First day of school?

Well, today marked the official first day of school for our district, but I feel as though it is a bit of a misnomer…at least when discussing homeschooling, and even more so, unschooling.  It’s not as though my kids were home all summer and then this was the day I shipped them off for the start of their school year.  In fact, the way we do things around here, we never really stopped our “schooling”, or rather, our learning, all summer.  It just sort of keeps going, ebbing and flowing with our lives.  However, Boo Bear has requested to do 4K this year, which is a 4 day a week, 3 hour a day program, where she rides a bus to her school each day and enters a structured program with more little ones her age.  She loves this and I think much of it is because she is my middle girl.  It is one thing she realizes she can have in which her older and younger sisters can’t partake.  It’s a thing all her own and she relishes it.  So, why deny her?  Truth be told, I’d rather her just stay home, but I also can’t deny that it cuts down on the potential for sibling arguments and attention-grabbing for just a few hours on those days, and that’s not so bad.

In any case, as far as state standards go, Boo Bear was starting her first day of 4K and Tater Tot was beginning her first day of 2nd grade.  As we move frequently and state standards vary, I figure it behooves me to at least keep track of these labels, though we really don’t put much concern into grade levels around here.

But, I digress…again.  We decided to mark the day with a couple of “school year” pictures and just had fun.  It was a long day and I nearly didn’t realize it was time to start making dinner by the time our activities were completed.  So, here’s a look at our day:

3:30am – Why on God’s green Earth am I awake now?  Why?  Hmm, could it be that Sweet Pea has made her way into the bed again and has been restless, pushing and shoving me on my sliver of bed all night?  Oh look…even better, she has migrated to the head of my bed and has…yes, that’s definitely what I feel…peed on my pillow.  Awesome.  Might as well get up.  Note to self:  try to actually remember to pull sheets from the bed after she wakes up.

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4:00am – Finally get out of bed.  (Okay, so I really didn’t want to get up yet, but couldn’t go back to sleep.  Of course.)

4:30am – Tiptoe out of the bathroom, dressed and feeling pretty energized despite the horrid hour.

4:35am – Scroll through e-mails, Facebook and the weather for the day.

4:45am – Decide I’m going to give the girls a super nutritious, energy-boosting, special breakfast for the first day of school.  Head out to pick up some Dunkin’ Donuts.

4:52am – Arrive at Dunkin’ Donuts.  The drive-thru is open, but the doors don’t open for another 8 minutes.  Well, I must go in.  How else can I stare at the massively overwhelming selection of stuff and attempt to contain my drool long enough to tell the girl at the counter to give me about twice as much stuff as we can possibly actually eat this morning?

4:55am – Decide to run to Wal-Mart to get the black ink I need for the printer.  Head back to Dunkin’ Donuts.

5:10am – Yes I’ll have 3 sprinkles, a couple of chocolates, some sugar-coated, etc. etc…this will give us a good flat dozen.  Oh, but hmm, I think we will get a 50 count of those filled donut holes, too…and a large iced coffee.  (My kidney stones are back.  Coffee is a big culprit.  I am pregnant.  Little Man certainly doesn’t need it.  But.  But.  It’s 5:00 A. M.!  And there’s donuts!  Okay, just this one time.)  What?  Oh, yes.   That’ll be it.  Oooh.  What’s that?  Iced apple cider.  Sounds yummy.  I bet Bubby would like that.  Ah, okay.  Yeah, give me one of those, too.  A large.  Whew, finally.  That is plenty!  Ring me up, girlfriend.  Wait…are those coconut-covered donuts….?

5:30am – Back home.  Chat with hubby for a bit.  Look at Facebook a little more.  Go ahead and eat some of these heart-cloggers and sip my oh-so-bad-but-oh-so-good coffee.  Remind myself to relish in this moment because it’s not going to happen often.  Start running through my mental list and adding to look up Dandy Brew or something of the sort and try out the fake stuff sometime.

6:00am – Head into the girls’ room and give Boo Bear a little morning snuggle-tickle wake up call.  She is excited and it doesn’t take her long to wake.  Sweet Pea senses from the room on the other side of the house that people are awake and comes in to join us.

