Trailer Park Unschoolers

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

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Animal Adventures and Corde’s Birthday

We had this great plan for Corde’s birthday.  It was supposed to be a big, exciting trip to the renaissance festival.  Unfortunately we were met with thunderstorms, which meant the whole family had to stop and redirect.  No one really wanted to go home, so we decided we were going to make the best of it.  With a quick change of plans, we ended up at Animal Adventures in Bolton, MA instead.

There isn’t too much to be said for Animal Adventures.  It’s a rescue zoo where they’ve got a handful of exotic animals, and a few more expected animals.  However, they’re really friendly and pull out all kinds of animals to be introduced to the kids.  It was quite the experience.

As you can see, the kids got to touch all sorts of animals.  Corde even got to see her favorite, alligators and crocodiles.  They had a ton of fun being introduced to all these wild animals.  I think they would have stayed for hours, had they not gotten hungry.


One of the particularly fun moments was when Sander was introduced to the frog on his shirt.  The frog’s name is Booger.  That made for all kinds of laughter as there were jokes made about having a booger on them.  They definitely had a sense of humor here.


If you can’t see what this says, it reads “Animal Adventures Just for Fun” at the top.  On the left with the arrow it reads “This Is A Clamp Lamp.”  The right reads “This…  Is a Clamp Lamp when your pet crocodile wants the night light off.”  I can’t read exactly what the bottom one says, but basically, it’s “Yes, those are teeth marks.”  The kids thought that was fantastic.  Also, talk about a way to describe their bite strength!


The kids were allowed to touch so many things.  This particular snake was held out by something like six people across, which I don’t have a photo of here because I don’t have permission to post it from the people in the image.  It’s the polite thing to do.  However, you can imagine just how long this snake is given not even half of it is as long as Luca is tall.  He was very excited to have a picture with this snake.


In spite of not being able to go to the faire, Corde still went in all dressed up and had a good time.  This is perhaps my favorite picture of her from that whole trip.  She’s holding a hissing cockroach.  Neither Sander nor Luca were brave enough for it, though Luca did try.  It tickled his hands and he dropped it, though.  Corde, however, thought it was pretty cool, even if it was just a bug.

The outdoor areas of the zoo were pretty fun, too.  Luca was very excited at getting to meet goats.  He wants to own goats of our own some day, as well as chickens, which he also got to meet.  There was a pony, some turkeys, and they even got to pet a baby duckling that was only a week old.  Around the back there were a couple big cats and some other animals, which the kids thought were great too.  On top of that, they had an amazing play area.  There was a large wooden pirate ship to play on, as well as this little castle.  It was pretty fitting that we would end up there, given we were coming from being washed out of the renn faire.


It turned out to be a great day, and we got to spend it with some of our family too.  That’s Luca with my dad.  Luca is usually attached to my hip every second of every day when we go out with family, but in this case he latched onto my dad and was having a wonderful day about it.  Talk about a fantastic way to build their relationship!  I had to stealthily chase them down to take this picture because it was a moment I didn’t want to miss.  It was just too good to be forgotten.


When we finally left, everyone was starving.  We were dropped off at home, but since we didn’t get to do anything special for Corde’s birthday, we opted to eat out, wherever she wanted that we could get to.  It was a Sunday, so there was no bus to speak of.  She had settled on Chinese food.  We’d never tried this place, but it was pretty good!  I think it was the perfect cap to a really great day!


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Reading Together

Today was a good day where reading was concerned.  It seemed like the house was full of reading.  That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel like I’ve done something right.  For a house of kids that don’t like to read, I’m happy every time this happens.

When I was a child I remember loving to read.  I read a ton of books, not that I remember most of them now.  A good deal of them had to do with horses, which I thought I loved until reality kicked in and I realized they could be a little scary.  But that aside, I remember spending a lot of time reading.

So looking at my own kids, I can’t help but wonder where I went wrong.  They don’t love reading the way I used to.  They really don’t like to read at all, which is too bad because reading could do so much for them.

