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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Cuddled Up to Sleep

Things have been good since we decided to nix bedtime. The kids do get cranky and need naps from time to time, but it’s gone pretty well. I count this an experiment well worth trying.

The tricky part has been finding a way to get Luca to sleep. If left to his own devices he would be up watching movies all night. It’s difficult because he still sleeps with me and the television keeps me up.

However, I have found a solution to this problem. Luca likes to cuddle. We spend time after the television goes off all cuddled up. Some nights we talk. Tonight Luca just wanted to cuddle to sleep. I’ve got him laying on my arm as I type this into my phone.

You know what? This is what life should be about. Life is too short for reading lessons and curriculum. What it really needs to be about is time together as a family.

I can’t say where the decisions I make today will lead the kids and I, but we will certainly spend more time on the things that matter.

And that’s only going to keep expanding. Luca found the other two tablets today so Sander and Beekee can watch movies while settling in to bed. We just need to get them headphones and they can listen without bothering each other if one wants to sleep.

Tomorrow will bring new changes in our lives, but tonight is simple. I just need to curl up on the bed with Luca and the dog. What better way is there to sleep?


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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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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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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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A Day of Antique Cars

I’ve been busy all weekend with work and all that, but while I was gone, Sander and Beekee got to see some awesome antique cars with my aunt and uncle.  I’m pretty wiped from work, but I wanted to post some photos anyway, just for fun.  We may have more on this later, though more likely it’ll just get lost in the shuffle of everything we’ve got planned this week.  But here are some awesome pictures anyway!

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This is a cool looking old tractor.  I’d seen one of these when I was a kid, but they never have before, so it’s all new to them!
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This is a tank, so Sander tells me.  “Everyone calls it a ‘hopper tank’,” so says Sander.  It looks like it’s probably from WWI.
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And, of course, we’ve got the classic cars.  The State Police car in the background actually looks like one that used to live at our house before Corde was born.  It was a fixture in the back yard because it no longer worked. It’s funny how the mind recalls stuff like that.

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It wouldn’t be a trip out with my aunt without reading!  She’s really good about bringing books for those dull moments of downtime, waiting for things to start or simply just sitting around with nothing else to do.  It makes the slow times fly by that much quicker!


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Busy, Busy

Things have gotten a little chaotic around here. I took a job to help make ends meet. We want to be able to get a science curriculum for next year, so having the extra money would really help. We also want to do a handwriting curriculum because Sender’s writing is awful and I want the kids to learn cursive. It’s more curriculum and less unschooling, but the kids seem to think it’s fun, so why not?

With all the fuss over starting my new job we decided to take some time off of jujitsu. It’s just more in the week than we can handle right now. I know that’s the only real socialization we do, but It’s just too much. Even the kids were pretty burnt out on it. I think we all just needed a break.

Because we’re spending a lot of time on curriculum, we’ve decided to take two days out of each week for “TV school” where we watch documentaries as our daily work. I may just make that the end point to all our school days, but two days each week we try to do nothing but. So far we have four shows going. Two are on animal life. One is on castles. The last one is called Mega Builders and is about incredible building projects. It’s a good mix of stuff for the kids.

All of this end of the year stuff has me planning for next year. Luca has already made it through the first book of Get Ready for the Code. Sander finished his first book of Primary Phonics. That’s two things we can just put aside and call done. Thankfully I have the next set of Primary Phonics for Sander and up to Explode the Code book 2 for Luca. That should keep us going on phonics skills for a while. I’m less of a fan of Primary Phonics as it seems to really be set up for classroom use. I don’t have a board to write on, nor do I have the cards that go with the set. Still, It’s free, so I’ll use them.

The big reason I want to go with a curriculum for science next year is the experiments. I’m kind of rubbish at coming up with projects to do and I’m even worse at making sure I have the supplies on hand. I kind of stink at explaining the science behind things because It’s hard for me to explain things I haven’t studied in years. Having a curriculum gives us projects to start off with that are age appropriate with all the resources to explain what’s going on. The kits I’ve seen with all the experiments aren’t cheap, somewhere between $100 And  $200 per grade level, but I think It’s worth it. It may not be so much for someone else. The way I see it, I would probably spend just as much coming up with experiments to do myself. And we can always try it for a year and see if the kids like it. It doesn’t have to be a heavy curriculum with lots of writing and reading. Just some fun experiments should be enough.

This year I’m really not getting so far with the science I was hoping to do. I wanted to get some plants going on the back porch so we could use gardening as one of our lessons. I haven’t even started on that. Our budget has been too tight to really allow it, and the weather has been too gross to allow for much gardening anyway. I’m hoping this new job opens up some more opportunities for growing a garden. I’ve got some great ideas, though I’m not sure how practical all of them would be. I found these really cool apple trees called Urban Apples. They grow in a narrow column instead of branching out, which makes them ideal for urban settings. I may have to try some. Right now fruit trees are my main focus. I think those are easiest in the long run because I don’t have to replant them every year, which makes them more than pay for themselves. Plus, It’s a science experiment that just keeps growing, so the effects can be studied through the seasons and year after year.

This is mostly just me rambling about what we’ve been up to. It seems like it hasn’t been much, just the same old routine day in and day out. We’re living a kind of quiet existence these days and I’m really okay with that. I think we all needed some down time. Life has been too busy.