6:08am – A little more snuggle time on the couch to finish waking up and a diaper (and full-clothing change) for Sweet Pea.  Oh yeah, she peed.  Remember to get those sheets.

6:15am – Girls are excitedly picking out their donuts and happily stuffing their faces.  I think I can already see their pupils dilating.  Look for a small insulated bag to hold Boo Bear’s daily water and snack.  Find a perfect one meant for baby bottles, but it just seems so plain.  Ask Boo Bear if she would like Mommy to decorate it for her, receiving an affirmative.  Get the paint markers and draw a flower as per Boo Bear’s specifications.  Tater Tot comes out of the room, having heard everyone (or sensed a craft going on) and asks to do some decorating, too.  Later they can all decorate, if they want, I tell her, but we need to get ready now.  She spies the donuts and excitedly fixes herself a plate.

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6:35am – Girls get themselves ready.  There are teeth to be brushed, knots to untangle, clothes to put on, shoes to find, and a backpack to inspect.  I check the clock.  Amazingly, all seems to be running smoothly so far.  Time to take a few pictures!

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7:00am – Girls are good to go for the day.  Daddy comes up and informs us he has decided to stay home long enough to see Boo Bear onto the bus this morning.  Pack up energy balls made a couple days ago and a bottle of water and feel good that I have a semi-nutritious snack to send with Boo Bear to school.  Ignore the fact that these also have some sugar in them.

7:10am – We all head out front to play in the driveway and wait for the 7:15 school bus.

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7:35am – The school bus pulls to the curb.  Daddy has looked at his watch about 6 times between going outside and now.  It takes a while to iron out all the kinks of establishing a route, plus all the parents are slowing it down to ask questions and take pictures and all that.  What?  Yeah, I hear ya.  Hang on a second while I pose my child and take a picture of her at the bus steps.

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7:42am – Daddy runs inside to take a shower.  I grab my purse and the school supplies I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring during the open house and hop into the car to head to the preschool.  I did tell my daughter I would see her in on her first day, after all, but figured she should start her routine of riding the bus.

7:50am – Arrive at the school.  The bus still isn’t there.  Take the time to talk to the director about whether or not it’s possible to NOT have Boo Bear in school on certain days.  Breath a sigh of relief when I am told it’s whatever works for us…apparently much more flexible than when they start “actual school”, which she won’t be doing next year, by the way.  Happy to know that Boo Bear can now continue to attend our homeschool co-op every other Thursday, which includes really great field trips.

8:05am – Bus finally arrives and little ones unload.  I peek out the window and see Boo Bear standing (mostly) in line, smashing little berries she has pulled off the nearby bush.  She looks up and sees me and breaks into a huge, Mom-heart-swelling grin.

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8:10am – Pose for a picture with Boo Bear for the director.  Help her find her hook and begin establishing her routine of folder and food out and into the cubby, name tag on, hands washed and finding an open table with something cool to play with sitting on it.

8:15am – Give another hug and well-wishes for a good day.  Take another picture from the hall and give another wave.

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8:23am – Back home.  Daddy is already at work.  Sweet Pea is crying because Daddy didn’t change her poopy diaper and instead walked out about 10 seconds after saying he was going to change it, according to Tater Tot.  Mommy explains (in kid-friendly terms) Daddy’s ADD must have kicked in.  Change poo.

8:30am – Clean up the kitchen and empty the dishwasher from the night before.  Actually remember to strip the sheets and get them into the wash.  Bubby makes his way upstairs and grabs some donuts.  Show him that he has cider, too…well, half the cup, because it is really yummy, so I’m keeping some.

9:00am – See that it’s a nice day and think we should do something fun outside.  Start looking for a blog post with an activity I remember that I think would be fun.  Gather up the supplies for that.  Go see if the oldest and youngest want to work on my proposal, reminding myself not to even mention the word “math” in the delivery.  See that they are engrossed in felt crafting and decide not to disturb their already directive, focused play.  Tater Tot is making some pretty nice accessories for her scene.