Today things were different.  Beekee sat and read two chapters of a book to Sander.  Admittedly it was an easy book for Beekee, so he wasn’t at all challenged, and Sander kind of tunes out when it comes to books and classes, but it was a nice moment for the two of them, for however long it lasted.

Even Sander got into it today.  He read Green Eggs and Ham to himself today, which is pretty good for a kid who claims he can’t read and is always telling me how much he hates reading.  He read it like a pro, so obviously some of that reading skill is sticking with him.  Maybe we just need to get more books like that for him.  It might help him settle into the reading thing.

It’s made me realize that the kids need a better relationship with books.  I know I don’t read to them much.  I don’t read many books myself either, so I can’t blame them for not being into it.  At the same time, I need to help give them a solid foundation in reading, because books can do so much for the imagination.  They can give so much access to information you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.  Books are a magical thing.

I think tomorrow we may do a little more reading.  It would be good to get them to unplug for a little while and actually enjoy some time doing something else.  Hopefully it will start to help them build a beautiful relationship with books.

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Learning About Stars

Our library is really great.  They have all kinds of programs for elementary school kids.  To be fair, it’s not quite as good when kids are teens, and there aren’t a lot of programs for kids before they hit first or second grade, but for the kids between second and fifth, its got some really good programs.

There are a bunch of programs at our library that the kids would love to do.  There’s an origami folding workshop.  There’s another program (that seems to overlap in time) for coding that Sander and Beekee are signed up for.  Then there’s the program today, which was all about stars.

All three of the kids got to sit in on the program today.  I wasn’t expecting Luca to sit in, nor to have interest, but he did, and he quite enjoyed it.  They made stars and planets today, though what else they did was a mystery.  The kids didn’t talk much about it on the way home.  They were too interested in getting pizza for dinner!

For the next three weeks they’re going to be doing space, which is a great introduction.  We’ll know if they’re more interested in doing more about it, in which case we can definitely do more exploration.  Maybe this will end up with a trip to the planetarium!  That would be cool.

I have to say, I’m super excited about our library and the programs it has.  It definitely gives the kids something to look forward to every week.  Now it’s two programs every week for the month!  They’re going to go to the library so often they’ll be sick of it!

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Changes on the Horizon

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been back at this for over a year.  Homeschooling has just become a natural part of what we do.  We’ve spent a lot of our time figuring out who our new identity as a homeschooling family is.  It’s been an interesting journey, that’s for sure.  I expect it to be a good one going on into the future too.

We’ve found a lot of things that work for us, and don’t work for us in the year we’ve spent together.  Some of it’s a struggle to get through and other pieces are just easy, natural, and fun.  We’ve got a lot to think about going forward into the future.  This year we’re reassessing everything we’ve done and have been doing so we can figure out exactly where we stand.

I have to admit, I’m torn.  A part of me wants to ditch the ideas of unschooling completely, move on to a more structured style of homeschooling.  Part of that is outside pressure, but part of it is the lack of trust I have in unschooling.  What if my kids don’t grow up learning all they need to know?  What if they fall flat on their faces in college because they don’t know enough math?  What if they fail their English 101 classes because they just don’t have the writing skill to back it up?  Worse still, what if they find they have no job skills and end up working a dead end retail job?

I know these are fairly common problems unschoolers face.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the question, “What if they never learn to read?”  It’s hard to have faith in your kids like that.  I mean, in a world where they’re expected to have covered so much content by the time they’re “out of high school” how can a kid accumulate all that knowledge on their own?

What if the kids decide they really do want to go to a brick and mortar school someday?  Beekee is seriously considering it for next year.  We put in the application for the charter school because he said he’s interested.  Of course, he probably wouldn’t be interested if I hadn’t brought it up, but he mentioned having interest last year when a friend of mine brought it up, so I figured I wanted him to have the opportunity, but what if his writing skills aren’t on par?  What if he’s not a strong enough reader?  I haven’t really pushed those lessons on him this year.  It’s one of those things we’ve kind of cast aside to be unschoolers and we’ll figure out the rest of it later.  At least I know he shouldn’t be too far behind on math, so that’s a thing.

