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.


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.


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!




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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).




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.



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.


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)

A Low-Tech Day


Okay, I admit it.  My family is plugged in.  It seems at any given time, somebody, somewhere in this house is either watching tv, playing a video game, piddling on the computer or blasting through Ipad apps.  The kids fight over who gets to do what and when.  My son disappears hours at a time due to the lure of a good video game.  My husband can be known to do the same (until he sees the look in my eyes that tells him I’ve about had my fill of Daddy-here-but-not-here).  I have a love-hate relationship with it all…scrolling Facebook and despising the time it took, posting our adventures on this blog and getting aggravated because something with the photos or the site or whatever other inevitable glitch happens caused 20 minutes to turn into 2 hours.

On one hand, I believe that it is difficult to function in society these days without a good grasp of the technology available.  On the other hand I think…it’s difficult, but not impossible.  There are days when I look upon the Amish families that are abundant in this area with a sort of awe.

Amish horse and buggy

After what seems like too long of a stretch of media overkill, I can be known to dream of getting “back to the basics” and fantasize about smashing X-boxes and tossing computers out the window.  In fact, at one point in time, I came dangerously close to doing just that.


However, I know that this is impractical in my household…if for no other reason than because the precedent has been set.  We are entrenched.  We are accustomed.  We LIKE downtime, where we aren’t always on the go, go, GO!  And what better way to engage our minds (or not) without much effort than through media outlets?  Tater Tot has probably taught herself half the things she’s learned this year through BrainPop alone!  (An excellent source of kid-friendly, educational videos, by the way.)

However, despite all of this, I desire…no I NEED…nature.  I need to go outdoors and get away from my phone and the internet.  I thrive on simplicity and seek to establish it any way I can in my own home.  I need it and I believe my family does, too.  That is why I try to balance all these conflabbid, newfangled gizmos with plenty of sunshine and fresh air (or barely tolerable snow-covered frigid days, depending on the season).  We get outside and just be.  Those are the days when I truly feel more at peace and at ease with myself and the world.


Here is an example of one such lovely day that started out with little more direction than “No more Ipad!  Let’s go to a new park”.  We drove around a nearby town and found several…some we had been to, some not.  Boo Bear picked a smaller one that ran alongside a creek.  At first glance, Tater Tot decided it wasn’t going to be a fun park and spent the bulk of the time we sat eating lunch at the picnic table pouting about the choice that was made.  However, once we all decided to bypass the playground area and check out the covered bridge by the creek, a whole new attitude emerged.

Sparta Creek

The girls spotted butterflies basking on the rocks and the fluffy tree pollen was in the air, giving Sweet Pea plenty of amusement as she tried to catch the “fuzzies”.  She and I also took a small walk and looked at bugs in the trees, saw a tree trunk that made me think of a dinosaur and spied a bumblebee in the flowers.

Sparta Creek (3)

Sparta Creek (2)

Sparta Creek (8)

It wasn’t long at all before the girls kicked off their shoes, made their way onto the muddy banks, and finally ended up traversing across rocks in the stream.

Sparta Creek (14)

Sparta Creek (15)

Sparta Creek (12)

Other kids came and some even found deeper areas and started to swim.  At one point, the girls made some friends and they all were observed trying to use sticks and other items to try to leverage a log into the water in the hopes of using it to float down the stream.  It was fun to watch them brainstorm and carry out methods until they found the simple machine that worked. Much to the girls’ dismay, though, they did not get a chance to see their effort through to fruition. It was time to go and I wasn’t going to let them float down the river on a makeshift raft, so to speak. Not this time, anyway. Nevertheless, the kids all had a great time and Daddy and I enjoyed sitting on the bank watching them wholeheartedly play in the simplicity of nature.

Sparta Creek (9)

Sparta Creek (7)

Sparta Creek (6)

Sparta Creek (4)

I like technology and the positive ways it can be used and I don’t foresee my family ever going tech-free, but I truly do enjoy those days when there isn’t an electronic gadget in sight.

