Trailer Park Unschoolers

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

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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.


The Biggest Myth of Homeschool Seems to Be Time Spent

I have to admit, I envy those moms who can get all their kids through their lessons in a matter of two hours every day.  In my house it seems like we’re working from 9am until 2:30 when A.J. would have gotten home from school.  That’s not all that far different than their school hours.  The difference is it’s a more relaxed pace and we seem to get a whole lot less done, in a round about way.

Maybe I just didn’t notice before my kids went to school, but we spend a lot of time out of our day working on stuff.  Even the stuff that doesn’t come in the format of curriculum based schooling gets a lot of time.  Each of the kids spends 30-45 minutes on the computer, which is followed by the same amount of game time.  We spend no more than 30 minutes on math.  Sander does all of four pages in his phonics workbooks, and they all do more than 20 minutes of reading time.  A good chunk of that is me reading to them.  We end up spending a good part of our day working together.

It also feels like we don’t get that much done for the time we spend, which may seem kind of silly.  I mean, we get a lot of information out there (though how much is retained is a mystery to me), and I do my best to make sure my kids are educated to the best of my ability, but it feels like we could be doing more, or maybe should be doing more.

I have to wonder how these other moms do it.  I keep hearing that homeschooling takes an average of two hours a day for elementary kids and I’m just not seeing it.  We’re working for a steady five hour block at least, and while it’s not all formal school work, we go through a lot of information.  It doesn’t feel like we do much, but we do.

Take today as an example.  We learned about Hammurabi’s Code.  We read about the making of a mummy.  Beekee and I read about recycling.  Luca and I read about frogs.  Sander and Beekee did their math.  Then we watched these videos:


Granted, the videos were both short, but it’s just one more thing I can add to the stuff we did today.  It all adds up over time.  It works into quite a long day of learning.  We seem to fit in so incredibly much every day.

And this all goes back to the idea that unschooling really takes a lot of time with younger kids.  I kind of think of it like throwing a lot of information at the kids to see what sticks.  At the end of the day I’m pretty happy if any of it sticks at all.  Anything they find particularly interesting we can go into deeper.  Things that are less interesting (which seems to be anything I throw at them) get tossed aside and aren’t gone into any more in depth.  It seems to be working for us so far.

Okay, okay, I take that back.  Some things have stuck.  The kids wanted to learn more about the pyramids and mummies.  They were interested in the You Wouldn’t Want To Be books.  They really like the SciShow Kids shows, and they’re enjoying watching the animals on Animal Wonders.  We’re undoubtedly going to expand our homeschooling videos to include other things that get tossed my way (like this video I just thought to pop up again for no explicable reason other than I was reminded someone sent it to me).


That’s kind of what unschooling is about.  “Look!  This is so cool!  Don’t you think it’s cool?  Let’s totally learn about it!”  Granted, I don’t have the knowledge to back up a lot of what I’ve seen in these shows.  I’ve been out of the science world and can’t tell you why this stuff is cool, but I hope that by exposing the kids to some of this stuff we might be lead to other things that the kids want to learn more about.

That comes down to the whole point of all this.  All this stuff takes a lot of time.  Reading together takes time.  Finding and sharing videos takes time.  Watching documentaries takes time.  Introducing the kids to cool new concepts takes time.  Even the basic curriculum stuff takes time.  All of it carves out time from my usual day (which was typically spent kicking around online while Luca was napping and playing guitar).  It’s not something you can really go into thinking “This is going to be so much less work, only two hours a day!”  This is something that takes dedication and really becomes a lifestyle.

I guess the one thing I can say about homeschooling, and really unschooling, is I hope you like your kids.  If you choose this path it means spending a lot of time with them.  Of course, it also means you get to learn a lot of really cool things right alongside them, so I suppose that’s cool.  It makes it really worth it in the end, but boy do I wish someone had warned me about all that.

It’s funny, though, sending the kids to school made me forget what the “work” of homeschooling is really like.  It’s less work than fighting the school system, that’s for sure.  If nothing else, at the end of the day I can never say I’ve had a boring day at home!


