Aug
26

10 Things I’ve Learned As An Unschooling Parent

My family started our unschooling journey 6 years ago when we decided not to put our first born child into Kindergarten. We made the decision without a deep understanding of homeschooling. We wanted to travel with our children and homeschooling seemed to be the right thing to do to support this lifestyle.

Since that fateful decision to keep our children out of public school, we have developed a strong philosophy in regards to home education and how children learn.  We believe that children are born curious and that if that curiosity is nurtured, it will continue.

What is Unschooling?  Unschooling can mean different things to different people.  What unschooling means to me is simply educating my children without the use of curriculum or coercion.

Here are 10 things that I have learned as an unschooling parent:

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  1. Trust in your philosophy.  Your philosophy will be challenged. Frequently.  It is hard not to get caught up in other peoples’ expectations of what learning should look like.  When people you love and care about cannot see value in how you choose to educate, it can become really hard to not succumb to the ridicule.  You must be strong in your beliefs.
  2. Trust in yourself.  Just as others will question you, you will question yourself.  I have not yet had a year go by where I don’t have at least one breakdown where I wonder if I am doing my children a disservice by not making them learn what they “should” be learning.  There will always be doubts.  Feel those doubts and then move through them.  Question yourself and then find your answers.  Know that it is normal to doubt yourself but also recognize the beauty of the world you are creating for your children.
  3. Notice Learning.  One of the things that has helped me immensely in my self-doubting moments is to notice when learning is actually happening.  This noticing started when I was with a Distributed Learning Program called Self Design . Each week I would choose two or three things that my children were learning about and write about what I saw.  The process was very similar to journaling and it allowed me to see that learning happens all the time.  Playing Pokemon is learning, reading a book as a family is learning, noticing the ecosystem in a pond is learning.  This journaling helped to set the stage to becoming more aware of all the different ways children can learn from the life that surrounds them.
  4. Find Community.  If we did not have the love and support from our homeschooling community I don’t know if we would have made it this far.  Surrounding yourself with people who are on a similar journey becomes even more important when you are making unconventional choices.  Our family spends time with the other families in our community 3-4 days a week when we are not traveling.  My children see the same friends consistently and have deep-rooted, meaningful relationships with children of all ages.
  5. If you can’t find community, make one.  If there is not a community of homeschoolers or unschoolers in your area then make one!  You will never find your tribe if you do not make an effort.  Start a facebook group, start a homeschooling co-op, organize homeschooler get-togethers, throw a party, do something that will gather your tribe and stick with it.  Developing community takes time and commitment but the satisfaction of belonging to a tribe is worth every effort.
  6. Learning doesn’t happen on a schedule.  While the school system wants every child reading by six years old, ask any unschooler when a child should be reading and they will tell you, “When they are ready!”  I am living this truth right now.  We have always provided a home rich in literacy. We read to our children, have books on hand, answer their questions, have the alphabet up on the wall, but we have never forced reading with a curriculum.  For our family, this has meant that our ten-year-old has just become what I would call a “fluent reader” and our nine-year-old is just starting to be able to read simple books.
  7. It’s OK if they don’t learn everything.  This is a hard one to swallow.  Most people can kind of, maybe, sort of, wrap their heads around unschooling for some subjects but I always get the question, “What about math?”  Well, what do they need to know?  Personally, I think that we should all know adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.  We should understand fractions and decimals.  Math concepts are important but once we have the concept do we need to do worksheet after worksheet?  Frankly, I remember none of the math I took past elementary school. Granted, I do not work in a math-related field, but I do trust that if my children need a math skill there is nothing stopping them from obtaining it.  We treat math like we treat the rest of our learning, it will happen naturally.  Does this mean we have never practiced math?  Not at all!  Life is full of math!  When my children started their own business this year selling pop at our local market we learned long addition and subtraction, profit and loss, as well as the percentage of tax.
  8. Unschooling is a lot of hard work.  I think there is a confusion when it comes to unschooling that unschoolers do nothing all day other than play Minecraft (although some days do look like that!).  Unschooling is actually a lot of work!  Unschoolers are using all the means at their disposal from libraries, to community classes, to art galleries, to museums, to local mentors. Unschoolers are using their communities as their classrooms.  Unschooling parents are watching and listening to their children, and when we see a spark of interest we are there to help facilitate that learning by helping with finding books, classes, YouTube videos, and mentors to help our children to pursue their interests.
  9. Children are curious.  There comes a point in public school where enthusiastic curiosity starts to wane.  This does not happen to unschoolers in my experience. Humans are curious creatures and, if given the tools and resources, they will continue to learn about things that interest them.
  10. It takes a village.  Community, friends, family, loved ones, and mentors all have a part to play in educating our children.  As unschooling parents, we need to draw on the people that surround us for support and mentorships to our children.  We can all learn from each other.

Mar
31

Jiggidy Jig

Home again home again, jiggly jig.

As always, it feels so good to be home. Sleeping in our own bed, a fully stocked kitchen, a flush toilet, a hot shower. These things we take for granted that are such incredible luxuries.  I am so grateful to be home. In our house we created, in a country that we love. As with any country, Canada has its problems, but I would choose a life in Canada over anywhere else in the world.