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. 


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).

egg carton alligator craft

egg carton alligator craft

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.

water creatures

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.

usborne bats

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


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.)






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. 

spider web

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. 



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. 



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.




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.

we sing america cd

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.

Am I An Unschooler?

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

funny fishing photo: Fishing fishing.jpg


It has taken me a while to truly define what it is we do around here.  Part of my hesitation has come from the fact that we are relatively new to the life of homeschooling and I was waiting it out to see what method(s) seemed to work best for my family.  Part of my hesitation on labeling the relaxed style that seems to be our norm has been that we are in the early years of schooling…isn’t it supposed to be about fun?  Won’t it change later when we hit the “hard” subjects?  People have asked me what curriculum we use and, well, we don’t.  The funny part is that I honestly never considered that this, in and of itself, is a big indicator that we might be an unschooling family.  You see…I put A LOT of time and effort into prepping whatever subject we might be getting ready to take part in, often in a unit-studies sort of way.  This year, I am even trying to lay out a very loose guideline for the entire year.  (Recognize that this is a near-impossible task for my impromptu, last-minute personality.)  I have pretty much picked out a few key subjects and hope to cover them from A to Z over the course of the year.  For example, careers…A for architect, B for Botanist(?).  Okay, so I haven’t gotten very far yet, since I haven’t even nailed down what I want to do for each letter, but you get the idea.  (This perfectly illustrates why we usually just dive into a subject without much planning.  Even when I have a “plan”, it is very loose.)  I have also spent a great deal of time organizing our homeschool and play places, as you can see in these blogs here and here.  All the while I am doing this, I know that we will only spend maybe a third of our time in these areas and the likelihood of following any set schedule is about 0%, maybe 0.5%.  So, what does this mean?  Why do I spend all this time organizing and planning if I know that I’m not going to stay organized or strictly follow any plan?  What does that make me, as far as homeschooling style goes?  I generally considered myself an “eclectic”, borderline unschooler.  This definition could probably suffice, as I see merits from multiple philosophies and often implement aspects of many of them.  For instance, I believe if a child can read, then the world is opened up to them, so Charlotte Mason, this book’s for you.  I also think, especially for the younger ages, that themes are a great way to focus attention and engage their minds, while (secretly) imparting knowledge across a broad range of subjects, so Unit Studies it is, then!  But wait, don’t we also have a lot of hands-on, real world learning-based fun?  Doesn’t that mean we follow the Montessori style?  We certainly seem to do a lot of Montessori-type things.  I guess that’s it then.  We’re a Montessori family, for sure…right?  Whew.  Who knew thinking about this could be so tough?  My definition might be pretty accurate then…or so I thought.  Now I am beginning to reconsider our “category”.  As I look around at other homeschoolers’ sites and see what styles they claim and I begin to truly recognize some of my own traits and habits, I am questioning what it is we really do.  I ran across an article the other day: 10 Ways To (Not) Sabotage Your School Year.  The article was interesting to me because it is on a (purportedly) unschooler’s website, and yet it outlined, pretty accurately, what our approach has been all along.  The author even has a book in print, which I suppose gives tips on how to make a plan that stays flexible.  You can see the link to that here.  (Note, I haven’t actually read this book, so I’m just guessing here.)  In any case, let’s take a look at the facts of (our homeschool) life:

1) Flexible planning is pretty much what I’ve been doing, isn’t it?  I make a plan and might semi-stick to it, but there are lots of tangents along the way, often where some of our best days of learning evolve.  I like to have a general idea of a potential direction, but am pretty comfortable with changing things up when needed.