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9:10am – Loaded the new ink into the printer and printed out pioneer activity sheets for the craft we are doing in our co-op class this week.  Make another mental note that I will need to make the old-fashioned molasses cakes tomorrow or early Thursday morning.  Look all over the house for the special cutting tool that I know will make cutting the Oregon Trail much easier.  Finally find it in the first place I looked, initially overlooked.  Finish prepping the craft and get it all together in a folder.  Feeling pretty darn efficient this morning, overall. Bubby heads out to work.

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10:00am – (or thereabouts)  Girls are still happily engrossed in their chosen activities.  Figure there isn’t really enough time to do the math activity I planned before I have my 11:20 OB appointment, so decide to just wait until I get back from that.  Besides, then Boo Bear can do it with us.  Contact my friend that has agreed to come over and watch the girls and get Boo Bear off the bus for me.  Piddle around on the computer a little more.

11:00am – Friend comes over and her girls and my girls promptly increase energy and octave levels three-fold.  Chat for a minute, grab the cider and head to the car.  Accidentally spill the cider on my garage steps, proceed with a G-rated curse because, well, I REALLY wanted that cider.  It was so good.  Mentally brush it off. Hey…it’s been a good day so far.  No crying over spilled cider and all that.

11:22am – Only a few minutes late for check-in, despite the cider incident.  Speaking of cider…I wonder if it would be rude to get another one before I go home?  Nah, I can wait. Besides, I just asked my friend to watch the kids for the appointment, not for me to get a crave fix.

11:55am – The appointment was short and all looks well.  Run (not literally, of course) upstairs to the PT department to pick up my, um, belly sling thing, to alleviate all the swelling going on down there this pregnancy.  They are out to lunch from 11:45-12:15.  Of course.  Shrug and tell myself I can pick it up some other time.  I don’t feel like waiting.

12:05pm – Back home.  The kids are all out back playing, pulling each other around in the work wagon that they made into a “covered wagon” the other day.  They are out in the field again pretending to be explorers/ settlers of the prairie.  Boo Bear is home.  Ask her how her day went and receive a happy reply.  She had fun and made friends and all that good stuff.  My friend hung out just a little bit more before taking her littlin’ home for a nap.

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12:15pm – Inside to make lunches that we eat outside because it is such a nice day.  Opened up the the patio umbrella and watched a poor little disturbed bat fly away haphazardly, clearly out of his element in the broad daylight.  The girls were fascinated by all the moths that were tucked up in there, too.  Sweet Pea yelled at them to go away, to no avail, and Tater Tot hypothesized that the bat liked it there because there were so many moths to feed on.

12:35pm – Cleaned up the lunch stuff and sent Tater Tot out with some chalk to prepare for our next activity.  The girls created quite a lot of art in the short time I was in.

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We decided to do our project in the driveway instead, where there was still space to draw, but a lot more direct sunlight.  Had Tater Tot measure out and tape off areas for an orthogonal hypercube.  It took a little trial and error and adjustments to get our angles right, but we pretty much got it in the end.  Halfway through, as the sun really started to heat up and I was mentally lamenting that we didn’t either a) do this in the morning or b) have any more room on the shady back patio, Tater Tot suggested some juice pops, so we went inside and grabbed some.  I worked on the last of the taping off of the ‘cube while the girls slurped away on their quickly melting pops.  At some point, Tater Tot went back in and also got out the last of a milkshake she had from the other day (that was frozen solid and they ate more like a popsicle held up by the straw).  Somewhere in my mind it registered that this was even more sugar for the day, but I let it slide.

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1:10p – Boo Bear went inside at some point and didn’t come back out.  I figure maybe she just got too hot, but I go check on her to be sure.  I will save her the dignity of the accompanying picture (which of course I had to take), but will share the scene.  Poor little thing went in to poo, which she did, but must have been so tuckered out from her day that she fell asleep on the potty, her head leaned over onto a nearby step stool.  I giggle, take said picture, then proceed to wipe poopy booty.  She wakes then and gets a second wind, opting to go back out and finish her chalk drawings, rather than finish up a nap somewhere, more, um, comfortable.