And what about Luca and Sander?  What if they want to go to a public school some day?  Sander is already talking about wanting to go back to his old elementary school, and he’s got Luca thinking about it too.  Eventually they’re going to be old enough to make their own decisions about going back, and I’ll have to give them the freedom to choose.  Wouldn’t it be an easier transition if they had a more solid schooling structure to rely upon?  Shouldn’t I be doing this for them?

This is the hardest part of unschooling.  As much as I want to go back to it with reckless abandon, I’m having a really hard time giving up the curriculum we do have.  I love our math program.  While I absolutely hate doing phonics, at least the kids are learning how to decode words.  Isn’t that something they should be doing?

Doesn’t it all come back to “should?”  A friend of mine used to say, “Stop shoulding on yourself!”  I think he’s totally right.  I have to give up this need for worrying about what we “should” be doing and go back to trusting my kids the way I always used to.

It’s also hard because there’s the whole thing with family expectations.  They expect that the kids will hit certain landmarks like their peers, and I’ll be doing them a great disservice if I don’t meet those landmarks.  It’s not exactly easy to stand up against all of that influence in my life.

So the way things have fallen out so far, we’re going to keep history, because the kids seem to like what we’re doing, which is reading out of Story of the World once a day.  We’re going to stick with the math curriculum, because I love it and I’m not comfortable giving it up yet.  We’re going to stick with phonics, because while I hate it, I’m going to give it a bit longer before I throw that to the wind, and we’re going to see how it goes.

Next year we’re going to reassess where we stand.  It’s possible that Beekee will be back in schools again, but Luca and Sander will be home still.  We’ll see if they’re still interested in doing the curriculum, or maybe we’ll just go for broke and unschool like we’ve never unschooled before.  One way or another, we’ve got time to figure it out.

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A Year Ago Today and Robotics

One year ago today, that’s what TimeHop just reminded me.  It was one year ago today that Sander and Beekee had their last day in public school.  I knew the anniversary was coming up on us, but I hadn’t realized just how quickly it came.  It feels good to say we’ve been at it for a whole year.

Well, I suppose I shouldn’t say it’s been a whole year yet.  The real first day of homeschooling to commemorate would actually be tomorrow, but you get the idea.  It’s totally worth noting how long we’ve been at it.  I hope to look back years from now and remind myself that this was the best decision of my life.

It also just worked out that this was the second annual robotics day at the local library.  I got an email about it, along with the robotics program they’re running weekly.  If it wasn’t on a day I was on call for babysitting, I would totally do it.  I’m tempted to email and see if there are still slots available and what ages it’s for.  We may just say (since the schedule isn’t officially set) that we’ll do that instead of babysitting, because I don’t want Beekee to miss out on the off chance that I’m needed.  I could also have Corde walk him over there, which is an option, so we’ll see how it goes.

This was Luca after the event.  I wasn’t there to help him build his robot, but he had to come running to show me while I was at knitting group.  It was kind of nice to let the kids have a day with Oz, especially since I wasn’t too far to help should things get chaotic.  And this is what Luca created.  He calls it his spider.  Isn’t it cute?

Sander’s was a minion robot.  As I found out from Sander, there were two sad parts to his day.  He didn’t get to stay and play long with the library’s toys, but also they didn’t get to keep their marshmallow catapults.  They kept falling apart and probably wouldn’t have survived the walk home, especially in the wind we had today.  I mean, it was beautiful out, but that wind!  I’m surprised we didn’t lose any robots!

This was Beekee’s robot, also a spider.  He had another eye, but the eye was a casualty of playing a little too rough.  He looks pretty cool, if you ask me.  Of course, Beekee is also bundled up like a snowman on a 50° (10°C) day, but that’s just Beekee.

Luca really wanted a picture of his robot standing on his own.  I will not like, these guys are pretty cool.  It sounds like the kids had a blast doing their projects with Oz.  If they do another event like this, we’ll definitely have to be back.  The kids absolutely loved it.  And it’s a good yearly (hopefully) event to mark just how long we’ve been on our homeschooling journey!