2) The idea of buying, reading, studying, or following a set curriculum feels…well, wrong.  I truly understand the appeal for others and often wonder why I put myself through so much trouble when there are full curriculum sets out there that have already done the work for me.  It tells me what to do, how to do it, where to find it, how long it takes, etc.  Wouldn’t that be great?  Yes, except that, apparently, it completely goes against my grain.  It feels too canned, no matter how “outside-the-box” it might be.  I just can’t seem to force myself to follow any set guidelines to structure the kid’s lessons.  Maybe the key word here is structure.  I don’t seem to operate as well in someone else’s defined structure, but somehow always manage to create my own structure and do just fine with that.  (Is that because it is easy for me to push the boundaries of my self-imposed structure?)  Here’s something else to ponder.  I’m a Sagittarius-Capricorn cusp.  What does that mean?  Maybe nothing, but if there is anything to astrology, the important part I have gathered from it is that I have two distinctly different personalities at war inside me.  True or not, it certainly would explain why I have this insane need to have everything in it’s place and organize our lives with charts, lists, and the like…and then so loosely follow the plans that an outsider might wonder if there was ever a plan at all.  Organized chaos.  (It might explain a lot of other inconsistencies in my personality, too, but that’s a whole other blog.)

3) I have been continuously amazed at the amount of absorption that takes place in my little sponges.  On numerous occasions they have reminded me that they are listening and learning, even when I don’t think they are paying a bit of attention.  They bring up topics and details of things I said in passing months earlier.  They ask thoughtful questions after watching seemingly mindless cartoons.  In short, they are learning all the time and I’m just lucky enough to witness much of it.  I don’t think this is because my indoctrinated, panicky side would have one child sit down and “write something, for goodness sake!” or have the other look at alphabet flash cards, because it is more likely these things had a negative impact, if any impact at all.  In fact, I am very aware that my kids do some of their best listening when they don’t seem to be listening at all.  When I am reading something to them and they are allowed to play or draw or build something  all the while, they are more likely to “get” what I’ve said than if they were just sitting in a desk being forced to listen to some lecture.  I, myself, used to listen to music while studying or I would doodle during an entire lecture…even in my Master’s program.  So, yeah, I get it and I am so happy they aren’t tied to a desk for 8 hours a day!  So, what has this taught me?  I know my kids will learn when it’s best for them and I have no doubt that they will learn all they need to be successful in whatever they choose.  I think this will happen even if I did nothing at all.  No, I really shouldn’t say that.  I think that, as a parent, I am responsible for keeping their environments rich, for facilitating exposure to new things, and for helping them to understand the world around them, but this does not mean I need to dictate what and when they need to learn for the next 18 years of their lives.

4) I generally let the kids lead already.  I introduce a subject that they might be interested in and we go with it until it seems to run its course.  Or, more often than not, Tater Tot or Boo Bear will ask a question or show some interest in something that will provide a direction for the moment.  Hmm.  “Direction for the moment”.  I like that.  It might just be my new phrase to describe what it is we are doing at any given point in time.  Like a compass, we have direction for the moment and it can change in the blink of an eye, but no matter which way we go…we are still pointing somewhere, right?  My kids lead me in many directions (often more than one at once) and sometimes I am not fully prepared for where the day takes us, but that’s okay, because I want us to enjoy the journey, as much as I am concerned about the destination.