It Was a Science Day

I’m usually that mom that’s horrible about making sure the kids are covering every subject thoroughly.  I’ve always kind of imagined that the kid would just pick up on things, if they were interested.  They’d seek out the things they wanted to know more about and I just need to lead the horses to water.  I’d given them opportunities, but there were no real bites, so I kind of left it alone.

After the weekend I was exposed to some really cool new to me YouTube channels.  I decided that, while I don’t do YouTube, I would check them out.  I figure it couldn’t hurt.  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?  The kids don’t like it?  No big deal.

The first one I tracked down was Animal Wonders.  Some of the older videos weren’t that informative, but we popped forward to the oldest video that gave some good information, and the kids were really into.  It all started here.

After I got them into that, the kids wanted to watch something else, so I looked up another YouTube channel, SciShow Kids.  The kids would have been happy to watch all the videos, but I’ll just share the one Luca got to see and particularly had interest in.


The best part about it?  Luca loved that it featured koala bears.  Those are Luca’s favorite animal right now, aside from real bears.  Luca has been running around telling everyone how koalas stay cool.  This was perhaps the best information anyone could have given Luca.  It was awesome.

After that we decided to keep the science rolling.  During dinner we watched an episode of Street Science from the Science Channel.  The kids were really fascinated at what they were able to do with some pretty normal sounding stuff, and the science put behind all of it was actually pretty cool.  I was amazed at what they managed.  It was a great way to learn something new, and fun enough that the kids got into it.

It’s been one heck of a science oriented day.  Maybe I’m not being the best of moms, pushing all kinds of science on my kids, but I feel like today was a small victory at least.  We learned some cool new science facts, found some new ways of experiencing science, and had some real fun doing it.  I have a feeling these videos are going to become a regular part of our unschooling.  Maybe I can’t do all sorts of epic science experiments with the kids, but I can give them some exposure to some pretty cool stuff we wouldn’t be able to do at home, and some great information in a kid-friendly format!


Web of Life and Predator Vs. Prey

First of all, I got the idea and video for this post from Cozi Globe’s post on Food Webs.  You should totally go check out the blog.  One of the goals is to find free resources for homeshoolers.  It looks like a newer blog, so if you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, you may want to pop over there and check it out.

And with that, on to the content…


This video happened to be on the Cozi Globe blog today.  I shared it with Sander and A.J.  Sander was suitably bored by the repetition of the information, but I’m not surprised.  He doesn’t seem to care too much about the food chain.  However A.J. seemed pretty interested.  It’s a good video and really hits home the idea that each animal on the food chain only gets 10% of the energy consumed by the level before it.  It’s not a bad little clip, and I’m glad it came across my, well, phone at the time we watched it.  I thought it was so good that I tracked it down on my computer to add it here.

The video got me thinking about a game we used to play when I was in Girl Scouts.  It was called Predator and Prey.  I looked for the rules online, but I wasn’t able to find it.  The best I found was this similar version, called Predator and Prey.  The way we did it was a little different, but the idea was pretty much the same.


We ran the game for a large group in at a hundred acre Girl Scout camp.  It could easily be run in a smaller group if you adjust the numbers.  I can see it work in groups as small as maybe 30.  Being out in the woods with a group of kids necessitated working in groups, but you may find your area permits kids to work on the individual level instead.

What do you need?  Each kid needs a bandanna.  You need five stations for water and five for food, which can be as simple as a folder with a lined sheet and a pencil.  You could also put counters or beads instead of a paper that the kids collect at each station.  I would also recommend some kind of life tokens or counters, as in the version in the link.

Playing is simple.  Each kid is labeled as either a Mouse (bandanna on the leg), Snake (bandanna on the arm), or Hawk (bandanna on the head).  I like the idea from the page about giving Mice 10 life tokens in one color and Snakes 5 in another.  (Hawks shouldn’t need any unless you play by the rules from the link.)  For a group of 30 I recommend 3 Hawks, 7 Snakes, and 20 Mice.  You could probably even bring that down.  It might get tricky, but I could also see you doing 1 Hawk, 4 Snakes, and 10 mice, giving you a group as small as 15, which could work if you had a small enough operating area.

