Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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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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Unschooling Is Back, Baby!

This week I did something I didn’t even realize I needed to do.  I called to find out where I have to send in a progress report for my children’s year of homeschooling.  I had expected to go in with portfolio in hand to show them the work we’d done (which is why we even bothered to keep a portfolio in the first place).  As it turns out, I don’t need to do that at all.  The process is much simpler than that.

So what do I have to do?  I need to send in a progress report for each of my children talking about what we covered in every subject.  I was also told I have to send in samples of their work, though I’m not sure how that works.  I was told it’s standardized testing OR a progress report OR samples of their work.  I’m still ironing out the details of what exactly I have to include, but we’re getting there.  One thing at a time, right?  For now, I’m going to be compiling a progress report covering what we did with each subject, and putting together my education plan for next year.

The plans for next year are pretty simple, really.  We’re going to keep with the phonics program and the math program, but my goal beyond that is to try and do a year of totally unschooling.  I know I’ve got daily exercise books for the kids that my aunt got me, and if the kids have interest in doing them, great.  I may suggest the geography and science ones on a regular basis because the kids really liked those and they cover some good topics.  I’m thinking we’re going to do Story of the World again next year, though if they don’t totally soak it up, I’m not too worried about it.  But beyond that, anything goes.

More accurately, I’m going to stick it out with math.  We’re going to try and blow through the remaining phonics.  Once we’re done with phonics, we’re going to be done with everything but math, and then it’s back to unschooling time!

So, why are we sticking with math and phonics?  Well, phonics has really helped Sander with his reading, so I figure the more we can give him tools to be successful, the better he’ll be.  I know as long as we live near family, a lot of pressure is going to be put on the kids to be reading.  While I’d love to let them learn it organically, I know things will go much more smoothly if the kids learn how to read and we go from there.  And math?  Well, that’s a life skill that they’re going to need if they ever want to go to college, and while I’m not holding my breath that the kids will want to go to college, I want to keep that option available to them.

As if gearing up for a more unschooling heavy year wasn’t enough, we’re also working on getting back to a more unschooling life in general.  Once we have a car we intend to take to the road a lot more and visit some historic places, museums, and other cool places filled with learning.  We’re definitely going to start going on more nature walks.  It may not be until spring that we have a car, but we’re totally going to be looking forward to that in the coming school year.

It feels so good to know we’re going to be getting back to the roots of it all again.  I can’t wait to take another step forward, progressing into the next phase of our schooling life.  I’m looking forward to filling the house with experiments, talking about crazy inventions on Minecraft, and all kinds of other cool things.  We’re in for an absolutely fantastic “school” year!


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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!


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The Things My Kids Don’t Know

We’ve been following through with Story of the World, and the kids discovered that Anansi is just a really cool character.  They absolutely loved the story of Anansi.  So what does this have me doing?  As a good mother I go to the library website and request every story known to man with Anansi…because I’m that mom…

It got me thinking about something I hadn’t even realized I’ve never done with the kids.  We’ve never read Aesop’s fables.  We’ve also never done Just So Stories.  These were so much of a factor in my own life that I can’t believe we haven’t done anything with them.  They are living proof that (to some degree) I am a failure as a mom.  How can I neglect these things that were such a part of my own childhood?

I’ve already realized that my kids were growing up in a weird little bubble when I realized my kids don’t know how to sing Twinkle, Twinkle or The Wheels on the Bus.  I’d never taught them to sing Do Your Ears Hang Low.  We never sang any of the classic kids songs.  For that matter, we rarely sing as a family.  The only one we regularly do is On Top of Spaghetti, which Luca insists on me singing at least fifty times over when we’re walking to or from jujitsu.  I really need to brush up on some other fun songs because that one’s getting kind of old.  (Of course, it might help if I actually remembered the other three versus, so that’s a thing.  Luca would probably find that MUCH funnier.)

But my kids really do seem to live in a bubble where they don’t know the traditional stuff kids know at their age.  I mean, how many kids Sander and Luca’s age are studying history?  I find it not at all a problem that they don’t know how to sing those childhood songs every other kid seems to know.

And as Sander’s bus drives by the house, I’m reminded again why I’m so glad he’s home.  I don’t have to worry about him getting off the bus at 4pm, then still having homework to do, and being too tired to do it.  Jujitsu wouldn’t even begin to be an option if he was in traditional school.  He wouldn’t be home for more than an hour and a half before I had to bustle him back out the door!

I digress…what was the point I was making?  Oh, yes, that my kids don’t know the stuff I knew when I was their age.  I guess that makes me feel that my kids are growing up with a weird existence.  I’m not raising them on a healthy diet of children’s songs and things like that.  The kids hardly watch television (aside from Luca who binges like nothing else), and we don’t listen to the radio tons, so they don’t get a whole lot of that poured on them.  They live in this weird state of reality that was so much different than my life growing up.