Do I have to fight that side of me that wants to see immediate, documented proof that learning is taking place?  Do I have trouble ignoring the societal “mandates” that dictate when every child in the country should have a specific task mastered?  Well, yes, I am a product of the compulsory schooling model, after all.  I mean, what if a random government official were to unexpectedly (and unconstitutionally) drop into our house for a review of our educational milestones?  I need them to stay on track, don’t I?  I don’t want my children to be considered “behind” or “slow” or for me to be labeled as incapable of teaching my children what they need to know.  I don’t imagine anyone wants those burdens.  However, my heart and my conscience and my sole observations have led me to believe that all these things that go through my mind are inconsequential in the grand scheme of my children’s growth.  These worries I have are put on me by a society I don’t even really agree with at it’s core value level anymore, so why should I give them credence?  My children are amazing beings with amazing intelligence, each one.  But each will have his or her own special way to shine and I have decided my sole job as their mother and as their teacher is to help them each achieve their individual greatness.  I am a fairly logical being, so I realize this will look different for every one of them.  Why would I design a canned curriculum around such a variety of personalities, each with individual likes and dislikes, motivations and desires, dreams and conceptions?  Yes the only real full-blown, stick-to-it plan I have, and probably ever truly had, is to love them all unconditionally.  Beyond that, we mostly just wing it.  Really.  I guide a lot, to be fair, but quite often, we are learning as we go, with little more than a single question we want answered to spark us on our momentary learning path.  When something becomes a struggle, it’s nixed…maybe revisited at a future date, maybe not.  I want my children to love learning and to see the possibilities in themselves and in the world.  I wholeheartedly believe that this can best be achieved if the kids are allowed to find their own ways.  I believe in unschooling.  I believe that there will be days when nothing seems to happen, but I also believe that days when things do “happen” will completely make up for those days where nothing does.  The benefits of a child who truly enjoys learning will pay off in spades over time…an unchartable; glorious end, where the means matter, but not the measurement of those means.  Who needs silly timelines and societal mandates when you can get a kid to love learning?  If that means reading at 10 instead of 6, who cares?  Really.  Why does it matter?  I, for one, have decided to give my children a lifetime of fish.  So, what does this make us?  Unit Studies?  Classical?  Traditional?  I still believe we use a bit of everything and anything,  so eclectic is not a bad catch-all.  However, in my heart, I know we are unschoolers, because it’s how we go about using any one of these things that makes the difference.  We use them when they seem appropriate for the given child and the given time.  We use them as tools, but unschooling?  That defines us, as I believe it is a way of being, more than a teaching style.  After all, each child should “learn to fish”, but everyone’s fish-catching technique might look a little different.  I’ll leave the details up to them.  I’ll just be sure to keep the pond well-stocked!

Busy Box? Yes, please.

Well, I have jumped on the busy box bandwagon! For those that may not be aware of the wonderful world of busy boxes, they are simply genius little activities that kids can do without the need of guidance or direction.  These are particularly helpful for times when Mom needs a moment of peace, such as to cook, or research…or pee.  (They always find me.)  I believe the ideal busy bag is one in which the kids are actively thinking and working on some skill, one they can do on their own, one that is not messy or difficult for them to take out, use and put away, and one that is reusable.  The girls and I have spent the greater half of our day making and trying out various busy bags for our new busy box. I would love for this to be a quiet box, but the likelihood of that is minimal. The girls will also definitely need to work on staying in their own spaces, as it didn’t matter who had what, they often wanted to get into the middle of what the others had going on…particularly Sweet Pea, who only seemed to have interest in anything if one of the other girls was specifically using it at the moment. All-in-all, though, it seems as though the concept is a hit with my brood. I can also see how making these bags can be a bit addictive, for me, too. Even now, my mind is spinning with various ideas for future bags. But, for starters, this is what we churned out using things we already had lying around the house…the best way to make a busy bag, in my opinion.

Keeping Busy!

I got several of my ideas from Pinterest, such as this first one. It is a simple activity where I took an old Puffs container and punched some holes in the lid and put color-coded stickers around the holes. I then cut some coordinating pipe cleaners to push through the holes.  Viola! Color matching and fine motor skills practice with instant clean-up!  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.



 Tater Tot made a pipe cleaner candy cane and decided it made a good “straw” for her pretend drink.




 We had a wooden lacing set that we picked up for pennies a couple of years ago at a homeschool used curriculum sale. I figure this is a good busy time activity the girls can do on their own. We also decided to make a couple more lacing activities, one with foam shapes and one with wooden beads. The lacing was well-liked by the older girls.




 Tater Tot decided there should be a “free bag” made up of random things that they could just be imaginative and creative with. It currently includes pom-poms, foam beads, foam sticks and pipe cleaners.