Each group needs to find the required number of resources.  That means writing their name on each sheet of resources.  Mice need all the food and all the water.  Snakes need at least 3 food and all the water (though you can say more food stations reduces the need to hunt).  Hawks only need all the water.  Writing their name on the sheet not only proves they found it, but also represents the time they take eating their food.

For those who hunt, hunting is simple.  Tag your prey animal and get a life token.  The time taken to exchange the token represents time it takes to eat the prey.  Snakes need to get 4 life tokens each.  Hawks need to get 10 life tokens each.  That represents eating enough food to survive.  Once a prey animal loses all the tokens of it’s color, they’re out.

Now that everyone knows the rules, you let the kids go.  The first group to go out is the Mice.  This gives them a bit of a head start to hide and get to their stations.  Ten minutes later the Snakes go out.  Ten more minutes later you send the Hawks.

We had quite a big expanse of space, so we would often play for five or six hours, allowing all the groups enough time to find the stations they need.  You might find you have better luck for your space in an hour or two.

At the end of the time period you call everyone together (a whistle might help here).  Bring the group together along with the station papers.  (Or have the kids pull out their collections from each food and water spot.)  For everyone who has lives left, check to see if they got all their required stations.  If they’re a predator, find out if they got enough life tokens from prey.  That will tell you who lived.  Anyone who survived wins.

So, thanks for stopping by and reading.  I hope this inspires someone to get out with their group and give Predator and Prey a try.  It’s a fun little game and I think you’d like it.  The version in the link adds a bit more diversity, but I think you’d need a bigger group to do it (from their count a group at least 50).  If you try it, let me know!  I’d love to hear what other people think of the game!

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Busy, Busy Day

Man, we got a lot done today!  I had no idea I would feel this good after being this productive.  I can’t even begin to describe how good it feels.  I usually slack off during the day, but I guess homeschooling has brought out the best in me again.

So I suppose I should begin at the beginning, which had me launching out of bed to throw my clothes on, have Oz ready Nika, and fly out the door.  I managed to wake up thirty minutes from my scheduled appointment today.  I ended up walking in the door at the exact time my appointment was supposed to start.  Thankfully it only takes me fifteen minutes to walk there, so I had time to get dressed and ready.

After that it was on to homeschooling.  I got home and meant to get them all set up to homeschool.  Unfortunately, my plan to start the day with computer time was all for nothing because A.J. ran down the charge on the laptop playing Pixel Quest yesterday, so it was dead when I went to set him up on it.  He learned about it in school and I just can’t keep him off of it.

img_20170206_104719_703Instead of working on the computer, like I had planned, A.J. did some of the lesson tests from his math program.  Somehow I didn’t equate the lesson tests to being for each lesson, somehow, so I didn’t have him do any of them.  Today I had him go through the lesson tests and then he corrected the problems he got wrong himself.  I love this program because it’s so incredibly easy for him to check his work, and that’s one thing I remember being cautioned time and time again in math, “Check your work!”

img_20170206_113606_252Luca even sat down to do some book work today.  That was a huge victory for me because Luca has the focus, I don’t know, name something incredibly unfocused.  Whatever that thing you named was, that’s what Luca’s attention span is like.  Luca will do well for a while, but realizes it’s more fun to be silly, so I get that instead of focus.  However, this Primary Phonics program has done wonderful things.  Luca seems to have all kinds of focus for it, and already knows the format of the lessons well enough that I don’t even need to read the instructions for more than just the story.  The rest Luca’s got without any need for help.

img_20170206_125658_407As if getting the kids through school wasn’t enough, I actually made lunch.  I know, it’s not much of anything I had to work for, but I did it, so that’s something.  They had peanut butter sandwiches with celery.  The celery then got slathered with peanut butter or cut up and used as a scoop.  As it turns out A.J. is just okay with celery, Sander hates it, and Luca loves it.  I guess I know who the rest of the celery is going to.  A.J. at least eats fruit and carrots.  Sander, on the other hand, doesn’t want to eat anything from the fruit and veggie side of things beyond applesauce.  Luca is the opposite and will eat pretty much everything.  I have no idea how I’m going to feed these kids healthy lunches, but I guess if Sander wasn’t eating the fruits and veggies at school, I’m really not offering him anything less here.