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Board Games

Since each of the kids got a board game for Christmas, I’ve been thinking about using them more often in the household.  The original plan was to play games one day a week (which we’ve kind of failed at to this point), which seemed like a good idea to help us bond as a family.  Well, coming together as a family was the goal at least.

Then I recently found out about this thing called “gameschooling” which really appealed to me.  The whole idea is to use a lot of games as a part of homeschooling.  The example listed was a family that played a game every day as a part of their homeschooling.  I could really get into that.  Of course, we don’t have enough games for that at present.  It would definitely get repetitive quickly.  Of the games we do have, not all of them are at a level that Luca and Sander can really play.  They both need to get a little older and develop a little more patience before we can really play a lot of the games we’ve got, but it’s definitely an idea.

The whole thing got me thinking about the games we do have.  Monopoly isn’t a favorite around here, but we do have a bunch of varieties of Uno that are quite popular with the kids.  For Christmas Beekee got a chess set and Luca got checkers.  Sander got Ticket to Ride.  Corde got Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player extension.  Then Oz got a game about hot peppers called Scoville.  We also have Apples to Apples, which is a little tough to play because Sander and Luca aren’t exactly strong readers.  I think we’ve got a collection of a few other things, but I don’t remember what (and I don’t feel like interrupting Oz’s nap to go check out the game shelf).  It’s a pretty good start to a game collection, though we could certainly do a lot better.

Thinking back to when I was a kid, I remember a lot of time playing board games.  My dad used to play all sorts of games with us.  Some of the games were really not your traditional sort of games, like Talisman and Dungeon Quest.  Some day I plan to get those games for my own family, because I remember loving them so much.  I just wish they still sold the character expansion for Dungeon Quest.  I can’t seem to find it anywhere.  Those were some of the best memories I have of my family, or at least with my dad.  I don’t remember playing a lot of games with my mom, but we did a lot of other things with my mom that we didn’t do with my dad, so it balances out.

I’d love to bring that part of my childhood into my kids’ lives, even if it’s not all educational games.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still all for educational games.  They’ve definitely got a place in our home if I can find good ones that we all like to play, but I love just regular old games too.  It’s fun to have some variety, and not everything needs to be “educational” to be good.  They still require figuring things out, like strategy and logic.  Games are just really good for the brain in general.

I think that’s going to be our goal for the year to come, and our theme for birthday and Christmas presents.  I know I’ll have fun picking out games for the kids to play, and it’ll definitely help build our collection, even if it means we may have to get a little creative on where to put all of them.  We definitely need more game storage!  I think this is an important part of my childhood that we’ve really got to carry on into my own kids’ lives.

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Homeschool/Unschool Plan for 2018

We’re going into our second year of homeschooling.  By January 27th Beekee and Sander will have been home for an entire year.  That’s super exciting for me.  True, I’ve been homeschooling Luca right along, but it feels like we’re really making a statement working as a family like this.  It’s definitely a lot of fun.

So what’s our plan for 2018?  I suppose I really should go over that, if for no one else, then for me.  It’ll be good to have a record of a plan here because this is kind of becoming my record of things we’ve done.  It’s also fun to share it with the world.

The first thing I plan to do, once tax money comes in, is purchase the next level of Math U See.  I’m really loving the way they teach subjects.  Thankfully, I only need to pick up the workbook for Luca, given he’ll be moving into the same level that Sander’s already in.  I’ve got to pick up the “level up” kit for Sander, given I’ll want the teacher’s guide to go with it.  I don’t really use the teacher’s guide, so I suppose I could get by without it, but it’s good to refer back to if I’ve got any questions.  The same goes with the lesson DVD.  Sometimes the kids get it better when they can see the lesson explained in a way I can’t do it, because I’m just figuring it out with them.  Then I’ve got to get the kit for Beekee with the fractions stuff.  I’m a little intimidated to do fractions with him, because I always hated fractions, but it’s good that he’ll be learning by Math U See.  I really like the way they teach math.

