Trailer Park Unschoolers

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


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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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Percy Jackson and Screen Time

We just started reading a new book today.  I’m not done with Peter Pan yet, but we decided to mix it up with something more fun.  We’ll work our way through the last 20% of Peter Pan, but we’ll do it at night when the kids are getting ready for bed.

So we started Percy Jackson today.  Corde listened along, figuring she can count it as part of her summer reading (it’s like a book on tape).  She thinks it’s more interesting than the first chapter of Harry Potter, where absolutely nothing interesting happens, not really.  I think she’s wishing she’d read Percy Jackson as her summer reading book instead.  Oh well.  She can always change her mind.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got to limit screen time for Luca.  Now, I’ll be honest, Luca spends a lot of time watching Netflix, sometimes what feels like too much time.  I’ve tried to be the good radical unschooler when it comes to this, but it’s taking over Luca’s life.  He seems to want to do nothing but watch movies, to the point where it’s starting to get in the way of doing anything else.

Part of this is really Sander’s fault.  Well, I guess the origin is Corde.  She complains that reading is boring for years.  Now Sander says reading is boring.  He’s taken it one step farther to say being read to is boring.  This resulted in Luca crying for twenty minutes because he didn’t want to hear the story, he just wanted to watch a movie.

Well, I was having none of it.  Against all of my unschooling desires, I made up my mind that Luca was at least going to sit quietly while the movie was on, even if all he did was munch on his sandwich and ignore us.  He would be in the same room, and the screen would be off.  He didn’t have to listen, but he had to be quiet and let everyone else listen, and he had to be in the room.

After the whole crying, screaming fit over not being allowed to watch Netflix, we’ve decided it’s time for Netflix to go, at least in anything other than watching as a family.  Luca is on a Netflix fast for a week.  Luca’s really got to start doing other things, playing, interacting, reading.  I thought that summer reading and the potential to win a prize would be enough, but apparently not.

Of course, summer reading at our library is decidedly not cool.  All of the libraries I’ve been to before have all done things where you get prizes for reading so many books, so much time, whatever.  I think when I was a kid you would read so many books and you got a book as a prize.  Now everywhere seems to do time.  Even if they’re just little cheap toys (one place did book marks, rubber duckies, that sort of thing), they get to feel like they won something for all their work.  That was the motivation, to get the next prize.

This library does it different.  You get tickets for every so many hours you read.  The first one is free.  You get another at 1 hour, another at 5 hours, then 15, 30, and 50.  Each of the tickets can be deposited into a box to try and win a prize.  I won’t lie, some of the prizes are some pretty nice stuff, like the gardening kit and the Lincoln Logs.  Still, I find it hard to motivate them when their only reward for all that is a chance to win something.  They could work hard all summer to read all 50 hours and not win a single thing.  And what do I do if one of them wins, but the rest of them get nothing?  This didn’t matter last year because Sander and Beekee only got far enough to do their 1 hour tickets and then we forgot about recording their time, not that we did much reading last summer.  This year I’ve got all three of them doing the elementary summer reading program, and they’re not super excited about it.

I had really hoped to use the summer reading program to motivate the kids to get their reading done.  I wanted them to become stronger readers, and hopefully get Luca started on reading through exposure, but it’s not really happening.  They’re just not motivated for a chance to win something.  I mean, at 5 hours they get a t-shirt, so that’s something.  I just really don’t see this as giving them something to work to.  They like it a lot better when there’s a clear goal in sight.  This is just a maybe, and they don’t like maybes.

Still, it’s getting them to sit for a story every day.  We’re counting read aloud (I don’t know if we should) because Luca can’t read yet, and we’re spending a half hour each day with the reading aloud.  That means Sander has to read one or two more books to get his hour every day.  Luca needs to have two more books read to him.  Beekee gets to read for a half hour quietly.  That gives them a good chunk of reading time down.  Anything else is just a bonus at that point.

It’s especially hard because Sander is a very reluctant reader.  He’s taken on Corde’s cries that reading is boring, so he doesn’t want to read, ever.  He’s also taken on her argument that reading is hard.  That’s trickling down to Luca, who now says he doesn’t want to read because reading isn’t fun.  It’s just a whole mess of a thing.  I think they all need a role model (not me) to show them that reading really is fun.

Oh well, for now we have Percy Jackson, and that seems to have lit a spark in them for wanting to hear a good story.  That’s definitely something.  I’ll take it for what it is.  We’ll count that towards their reading (whether it’s permitted or not) and run with that.  Hopefully that will help them see how great reading really can be.


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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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Tomorrow Is Zoo Day

Luca, Sander, and Beekee get to go to the zoo tomorrow with my aunt and uncle.  This is one of the experience oriented birthdays my aunt is starting to do for the kids, which I love.  They’re going to remember these sorts of trips so much better than they would some gifts they would get, which makes me happy.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to get to be there for their first zoo trip.  I really wish I could, and see their excitement over all the animals.  I missed everyone’s first trip to the aquarium except for Luca.  It’s sad for me, but at the same time, it’s good that they get to have these experiences with their extended family.  I just wish I could go with them.

Of course, that’s not going to happen until we can get wheels again, and I’m not exactly available to go on the weekends anymore.  My work has seen to that.  We need the extra income, but it feels like I’m losing so much time with the kids.

Even so, I know they’re going to have a great time at the zoo.  They’re going to want to see everything and will come home suitably tired.  It’s going to be a good experience for them.  I remember going to the zoo when I was younger and loving it.  I’ve never been to the zoo they’re going to, I don’t think, so this will be a whole new adventure for them.