My only major flaw was thinking Luca has a much bigger stomach than is reality.  Luca is always eating, so I keep thinking, “Just feed Luca big meals and problem solved!”  Problem not solved…  Luca couldn’t finish all the food and ended up taking a nap with a very full belly.  Next time I know, give Luca a quarter as much, and then it will all end up gone.

IMG_20170206_144514_154.jpgLuca and Sander took a nap while A.J. worked on the computer.  We learned about Mesopotamia and the states of matter.  We then did a quick and easy experiment of bringing some water from solid state to gas.  It was super easy to throw some ice cubes in a pan, heat them up, and then watch the steam come off of them.  A.J. liked that experiment even though he already kind of knew what was going to happen.  He’d seen ice melt and steam rise off the tea kettle, but still, it was fun.

Then it was time for jujitsu.  We went through our usual scurry to get everyone dressed and ready to go.  Sander lost his shoes…again.  A.J. was ready way too early and didn’t want to wait.  Luca was generally chaos, as usual.  I packed the bag with La-La, my Kindle, A.J.’s uniform, and drinks for everyone, then we were on our way.

I think Sander and Luca are going to be problems in the same class.  Sander’s clowning and distraction tactics keep Luca unfocused.  Twice they had to be separated today.  The first time Luca was moved while one of the techniques was being demonstrated.  The second time was after a fight when Sander was being nothing but silly, which was making Luca think it was play time.  That’s the hardest part, Sander shows Luca it’s time for play, not work.  Then Luca runs with it.

As much as I hate to say it, I think they both got exactly what they needed.  Sander was put with a kid that was no-nonsense and had no problems holding Sander at bay.  This seemed to frustrate Sander enough to keep him focused.  Luca was put with a kid from A.J.’s class who gave just enough resistance to make Luca work for it.  Luca was supposed to push him from his knees onto his back, then get into the side control position, then demonstrate the technique they’d been learning for the whole of last week.  It took a few tries to get Luca focused, but Luca was starting to pick up on it.  I have a feeling with a few weeks and being pared with kids that don’t view it as just play, Luca will start to get it.  So Sander was forced into a position where he had to focus and Luca was encouraged to actually demonstrate technique and skill.  This could be good for both of them, so long as they don’t get paired together anymore.

img_20170206_192139_146After the class, while A.J. was in his class, the two actually demonstrated that they could play together.  They took turns playing Fruit Ninja on my Kindle while A.J. was in class.  I don’t see them play well together often, but it was good to see.  Maybe my eventual goal should be to get them all Kindles and set it up with audio books from the library so they can listen while class is going on.  It’s an idea…

A.J. has a long way to go in his class.  He’s far too timid when it comes to the other kids.  He doesn’t want to get pushy and assert himself and he’s very hesitant to actually put his hands on the other kids.  He’s either big on personal space or he has completely no understanding of personal space.  It’s on or off with him.  In this class, it’s on.  We need to teach him to turn it off so he can engage, but that will come with time.

I’ve also come to the understanding of why the boys in the class kind of leave A.J. out of everything.  Everyone thinks A.J. is a girl.  I know, he’s a boy with long hair so we should expect that.  His coat is a girl’s coat.  I get it.  But everyone thinks he’s a girl, even the instructor, and that’s awkward.  All I can do is hope that he gets it in time.

A.J. isn’t the only one everyone thinks is a girl.  Everyone thinks Luca is a girl too.  Of course, with Luca’s hair in a half ponytail and wearing My Little Pony, it’s not hard to figure where they’d get that idea.  I’m of the mindset that if Luca wants to correct them, Luca will.  But today that wasn’t going to happen.  I was informed that Luca was using the girl’s bathroom today because Luca is a girl today and most definitely not a boy.  Okay, I’m cool with that.  Whatever makes you happy, right?

