great in math (a solid B student, so not horrible), she’s getting through the material quickly.  If she was homeschooled she could advance through the material and get “back on track” that much quicker.  There’s no reason she couldn’t be through Algebra 1 right now if she just applied herself.  We could have easily gotten through it this summer, but what’s the point if she’s not going to be able to advance to the next level next year in school?  She can’t move forward at her pace.  She has to move at the pace everyone else sets for her.

Let’s not forget her woes in science and history.  Those classes are all about memorizing facts, something she’s really struggling with.  I know college will be full of that.  She may not have to remember names and dates in science, but she is going to have to remember things like the laws of physics, or the parts of a cell.  In history it’ll be names and dates.  However, I could teach her to study those things and improve her skills.  Going to school she had a study block, which was where she did all her work.  None of her work came home, so she didn’t study, and because she didn’t study, she didn’t do well in her classes.  These are things we could easily improve upon with homeschooling.

However, she doesn’t want to homeschool.  It’s not about the high school experience.  It’s not even because she’s really interested in the things she’ll learn in tech school.  She’s really only interested in going to high school to be with her friends.  She said, “You don’t understand, Mom.  Once you no longer go to school with kids they don’t have time for you anymore.”  I hate to say it, but there’s every chance her friends won’t have time for her in high school either.  She may choose a different vocational career than them, or they may all choose the same thing to be together, which is the wrong way to choose something.  There’s every chance she and her friends will drift apart anyway.

Going to school just for her friends isn’t a good answer in my opinion.  If she works hard to maintain her friendships, she won’t have to worry about losing her friends when they go to different schools.  They’ll make other friends, I’m sure, but she’ll still be able to hang out with her friends after school.  She’ll have even more time because she won’t have homework to worry about.

Still, I know I can’t change her mind, so we’re going to see how it goes.  I think it would be different if we had a car and could get her to homeschooling events.  That’s going to be a while in coming though, so we’re doing the best we can.  Maybe she’ll decide she wants to homeschool her academics and we can work something out with the school for that.  We may have a compromise yet.


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The Titanic and Tech School Accepted Students Day

Today was another unschool day.  We decided to do this by way of watching Titanic’s Final Mystery followed by Brain Games.  We’ve added these to our Documentary Challenge page, and we’ll keep adding to that as we watch more videos (provided we can get images from Amazon).  For full disclosure, I use Amazon Associate links.  This is a great way to help support the blog, but also it’s the best way I know for delivering content.  Most of what we try to stick to are stuff that’s available free on Prime, so it’s not even generally stuff you have to pay for, and if it’s not on Prime, it’s on Netflix.

Anyhow, the Titanic, right?  The kids got all excited about a Titanic documentary, so we decided to check it out.  It went into all kinds of detail about the myths surrounding the sinking of the Titanic, as well as why those myths were undoubtedly nothing more.  It talked about who was to blame for the sinking of the ship and why things happened the way they did.

I’m not going to go into it in great detail.  If you want that, you should definitely check out the documentary.  It’s free on Netflix.  However, I will share a little of what we found really interesting in the whole thing.  In particular, the scientific reasoning behind the sinking of the Titanic.

Long story short, the Titanic sank because they didn’t see the ice burg until an estimated 37 seconds from impact.  This gave the ship enough time to turn, but not turn off enough to avoid impact.  The reason for this was something called a “cold air mirage.”  This made the ice burg almost invisible until the last minute.  There’s nothing about the watchmen needing binoculars or the ship going to fast or anything else.  It was all a trick of the weather, something that was demonstrated in the video.  Watch it.  Trust me.  It’s pretty darn cool to watch.

But more than just preventing the crew from spotting the ice burg in time, the mirage was also likely the reason why the Californian didn’t come to the aid of the Titanic.  They saw a ship off in the distance but thought it too small to be the Titanic.  This could be explained by the mirage theory.  That also explains why the Morse signals were sent, but neither side got a proper answer.  The Californian thought it was just a flickering light on the other ship while the Titanic reportedly didn’t see the return signal at all.  Imagine how different things would have been if that signal came through.

That whole thing makes so much sense.  If it were all just a mirage, that would explain why so many signals got crossed and why so much information that seems obvious went unnoticed.  It all adds up to the whole situation being a huge, unfortunate stroke of bad luck, all at the hands of the weather.

Best of all, they actually go through the documented reports that make this story the most believable of all.  They read off transcripts from eyewitness accounts.  They study the weather as recorded by other ships that happened to be in the area at the time.  They even went out on a ship in modern day to record some of the data that may continue to reflect the situation at the time.  It was great to see all that evidence stacked up to actually produce a viable answer to why the biggest ship in the world at the time would sink, and why even modern ships would likely have gone down under similar conditions.

From there we watched Brain Games, which was a really neat show on how the brain actually works.  The episode we walked talked about vision, and how the eye focuses on certain things while missing details that would otherwise be useful information.  It was actually pretty cool.  I don’t want to go too much into that, as I’ll probably talk about it later, but it’s there.  If you’re interested in checking that out, it’s also free on Netflix from Season 2.  We all thought it was a pretty cool show, well, everyone but Corde because she’s not here.

Then there’s tonight.  I get to go to the parents’ orientation at the tech school Corde has opted to attend in the fall.  She’s going to an accepted students day and I’ll be walking home with her.  I’m so glad this school is in walking distance because it means she can actually go to this sort of thing.  If it wasn’t for the fact that they specify the parents or guardians must pick their kids up from school I would just tell Corde to walk home.  She knows the way and I trust her to walk it alone.

I’m actually kind of looking forward to Corde going to this school, in a way.  It’ll give her a chance to check out different career opportunities.  There are some she flat out knows she doesn’t want to pursue, like cosmetology, and others she thinks may be kind of fun, like culinary and “legal and protective services”.  It would be a great way for her to really experiment, which is something she hasn’t had much of a chance to do.  It will be good for her to see what’s out there and have a chance to try some of it.

So that’s what we’ve been up to.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say about accepted students day once we’re all said and done with that.  And this weekend the younger three are in for a treat because they’re off on a trip to the zoo.  That should make for a fun day.  And summer is going to be on us soon, so I’m sure we’ll have all sorts of opportunities for fun and learning, even if we don’t get out as much as we want to.  We’ll definitely see how it goes.  It all depends on if this summer continues to be so rainy, or if it turns out brutally hot, like last year.

Also, keep your fingers crossed on the whole military thing.  We’re in the process of trying to make that happen.  It could be so incredibly good for our family, but we could use all the luck on this we can get.

Until later, have a wonderful day, and I’ll likely be checking in with you all again soon!