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1:20p – Back outside.  Tater Tot and I color in the rest of our ‘cube and the girls get to pull away the tape for the great reveal.  There were oohs and aahs and I think it turned out pretty sweet, although time consuming, and I was definitely getting a little (okay a lot) on the sweaty side.

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I informed the girls that there was a second half of the project and to meet me in back while I got the supplies together.  In the back, we set up an area and I pulled out the toothpicks and marshmallows and explained that we were going to make two cubes and put them together.  This activity, I knew, would be a winner, because any time they get to use marshmallows to make something they get to eat the marshmallow creation they make.  (Yes.  I know!  Sugar, sugar, sugar.  I swear it isn’t usually like this!)  Sweet Pea stuck a few marshmallows with toothpicks, then quickly decided that the toothpicks seemed pretty unnecessary in the endeavor to eat the marshmallows.  Boo Bear made a nice creation that started out looking mostly like a cube.  Tater Tot made her cubes and then I instructed her on how to connect them.  Once complete, I tried very hard to twist and maneuver that thing to lay down into the one dimensional pattern we drew, but had no luck, so I just showed them the blog where I got the idea and that family’s success.  The girls then ate their creations (and apparently the rest of the bag, too, I realized a bit too late).

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3:00pm or something – Time is sort of blurring into one long project now.  I clean up from the marshmallow mess and the girls start coloring and building their own backyard “tables” and such, off in Pretendville again.

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3:40pm – Somehow time just keeps getting away from me.  Realize how late it is and rush in to figure out what to do for dinner.  Throw together a curry chicken, broccoli, noodle bake and stick it in the oven.  Decide that I’m actually getting exhausted about now and probably swollen to double my size, so I lay down for a few minutes and prop my feet up.  Shortly thereafter, hear the neighbor come over to play in back with the girls.

4:20pm – The girls get bored in our yard and ask to go play in the neighbor’s yard.  I relax a bit more, then get dishes out for dinner, while listening to kiddos scream happily from across the street.

5:00pm – Dinner is ready.  Scoop out the girls’ to cool.  Daddy comes home.  Bubby comes home.  Decide to let the girls play a little longer before calling them home for dinner.  I eat, because I feel like I’m starving for some reason, and have some uninterrupted talk time with hubby before the girls come home.

5:40pm or thereabouts – The girls come home and sit down for dinner, which they barely eat.  Not surprised, really. The curry turned out a bit strong and I’m sure they are filled with sugar now. Never mind how picky they can be to begin with.  Whatever.  Decide not to stress about it as long as they don’t start whining about being hungry later.

6:20pm – Time is getting away from me again.  Cleaning up from dinner and realizing the girls still need a shower.  Get them wrangled in there, stressing to make sure they wash their hair too!  Finish the kitchen clean-up and realize I never put the sheets in the dryer.  Run downstairs to do so only to thankfully see that Bubby has done that for me and they are already dry.  Put his load of clothes in the dryer and stick my pillow in to wash next.  Go make the bed.

7:15pm – It’s later than I wanted to get the kids to bed, but not too bad.  Attempt to see if Sweet Pea and Tater Tot will sleep in the same bed if I lay with them for a moment, only to realize after a lot of alternate giggling and shoving that it wasn’t happening.  (It was worth a shot.  It would be nice if Sweet Pea would get back out of my bed again.  At least she could sleep in her own crib in our room through one full night.  That would be great.  Please!)  Take Sweet Pea to our bed and lay with her for about 5 minutes, then tell her I need to get Tater Tot ready for bed.  Cross fingers that she doesn’t cry when I walk out of the room.  Let out held breath when her exhaustion or rare moment of acquiescence allows my departure without fuss.  Go back in to big girls’ room and give Boo Bear another kiss and tuck her in.  Back out on the couch for a little reading, while Tater Tot makes another scene…sort of a Halloweenish one…on the felt board.  She has been mentally rushing Halloween the past few days, excitedly thinking of costumes and making holiday crafts.