After all that I still managed to come home, make dinner, and get everyone (but Luca who is watching television on a Kindle at midnight, mind you) off to bed.  Tomorrow I have one more appointment right before lunch time.  Here’s hoping it’s as motivated of a day as today was.  That would be awesome.

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Mom…That’s A Crazy, Gigantic Bee Thing!

We were out walking the other day when we noticed a group of these creepy giant bee or wasp looking things inside an abandoned record store downtown. It was so strange seeing these giant bugs on a faded poster of Elvis. The kids said it looked creepy.


The kids were glad there was glass between us. As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about. These are cicada killer wasps, very docile and pretty harmless to humans. The males don’t even have a sting!


These little buggers are apparently pretty friendly. They’re more likely to flee than attack. They only sting if they feel their lives are in danger, and a human can barely feel it. Their bite is so mild it can’t even break human skin.


As you can see against the tape and my hand, they are pretty big. The females are larger than the males, so when they kill a cicada, they lay the male eggs on one body and the females on sevaral. The adults apparently eat pollen and other plant matter, like fruit. This means, for wasps, they have no need to be dangerous. They just need enough venom to kill a cicada. They carry them back to nests dug in the ground. They’re typically born in June and July and die in September to October, which means there’s not a lot of time in the year to see them.

What these wasps were doing in that store, we may never know. The kids wonder if they’ll die in there or if they’ll find a way out. We’re pretty sure there was some killing each other going on in there as that’s how the males determine breeding rights, but beyond that, who knows. What we do know is that gave us a cool amount of creep factor for the day, which made for cool stories of giant bees, and that it turned into a pretty cool lesson…involving “killer bees!” Yeah, it’s that kind of awesome.

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Airplane Science, Business Math, the Fifty States, and Full Bellies

Yes, we’re hitting the unschool habits hard this weekend. We had no real plans to spend our Sunday learning. Somehow it just happened. Educational experiences are everywhere!

It started last night with Corde wanting to help Grumpy make goulash for dinner. She was soaking up every detail. Let me tell you, the kids ate last night! We all did. Corde and Beekee both had seconds. I did too. By the end of the night we were all stuffed. As if that wasn’t enough, we also had ice cream. I have to admit, even with having a late dinner and waiting an hour for dessert, I was still hungry when I went to bed. My appetite has been pretty fierce. I’m sure nursing a nearly fifteen-month-old has something to do with it. Today we ate rice with veggies until we were stuffed too. Rice and canned veggies may not make a fancy meal, but it’ll fill you.

The kids also made a discovery. Last year in our haste to move out the kids forgot their fifty states magnet puzzle that was on the fridge. They didn’t seem to miss it then, but they certainly love it now. Even Sanders loves to “find states”. Luca is better at destroying the whole thing so someone has to put it back together. I think at this point the kids know the states better than I do! Once upon a time I could pass a test on all the states and their locations. Now I’m rusty. I even knew all the capitals, but no more.

We also spent a bit of time talking profit and loss in getting ready for the fairy festival. Grumpy did some math with Corde to show how much profit he can make on his products. It was simple and didn’t include overhead like the cost of his booth and all that. We just wanted to give her a basic understanding.

So far the day has been capped off with a lesson with paper airplanes. The kids made theories on what would improve or degrade their flight. They tried throwing their airplanes at different speeds and heights. They included a passenger in some of their trials. It was all a lot of fun. I felt a little bad because I just sat back and watched, but I was tired. I still am. The fatigue is starting to set in. I can honestly say the stress has worn me thin.

It really feels good to get back to unschooling and away from homework, classes, and formal education. I kind of miss being free-spirited unschoolers! It was good to spend the day back at our roots. We need to do more of this.

Oh, and we still haven’t forgotten the documentary challenge. We may have a couple more to add to the list. Corde decided we should pick one winner for the whole year. It’s just been to crazy of a year otherwise. Each video watched counts as it’s own entry. The prize thus far is going to be a small sculpture, a friendship bracelet, a picture in some fashion (she’s working on something more unique than a sketch or a painting), and a hand made card. Don’t forget to check it out. As the year rolls to a close some other goodies may be added. Keep checking in for details.