Tuesday, May 24, 2016

a week in this unschooling life

Our days have a shape and a flow to them based on the activities that we participate in. Most weeks we have plenty of free-time built in; time to daydream, create, go for a walk, pick wildflowers, etc. Some of our moments look educational, and some look like straight-up play, but they're all full of learning if you look at it carefully. Does knowing how to identify wildflowers and medicinal plants in the nearby fields and hills count as science? Does calculating how many minutes we have until we need to pick up an older sister at 11:52 count as math? How 'bout helping with the grocery budget? Does reading aloud while a little sister builds a fairy house at the base of a tree count as English? Does it matter what label we attribute to the educational moments in our days?

Camille cares for our animals in the mornings and on weekdays she participates in band class at the local high school. Oftentimes Sylvia and Ayla ride into town with me and we read books, sit by the river, or play at a park. If Papa is working from home, I sometimes get a quiet 45 minutes to sit and knit, or read, or walk in the woods near town by myself. Afternoons can vary widely. On a rainy day we might bring out the microscope and look at everything we can think of, including glitter and fingerprints. On a sunny day we might go to a state park for a hike, or hang laundry and work in the garden, or play games, or work individually on projects of our own choosing. On Tuesdays (and sometimes Thursdays), Camille might meet friends in town when they get out of school. Thursdays have a saxophone lesson before band, and Fridays include volunteering at the library in the next town over after band. Usually we grocery shop/run errands early in the week. Evenings often involve watching documentaries or cooking shows, snuggling, playing music, etc. Weekends often include sleepovers and play dates, as well as time with family.

Here is a glimpse into moments throughout our last week.

Sylvia has been working on cutting and sanding a cedar hiking stick.

While I was prepping dinner, she jumped in to cut the ramps and morels that we had foraged the day before. Then she offered to scramble eggs to serve with the sauteed mushrooms and greens.

Camille invited Ayla to ride along while mowing the grass. Later in the day she invited a few friends over. I offered rootbeer floats and, as a matter of course, stayed away from the trampoline where they were hanging out. Camille is definitely past the age where I can casually take photos of her and her friends without them feeling on the spot. I can respect that.

When we are out running errands we often stop to play at parks and explore the nearby towns. This park has the best zipline! I may have taken a turn or two as well.


flying leap 

Ayla asked Camille if she would help her learn to ride a bike without training wheels. Camille obliged.

This bike used to be Camille's. That was a while ago!

pleased and thankful

Our raspberry patch is showing promise of plentiful berries even after we had a hard freeze late in the spring. I'm not sure that our apple and cherry trees will fare so well this year.

At age 9, Sylvia still finds reading challenging. She sounds out words slowly at times, mixing up the order of the letters. Other times she clips along at a pretty good pace. While she definitely prefers lengthy books on audio, this hasn't stopped her from picking more difficult reading materials at times. After reading Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare, we read the entire original A Midsummer Night's Dream all together. We teased out the meaning from most lines and spent a lot of time giggling. Even without being a fluent reader, Sylvia's vocabulary is often beyond her years.

Camille (to Sylvia): "I find it disconcerting that you keep using the word 'disconcerting'."
me: "Sylvia has been using it in an appropriate context each time."
Sylvia: "Camille also used 'disconcerting' appropriately!"

playing down by the river at a park while Camille volunteers at the nearby library

all ready to get dropped off at the roller rink with her friends

I tend to be the late night designated driver for Camille and her friends when they want to rollerskate on the weekends. I really enjoy it actually. Sometimes we have had serious conversations about issues affecting the young teens or their friends. Sometimes we have sung the name 'Bob' over and over in silly barbershop-quartet style and laughed to the point of tears. Sometimes I have quietly driven while they discuss crushes or politics or music. Twelve and thirteen are difficult ages (I remember), but twelve and thirteen year-olds themselves are awesome, thoughtful (sometime moody) people deserving of respect.

Um, we saw a cardboard box with FREE KITTENS written on it on the side of the road.
We've never had cats before, but who can resist such a thing?

Meet Sparks (grey kitty, girl) and Ember (black kitty, we thought was a girl but is a boy), the newest additions to our family.
Let's see . . . that brings us up to 7 chickens, 6 ducks, 2 geese, 2 kittens, 1 dog, and 1 pet mouse.

Every year when these irises bloom outside my back door I get so excited to see their loveliness.

sparklers on a warm evening

Our Girl Scout troop sold enough cookies earlier in the year to receive a reward day at an indoor theme/water park this Sunday. Sylvia, Ayla, and I stuck together and had a really fun time, even though this isn't my preferred type of environment personally. Camille also tends to get sensory overload in such a noisy, chaotic environment but she managed quite well and was able to run around with her friend all day.  

Ayla really liked the kiddie ropes course.

We crossed paths with other girls scouts from our troop throughout the day and had fun spotting Camille and her blue hair at ideal times for a quick photo. :)

Sylvia came back repeatedly to the climbing wall. After trying it myself I had a ton of respect for the people who made it look easy!

Camille again, on the second story of the ropes course

Ayla was wary of the climbing wall, but got comfortable on it quickly and climbed quite high.

After nearly seven hours bouncing back and forth between the theme park and the water park, we got Camille home in time to for her to grab a bite to eat, put on a nice dress, and be ready to join the band playing at an evening baccalaureate ceremony. Whew!

If a week contains loads of questions (some to be looked up and researched, some to be speculated about), plenty of fresh air (alone or together), discussion (including respectfully addressing difficult emotions or disagreements), and play (lots and lots), then I consider that a very fine life and subsequently a fine education. If we discuss the ramifications of inequality and discrimination, but we don't get around to memorizing the presidents and the state capitols, I'm okay with that. Learning doesn't stop at a certain age, and gaps can always be filled in later.


  1. We are starting to look more and more like unschoolers these days. Except for the days when I have the girls' friend over for reading/spelling lessons, we do not do formal lessons anymore. The oldest three made a list of what they would like to learn about this summer and we are going to go off of that. Two want biology and insects so we are using curriculum I have but i will not make them write out answers if they do not want to etc. It's so much easier that way isn't it? Just letting them learn in their own way without having to force anything. I have just come to accept that we work in waves, a bit of structure when we feel we need it and zero structure when it gets tiring. I definitely have to limit the extracurriculars though. I just can't do it. They love going out but I am more of a homebody. i have to do things for me too right? a stressed out mom is no bueno. i think i am going to let them pick 2 things per year and have them a bit staggered. so it looks like girl scouts and boy scouts, softball and basketball. other than that we might make a homeschool group one time thing here or there but that's it.

    1. I think the beauty of homeschooling in any manner is the ability to see all of the learning in action. An engaged child is pulling in information and making connections. We seem to work in waves here to. If the girls (and myself!) are feeling uninspired and bored, I try to change things up, introduce a new concept, or search for an exciting (low cost) outing. I don't make my girls write out answers to questions if we're doing a strutured activity, but sometimes they want to. Other times they're off and asking/answering/looking up more questions of their own. We try to strike a balance between busy-out-and-about and homebody days, but I think our balance is almost seasonal. Finding what works for you and your family, rather than following arbitrary expectations, is the important part I think. Megan, I still think our families would really get along well if we just didn't live so far apart! :)

  2. Hi there:) I recently wrote a similar post about our week. Its great to write it out sometimes and see just how much learning takes place! Your week sounded fun too:)

    1. I love that your son designed his own solar oven. Nice!


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