I’m actually looking forward to them having this experience.  Field trips to places like the zoo can be such an educational thing.  It’s a part of unschooling done right.  It’s something I hope we can do more of once we’re able to swing back to more radical unschooling.  Field trips are such an important part of education.

And it’s the zoo!  The kids love animals.  They’ve been watching a lot of animal shows on Netflix, so having a chance to get up close enough to these animals to see them with their own eyes will be pretty awesome for them.  I know they’re going to love it.


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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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Holy Cow, We Did Something Today

I’ve been bad about the homeschooling thing lately, and by that I mean the formal homeschooling.  Since I’ve started working I’ve really stopped doing a lot of what we used to do, you know, the formal book stuff that normal homeschooling families do.  I kind of stopped caring.

Yesterday, for example, the kids watched Pirates of the Caribbean when they first got up.  They spent the rest of the day watching various other shows.  To quote a shirt I saw and loved (and must soon own), “I give zero fox.”  I couldn’t give a flying rat patootie what the kids were doing yesterday, so long as I got to sleep in for a few extra hours.  I was in no mood to put up with the kids fighting me over books.  I didn’t even have it in me to put a documentary on Netflix.  I just didn’t care.  I was too exhausted to deal with any of it.

Okay, so most days haven’t been that bad.  We’ve watched a lot of documentaries over the past couple of weeks since I started work.  We haven’t been all about ditching educational stuff.  Yesterday was an exception.  Still, we haven’t really been on it like we used to be, math, reading, phonics, the whole shebang.

And I’ll be honest, I really liked it.  Yesterday it was great to just let the kids go wild and do whatever they wanted to do.  I felt like this was the way it’s supposed to be, that we’re supposed to be living this kind of lifestyle.  I really need to get my head screwed on straight to find a way to make this work because this is really what we need to be doing.  I don’t need to work in all these books and things.  The kids will learn, whether I push them to or not.

As a result, I’ve opted to take Mondays off from schooling all together.  Actually, so far as I’m concerned, we’re going to be in our “summer” homeschooling routine.  I’ve decided for the summer we’re going to do phonics, reading, and writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  We’re going to do math, geography, and science on Wednesdays.  If I’m feeling ambitious we might do history on Mondays or Fridays in the form of reading together or documentaries.  We’re not going to be hitting it hard and heavy like we have been all year.  We’re just going to take the relaxed approach.

But today I got us somewhat back on track.  Sander did his Explode the Code and Primary Phonics.  Luca did the same.  Beekee did some of the pages from his workbooks that he’d skipped.  It’s late in the day, but I hope to get some math squeezed in at the end of it.  If not, we’ll do the math tomorrow and try to work a fuller schedule.  I don’t want to completely give up on our former routine.  I think we just need to play with it a bit.

As for why we’re working through the summer, I know the kids are all going to be in “elementary school” next year.  It would be good to get them all reading independently on a strong enough level that they can start having fun with reading.  So far Sander is just reading the primers from his phonics program as well as some of the LEGO phonics books.  Beekee is getting into the Horrible Histories books, which kind of makes me feel like I’m covering reading and history with him.  Luca likes me to read the LEGO phonics books and let him repeat the words I read, that way Luca gets to “read” the story too.  I’m trying to work on making books a part of our daily routine.

There’s this whole push in my area for reading twenty minutes a day to foster good reading habits.  I’ll be honest, I’ve always kind of sucked at that.  I’ve read to the kids when they want me to read, not when I think they should be read to.  This has resulted in a horrible habit of reading, one that I’m going to have to rectify.  Now that Luca and Sander are older I can get them to settle in for chapter books more, so I can start reading those to the kids every day.  Sander is also getting to the point where he can read his primers for twenty minutes a day, or two LEGO Star Wars phonics books in a day.  Beekee sits down for a chapter of his books and that’s twenty minutes for him.  I’m not strict about it.  I don’t ask them to tell me about the story they’re reading or expect them to pass any kind of “test” on the knowledge gained.  I just want them to learn that reading is fun.  That’s something Corde never got.

I’m thinking of starting it all over again with reading Coraline.  The kids liked Coraline the first time we read it through.  That was when we were living in a shelter, so three years ago.  The kids loved it better than the movie.  That’s something I remembered.  It would be fun to read it with them again.  I have it as an eBook, so that solves the problem of losing it when we moved.  I’ll be honest, I’m thinking we’ll get all our books as eBooks from now on.  It saves space on our bookshelves, which is great, and we don’t have to worry about losing books if we ever move.  We just need to find them and download them again.  We could literally have thousands of books without having to worry about them ever getting lost for good, unless Amazon happens to kick the bucket.

Or maybe we won’t read Coraline.  Maybe we’ll read the Wizard of Oz series, or Anne of Green Gables.  Those would be fun reads too.  Eventually I plan to get Percy Jackson and Harry Potter as eBooks.  At a chapter a day (perhaps minus the days I work) that would lead to a lot of days of reading.  We could get Peter Pan too, and Alice in Wonderland.  I think I’m going to be more excited for these books than the kids.

Anyhow, I digress.  On an “unschooling” level, today was kind of a fail, but on a “homeschooling” level we got a lot done, considering how lazy we have been about everything.  I’ve also come to the conclusion that once we’re set up to do more science experiments and everyone has a better grasp of reading and writing, we’ll probably get back to doing more “unschooling” and less “homeschooling.”  It feels nice to know we’re getting back on track.

As a side note, something that I’ll probably end up ending all of my entries with, we’re really hoping to get Oz back into the military.  It would allow us to live a little closer to the means everyone else seems to live by.  We would have more money to put towards educational pursuits, which would make unschooling all the easier.  So keep your thoughts, prayers, and whatever else on this working out for us.  We could really use this right about now.