 By far the favorite of all three girls was the “Pom-pom Pickup”. Boo Bear, in particular, really seemed to enjoy this.  It is simply made of four different colored plastic shot glasses (purchased a few years ago from the Dollar Tree for a Tiki-themed party), matching colored pom-poms and foam beads of various shapes and sizes, and a pair of sugar cube tongs. The only other requirement is a flat surface. The girls practiced fine motor skills while they used the tongs to pick up the items and place them into the narrow openings of the coordinating glasses. This one was a big hit!


 I made the egg letter recognition activity that I’ve seen floating around the homeschool websites.  Tater Tot did an excellent job putting together all the eggs, and was quite proud of herself.  We opted to ditch the egg carton since we were using all 26 letters of the alphabet and they couldn’t all fit, obviously.


 I pulled out some flash cards numbered one through ten that we had lying around and punched a hole in each of them , adding page reinforcements for well, reinforcement.  The girls were then able to string the correct amount of paper clips onto each card.  They seemed to have a lot of fun with this one, too.


 This is another simple one also using pom-poms.  It is another activity for color-matching making use of more flash cards we had (and never used as such).  Sweet Pea enjoyed digging into the snack cup I used to hold the pom-poms and pulling them out one by one.


 We have numerous building things in our playroom, so I relocated these two to the busy box.



 I’ve been hanging onto these boards knowing I wanted to do something cool with them.  They are what was leftover once I punched all the Bingo game pieces out of them.  I still think I will repurpose them into something else in the future, but for now they make another good fine motor skills practice/color matching activity by requiring the user to attach a colored link to its matching board.


Can’t wait to make some more of these.  We welcome any ideas you might have for us!

High School Homeschool?

So, I came across an article recently from a woman who was pointing out why she could “never” homeschool her child…her teen, specifically.  You can see the full article here:  7 Reasons I’d Never Homeschool My Teen.

I would first like to point out that the author is not putting down homeschoolers, only pointing out why she, herself, could not do it.  Also, I recognize that a child that has been in compulsory school his entire life, as hers may have been, might have a more difficult time transitioning to homeschooling…a fact conceded in my own home with my oldest.  However, her points still seemed worth addressing, so here they are with my comments following.