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8:15pm – Get Tater Tot tucked into bed.  Feel bad that we didn’t have stories tonight, but it’s just been a long day.  Turn on “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and Other Stories” cd for her to listen to.

8:22pm – Read a little more Facebook and post some pictures of our day in an unschool thread asking for just that.  Realize I’m not going to last much longer tonight.

9ish pm – Daddy and I both head to bed.  I lay there for a while waiting for my mind to catch up with the exhaustion of my body, mentally voicing my silent ritualistic pleading of, “Please let Sweet Pea sleep through the night, preferably in her own bed, and turn my brain off so I can sleep, and let me not have to pee 20 times tonight…oh, and don’t let me wake at some inhumane hour again.  Please.”

And our super, happy fun-filled day is complete.  Bonus:  Everyone slept great!  :0)

Could This Be Education?

I’ve been thinking more and more about the legitimacy and sense of unschooling.  I don’t know that I will ever fully quiet my fears of all the “what ifs” and “but, if I don’t do a, b and c…” types of thing that run through my head, but I am ultimately convinced that unschoolers have it right, at least where my family is concerned.  It is a difficult transition for me in some respects, because I enjoy planning unit studies and I also like feeling in control and seeing results.  With unschooling, results happen, but they aren’t always as easily measured.  On the other hand, I never cease to be surprised by the amount of knowledge my kids acquire all on their own.  Just when I think we are stagnating or I begin to worry that they aren’t getting enough academic direction, that’s when we will inevitably launch into a completely unplanned discussion about a random topic of interest or expound upon something the girls saw on a program or heard in a book that led to a serious discovery or line of questioning.  In none of these times do I sit the girls down at a desk and shovel workbooks or lectures at them.  There are no multiple choice bubbles to fill in and no essays, however brief, to write.  Yet, somehow, some way, despite what might seem their best efforts to play all day, my girls are inquisitive, educated little beings.  Could it be because I give them plenty of time to play and explore and delve deeply into their interests?  Yes, I do believe we are on our way to becoming that family that doesn’t really “do school” because learning is just taken for granted.  It is not set aside as a special time.  It just is…all day…any time.  It is life and we intend to live it.  This is not to say that it isn’t without it’s hiccups.  I can’t help myself sometimes from trying to expound upon something that I might deem worthy that the girls didn’t exactly request to learn.  I suppose that makes us not the best unschoolers on the block, but I think it’s all about balance.  There is a fine line between the give and take of the teaching/learning relationship and it’s a balancing feat to remain on it.  I believe that my girls will eventually learn all they need to be successful, but I also believe that many things are more easily grasped while they are young, so it is a constant internal struggle for me to know when to push a little and when to leave things be.  I think the balance has been struck so far pretty effectively, simply because they haven’t reached the point where any imparting of wisdom receives groans and sighs.  When the glazing of the eyes starts to happen, I know it’s time to switch gears.  I just let the girls do what they do and pay close attention to where their journeys take them, seizing opportunities to turn experiences into education…on the sly.  😉  This is what one of the first weeks of completely stepping back from traditional, directed learning looked like for my girls:

I downloaded a new app on the IPad called Toca Builders that lets kids essentially create buildings in a virtual world in a similar fashion to Mine Craft. 

Tater Tot discovered this and commenced teaching herself how the app works and building her virtual world.  The girls later went outside and decided to build tents with sheets, chairs, sticks and whatever else they could find.  This led to Tater Tot’s question of whether or not they could camp in the back yard.  (Instead of that, we ended up camping at the end of the week at Wildcat Mountain.)

While watching the girls play in the yard from inside the house, I observed Tater Tot problem-solve a situation by trying various methods to get a swing to a position she wanted it by the tree.  She ultimately ended up tying an extra rope to the swing, throwing it over the “Y” of the tree trunk and using it for leverage as a sort of pulley to hoist the swing to the height she wanted it in order to swing down with it from the tree.  Such good thinking and she didn’t call for me once!  I did break my non-directive approach a bit and asked if the girls wanted me to read to them while outside.  I read a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods. 

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They seemed only moderately interested in that, so we haven’t revisited the book since.