Yet I can’t help but feel their lives are somehow lacking because these really cool things haven’t been explored by them.  They haven’t learned about Aesop’s Fables or read the Just So Stories.  Now they’re being introduced to Anansi, which is the closest they’ve come to any of that.  While those stories are really cool, we’re just now getting to them, and those were the only ones.  We need to incorporate more of that into our learning time, I think.  The kids would probably dig that kind of stuff.

At the same time, the things my kids have been learning are pretty awesome.  They’ve gotten to watch a garden grow last year.  They’ll be seeing it again this year.  We’re going to be spending time in nature as soon as the weather gets warm, and we’re going to start making note of the things that indicate the change of seasons once Daylight Savings hits and we’ll still have light when we go to jujitsu.  We’re delving into a lot of history, which is great for the kids and they’re really digging into it.  These are things I thought were pretty cool when I was a kid and it’s great to see they’re enjoying it as much as I do.  They’re really getting to experience some awesome things that way.

It isn’t too late to introduce the kids to things I feel are missing in their lives.  Aesop’s Fables will continue to be around.  I’m sure I can find a free ebook with them on Kindle.  The Just So Stories can be gotten from the library, I’m sure.  Since we’re homeschooling there are far more options to bring them up as a part of our homeschooling activities, and I no longer have to worry about Sander getting off the bus at 4 and not being interested in doing anymore school related anything after that.

Now we’ve got this incredible opportunity to fix what I feel like is a major failing in raising my kids (at least the younger three).  I still have time to get them knowledgeable about the things they don’t know, things that I’ve come to understand most kids don’t know anymore.  It’s a chance to open up a world to them that they’d never even known to consider before.  I have a feeling we’re in for a really great experience.


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Unschooling on a Budget: YouTube Is Your Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Why We Unschool

It dawned on me today that I’ve never really talked about why we unschool.  It’s not really a complicated thing.  I mean, making it as simple as possible, we do it because it feels like the right thing to do.  Isn’t that why anyone does anything?

Of course, there’s always a way to make it more complicated.  In truth, it really is much more than simply because it’s our choice.  It has a lot more to do with our values and how I want my kids to grow up.

Now, in no way are we as radical as we used to be.  I never used to require anything from my kids.  They showered and bathed because they wanted to.  They brushed their teeth because they liked to.  They weren’t required to have what everyone else was having for dinner (though I was only making one meal, so they had to choose something they could do on their own).  We didn’t even really do family dinners.  Everyone ate where they wanted to eat, engaged in what they wanted to be doing.  Often times this meant watching television shows and chatting about them afterwards.  We were totally radical.

And I wish we could be that kind of radical again, but it’s not in the cards.  As long as we live where we do we’ve got to keep to stricter standards.  Even so, we still want to unschool as much as humanly possible.  We’re trying to do the minimum required to make the system happy, something I wish we didn’t have to do.

But why do we still do it?  Wouldn’t it be easier to go the more formal route?  Aren’t we kind of leaning towards the more formal route by means of doing curriculum?

Well, no, it wouldn’t be easier.  No, we’re not really headed towards the formal homeschooling route.  We’re just doing what it takes to follow the rules.  It’s living within the laws of the society we live in, even if we don’t like all of them.

I’ve seen other homeschool families.  I’ve known a lot of families that work fairly well with homeschooling of all varieties, but when the kids struggle they can sometimes grow to hate the experience.  That’s what I hope to avoid, a scenario that the kids end up hating me, or hating learning because it doesn’t work for them.

Now, for Beekee, he really seems to like the whole workbook thing.  He’s really interested in learning and has no problems with writing, so long as I write out the words for him to copy.  I write faster than he can and he can’t write at speed of thought.  For him I think a more formal style of education might suit him.

 

But overall this helps us avoid tears.  Instead of fighting to get the required work done, I can relax and enjoy my time with my kids.  I can show them stuff I think is interesting and cool.  They may take to it or they may not.  I introduce topics to my kids and they either take it or leave it.  That’s the way it needs to be.  I’m excited to be able to provide that for my kids.  It’s a free-form kind of learning that I love.

Most of all, I unschool because I’m lazy.  Yeah, I said it.  I don’t want to be wasting my time working on lesson plans and projects that my kids will struggle through because they have to.  I’d much rather throw a few things out there with the vibe of “Hey, isn’t this interesting?”  Then I can sit back and watch them latch onto it, or not.  If they’re not interested, we drop it and move on, but if they take to it, we go deeper into it.

Above all, it’s about freedom.  We can live in the way we want to live.  We can have fun, relax, and enjoy our time together.  There doesn’t have to be tears over lessons, or fighting over getting things done.  There’s no bribery or coercion.  It’s fun, the way learning is meant to be.  That’s what we love about it.  That’s what we hope to keep doing with our time.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get closer to that as we move into the future, but for now we do the best we can, taking it one day at a time.