We’re also going to continue with our phonics lessons.  Luca and Sander are both cruising through Primary Phonics.  All three of them are working with Explode the Code.  It’s been working well for them.  As much as I would like to say they’ll learn to read when they learn to read, I think this really works for us for now.  We may reassess the plan as we get further into it, but we’re going to stick with it.

I know those two aren’t particularly related to unschooling, which is where I wanted to get back to this year, but we’re definitely working towards unschooling.  I’m thinking we’re going to transition to just doing those two books by the start of summer, when I give up on the other books for the year anyway.  I think instead we’re going to start working on making sure we’ve got plenty of science stuff in the house.  For geography I think I’m going to start looking into fun projects we can do for each state.  I would love to be able to do something global, and maybe we’ll look into something more global (anyone have any good ideas for that?) but for now we’re going to stick with the country we’re a part of.  Once they’ve got a good understanding of the place we live in, we’ll expand from there.  Besides, it might be fun for the kids to figure out which states they want to visit when they get older.  You never know, we may even be able to set money aside in a year or two to take a family trip somewhere, and knowing the states would definitely help us plan what we wanted to see.

We’re going to stick with Story of the World for history, if for no other reason than the kids actually like it.  We’re planning to back it up with some other reading about the time period.  We’re getting into the middle ages, which is always fun for kids.  There’s nothing as exciting as learning about knights and castles.  Maybe we’ll map out our own castle grounds or something like that.  I bet that would be fun. Story of the World is a great way to introduce more topics, even if it is heavily Christian.  We’re not a Christian family, so that makes it a little more challenging, but I don’t want to exclude anything.  Since history is so seriously wrapped up with Christianity, it may not hurt at this point to have Christian history thrown in.  It helps understand what the world was really like.  And since we’re outside of the realm of the Bible, it’s not like I have to explain Bible stories that the kids don’t actually know about.  Still, it’s a great place to start.

What I really need to do is start looking into books with science experiments for kids.  I’m sure there are plenty out there.  Anything we can do at home would be a lot of fun, but stuff we can do outside will be great for the warmer weather.  Besides, I really love science, and even if I can’t explain why something happens, it’s definitely fun to see what does.  You can always look up the why later.

For physical fitness we’re starting to use Just Dance on the Wii U.  It’s not a super complex workout or anything, but it’s a lot of fun and it gets the kids moving when it’s really too cold to be out in the winter.  And by too cold I mean it’s 16°F (-9°C), feels like 1°F (-17°C), and that’s the warmest it’s been all week.  Actually, in comparison to how cold it’s been over the past week, this is positively tropical!

We’re also planning to do some more physical fitness type stuff when we can fit it in.  We want to go ice skating when we can.  It’s not super cheap to take the whole family, so we may not get to go often this year, but we’ll definitely try to go when we can.  In the spring I’m going to start running.  I think I’m going to invite the kids to come with me.  We’re not going to go very fast or for very long, but running is a good lifestyle.  Plus, there are some 5k runs that have spots available for kids.  I think it would be really fun to do a 5k as a family one of these days.  I think it would be great for all of us.  On top of all that, I’m going to start looking for places we can go on nature walks.  There may not be many options easy to get to from here, but we’ll do what we can.  And then there’s the plan for swimming in the summer.  We’re planning to get beach passes, and to make the most out of them.  We’ll have to get the kids new swimsuits for this year, but we’ll worry about that as the weather starts to turn warmer.  We’ve got a lot of physical stuff we can do, so I’m not too worried about that.

If we can manage, we’re also going to try and swing a membership to the Museum of Science, which means we’ll be spending a lot of time at the museum too.  We’ll be there at least once a month when the weather is warm enough to hop the train.  That’s going to provide tons of learning opportunities, which the kids will definitely love.

So that’s our plan for 2018.  I’m feeling pretty good about it.  We’re definitely going into the new year on a much better track than we were last year.  I’ve got a bit more of an idea of what works and what doesn’t work.  I think things are just going to keep getting better from here on in!