The girls decided to complete their alligator craft that was started the week before and completed it with a discussion of what alligators eat (and stickers in the mouth to match).

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Tater Tot drew a picture and began to stick more random stickers on it, but those turned out not to be so random after all, as they were all water creatures in her water scene.

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Tater Tot had gymnastics on Monday night and on the way home, I saw what looked like a group of bats flying overhead.  That lead to some questions that evening, such as whether they stay in warm or cold places and where they sleep.  The next day we pulled out our Usborne Bat book and looked through it together, answering those questions and more.

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We also found a cute little bat hanging out in our patio umbrella around the same time.

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Playing outside again, Tater Tot randomly made up what I believe was a tall tale about a strange looking bug we had seen the day before.  She told me that she “just remembered that her old preschool teacher had told her that the bug was called ‘Cumulus Acclominus'”, (which she accurately repeated to me numerous times that day), and then proceeded to explain the “facts” about the bug, such as it’s preferred climate, habitat and sleep patterns.  Very creative, though I might need to be worried about the nature of it being a “fib” in itself.  She also assured me that I needn’t look it up because she is sure she knows what she is talking about.  lol

The girls are all growing as growing girls do, and so we spent some time together going through the clothing and changing out the size/season boxes. Later, in typical fashion, the girls managed to make another play fort out of my couch pillows.  This is a pretty frequent occurrence, though it really drives me a little nuts. 

I asked if the girls would like to make things out of pretzels and marshmallows, which we did…outside.  This was a fun treat, as they loved to eat their creations once completed.  It was a great opportunity to discuss the difference between 1, 2, and 3-dimensional objects.  Tater Tot did a great job at making some basic 3-d shapes and also decided to make a 2-d house.  (For anyone wanting to duplicate the activity, I would maybe suggest toothpicks in place of the pretzels.  They worked, but just barely.  I think toothpicks might be easier to work with.)

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The girls did some cleaning and picking up on their own, without my direction or request.  Tater Tot began listening to White Fang on audio book each night and finished it within about a week.  She has been very interested in wolves lately.  She even wants to be a werewolf for Halloween.  I went to the Warrens Cranberry Festival here on recently and snagged a really great wolf winter hat/scarf/ mitt combo and even a real wolf’s tail from the local Trapper’s Society for her costume!  Picked up a cute polar bear one for Boo Bear and a nice wooden name puzzle for Sweet Pea, which she figured out how to put together right away.

On another trip outside in the morning, when the dew was still heavy on the ground, the girls noticed the drops glistening like diamonds and we discussed dew, condensation and evaporation.  Tater Tot also found a couple of great spider webs. 

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We tried to preserve one, but it didn’t take to the paper well.  We went inside and watched a YouTube story reading of Eric Carle’s, The Very Busy Spider. I think they found it a little boring, though. 

The girls then wanted to make spider crafts. 

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After that, I made a painter’s tape “web” in the doorway and we played a game of catching the flies in the web, complete with counting practice for Boo Bear. 

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The girls wanted to make bat crafts then, which led to more bat questions, and another visit to the bat books for more bat facts.  We pulled out the Fall decor and started decorating.  Tater Tot also helped me to make a camping list for that trip at the end of the week.

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Soccer practice was on Wednesday night.  Boo Bear skipped out on her soccer again, so she washed dishes with Mommy to make up for the time and money wasted transporting her to an activity she never wants to participate in.  (We haven’t bothered going back.  She just isn’t interested this year.  I believe it’s because they combined ages with an older group for the team and it’s not a girl teaching this time.)

Periodically throughout the week, the girls opted to listen to our lovely little patriotic cd, We Sing America.

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Then the weekend was here and we had a great time camping!  We went on some hikes, rode bikes, roasted marshmallows, talked about what a fire needs to keep going, as well as fire safety, learned how to put a tent together and visited a great nature center to learn about all the local wildlife while there.

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It was a fun-filled, educationally enriching, child’s delight-filled week, with not a plan, curriculum or agenda in sight!  Yes, I believe unschooling is the way for us.