  1. I could probably get him through algebra and geometry, but we’d both need a tutor when it came to calculus. Sure, I took it in high school but it was in one ear and out the other as soon as the final was finished.  I have a couple of comments on this one.  First, you’d be amazed at what you “get” when you are studying it as an adult for the sake of your children, rather than being forced to learn it when you are younger.  (I also use the term “learn” very loosely in this context as the author unwittingly makes a perfect point.  Schools no longer teach, they force-feed for short-term regurgitation.  That, and a sense of subject irrelevance, is most likely why you only retained information for finals)  Secondly, by avoiding this factory assembly-line-style education altogether, your child will begin to truly learn.  He could then essentially teach himself, by that point.  With the additional benefit of all the resources now available online, as well, it’s not as big of a stumbling block as you might think.  And third, how often do you use calculus as an adult now?  I would argue that college is not the only path for children and if your child is passionate with a direction that doesn’t include calculus, then why force it on him?  If college is the only way for your family, then I refer to my second point.  If he needs it, he will be able to learn it, because you will have already taught him how to learn anything.
  2. I can’t imagine his first intense classroom setting being a college lecture. Talk about intimidating.  I never had any classroom setting in high school that was “intense” like those in college.  College and high school are two different worlds and one does not necessarily prepare a person for the other.  Was your first college course not intimidating just because you sat in a dull classroom 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, nearly your entire life leading up to that?  I think it just goes with the territory of all things unfamiliar.  You quickly get used to it as long as you are mentally prepared, which I believe a homeschooled child is likely to be.  And, if you are still worried about being unprepared for the level of work, guess what?  You can teach from the college books once they are old enough to understand them…long before the magical age of 18.  Your homeschooled teen would be well-versed in the nuances of an upper-level class by then and might even get some credit for it.  After all, if you have to take, say…that dreaded calculus, why not get college credit for it and get a jump start on those years of upper education?
  3. We’d get sick of each other by week four two.  So, I understand this concern.  I really do.  I wondered about it myself when I first contemplated homeschooling.  I can also admit that there are still (and will likely always be) times when I wish I could get more breaks than I do.  However, that being said.  I am never “sick” of my kids and I don’t believe they get “sick” of me.  This is due, in part, to the fact that we stay busy.  I am not their sole means of socialization and they are not mine.  Your kid would still be socializing outside the home with the activities and extracurriculars you would be sure to provide.  He would be less of an irritant and more of a help as he would be more involved in the process of keeping the home running smoothly…and yes, it is a process.  You and he would find that you both grow by recognizing and (hopefully) participating in each others interests.  You will each need space, of course.  We all do, but sick of each other?  No.  You would actually become closer in a way you might never become otherwise…initial speedbumps, notwithstanding. 
  4. When he complains about his bitchy teacher, he’ll be talking about me.  I’m not sure that he would have cause to complain about you like he might with some other teacher.  Will you be bitchy at times?  Probably.  Aren’t we all?  I promise you, your teen is already complaining about that…even if it’s just to himself.  But, a luxury you have as a teacher that a school system does not is knowing when to push and when to give some space.  When things just aren’t clicking and frustrations seem high, that’s a good day to take off on a field trip or just have a “downtime” day.  You might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the learning and bonding that takes place in those “unproductive” days.
  5. When I complain about my crappy job, I’ll be talking about him.  No, you will be talking about your own frustrations, not him.  I get frustrated, of course.  Not everything can go exactly as I want; when I want it (sadly), so frustration naturally comes.  This is not to say that I don’t like my “job”.  In fact, I don’t really see it as such in the sense that this is just what we do.  We are being a family in a way that includes education…not so much doing school at home. 
  6. I can’t teach him the same survival instincts you learn navigating your way though mean girls, jocks, geeks, or whichever else cliques exist these days.  This one actually makes me snort a little in that “really?” sort of way.  Though I am aware that cliques continue to exist in minor form as we enter adulthood, I don’t feel they are a mirror of what a child endures in school.  Adult life and the cliquey life inherent in high school are worlds apart.  These cliques you speak of haven’t really come into my world since I left high school and if there is some sort of “mean” person that my kids will run into, I will certainly know how to prepare them to deal with it.  Don’t.  Our lives are our own and in no other situation are we forced to endure the exclusion, grouping, and self-esteem bashing that often goes hand-in-hand with middle and high school.  So, the survival skills become simple:  avoid those who would not enhance your life, treat all as you wish to be treated, and recognize that all people are individuals and, as such, generally want the same thing:  to be content in a world full of diversity.  Bottom line:  no compulsory schooling = no cliques = nothing to “navigate”. 
  7. I’m not a trained educator. Parents love to complain about their kids’ teachers but it’s a tough job. Probably one of the toughest. It’s a combo of instructor, counselor, soother, conflict resolution expert, and motivator. How exhausting is that?!  No, you may not be a trained educator, with a degree in secondary education, but you are an educator…and an instructor, and a counselor, and a soother, and a conflict resolver, and a motivator.  You are a mother, which, by my definition, encompasses all this and much, much more.  You are prepared better than any trained educator ever could be.  After all, who knows your child more than you?  Who could possibly bolster him and praise him and guide him and prepare him better than the one person in the world that wants the best for him?  But, yes, it is exhausting.  Motherhood just is.

What can you take from all this?  Every family must decide what is best for them and there are many paths to take.  No one way is the “right” way.  Homeschooling your teen might not be for you, or even me, for that matter…time will tell.  But what I can say is that it is probably not what you think it is and this will become more clear as you learn to rethink education and what it is for.   Step away from the failing model of education we have all become so accustomed to with traditional schooling.  Read more about the alternatives.  Research the many different ways that have worked for other families out there.  Then, give it a try.  You just might find that it is the best thing you ever do for you and your family.