We are busy digging in. Both literally and figuratively. The spring garden has been planted, we are looking to add some ducks to our chicken flock and a couple of pigs to raise for meat.  We have come home full of energy and new ideas.  A new business is in the works and old ones are being vamped up.  We are visiting with friends and throwing parties.  Nothing makes you appreciate what you have more than travel.

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We truly enjoyed America.  The landscapes were beautiful. We enjoyed camping out in the desert and visiting National Parks.  We visited with family and got to explore Las Vegas. It was a good trip.

The currency exchange from Canadian to American busted our budget. Even though we hardly ever paid for accommodation we still spent more than expected simply due to the exchange rate.  I’d travel again to America, but only when our dollar is closer to par.

Mar
23

Beautiful Utah

We had a hard time deciding which way we would go once we started to head North. We REALLY wanted to take the kids to the Red Wood Forests but the weather forecast for Northern California and Oregon called for extreme weather so mother nature made up our minds for us and we headed home through Utah!

We had never been to Utah before and did not know what to expect.  We were not disappointed.  Utah felt clean and crisp after the dust of the desert for the last few months.  Our first stop was Zion National Park.

We were so happy we came here early in the season as we learned that in the summer this park sees 5000 vehicle loads of tourists per day.  While the park was still touristed when we were there, we were allowed to drive our own vehicle in as the shuttles were not yet running (after mid-march you cannot drive in the park and must take the shuttle).  The campground at the park entrance was only 1/4 full.  A relief after our experience in Joshua Tree.  But the weather was just fine and the signs of spring were starting to emerge.

We were blown away by the landscape at Zion. Towering red cliffs on all sides marked with misty waterfalls and excellent hiking trails.  Simply gorgeous.

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After a few days of hiking and exploring we were ready to move on from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park, a few hours drive North.  The drive up to Bryce was stunning.  Seriously Utah, you are beautiful!

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We did not stay long at Bryce. There was snow on the ground and we were starting to get itchy feet to head home. We spent an afternoon exploring the beauty of the canyon before starting the long trek home.

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Mar
21

VW Love

You know you have a love affair with your van when you take a road trip and come home with dozens of pictures of it in different places.  This post is a little bit silly but here is a snapshot of our road trip encased in Volkswagen love!

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Mar
03

A Peek Inside Our Van

I always love, love, love to read posts that share pictures inside traveller’s accommodation. It is with that thought in mind that I share a little peek inside our home on wheels.  I didn’t clean up before I took these pictures but we are all friends here right?  Besides, it is good to see the chaos that ensues when four people are living in such a tiny space!

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Here we have the master bedroom. Hehehe.  This bench seat folds into a bed with our clothes cupboards adjacent.

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This is the view from the master bedroom.  Kitchen on the left, toilet on the right.  In the kitchen we have a small fridge, three burner stove, a sink, and storage for dishes.

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Here we have another view of our luxurious bathroom.  There is no privacy in a van!

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This is the view going to the second floor.  Yes, our van has two storeys!  The plywood you see is the platform for the kids bed.  When we are not sleeping that is pushed back to provide more head room. They access the bed by climbing up on the kitchen counter and climbing into the bed.

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Geez, I could have at least made the bed before I had guests over! This is a view of the kids’ bed. There is not much head room up there but it is just fine for sleeping.

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Here is our storage space that lies above the front seats.  It holds most of our gear and dried food.

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Seems so luxurious doesn’t it?

Camping in a van with four people for extended periods of time is a wee bit tough.  We really don’t have a lot of space to put our things.  When we stock up on groceries it feels like we are literally bursting at the seams.  The hardest times are morning and bed time when we are all in the van trying to get ready. We need to take turns while the other people find a corner to sit in.  And of course we don’t have a shower which means we get a bit stinky sometimes.

Despite these small hardships van life is otherwise great.  It is cheap on fuel and we can park it anywhere. We can go places that the bigger rigs cannot go.  Even though we have to fill up on water and empty our porta-potty often it is still much more economical than filling and dumping a motorhome.  The solar panel we installed on the roof top takes care of all of our electricity needs so we never need to plug in.

If we were to do another road trip in this van we would figure out some better storage solutions and possibly a rooftop solar shower.

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Van life, how sweet it is!

Feb
27

Joshua Tree…Awesome and Annoying

We (actually not WE…I take the blame on this one) made the mistake of heading to Joshua Tree National Park on the weekend.  I thought I was being smart when we decided to head there on a Thursday as we read the park camping fills up completely on the weekend.  My logic was if we headed in on Thursday we could secure a spot and take our time enjoying the park.

When we arrived on Thursday at 2pm we went immediately to find a camping spot. We tried three different campgrounds in the park and found only three empty spots out of at least 200 sites. All the spots we found were less than ideal.  They were all made for tenting which meant that we would literally be sleeping in a parking lot like situation and have to walk in 30 feet to use a picnic table.  One of them was just OK but our neighbours picnic table would be situated about four feet from the door of our van.  We decided to try to hold this spot while Mike looked for something better. The kids and I got out of the van to sit and wait while Mike went for one last effort to find a better spot.

Twenty minutes later Mike came roaring back to where we were holding the mediocre spot and told us to get in quick! He had said hello to some campers and they asked him if he was looking for a spot. He said yes and they said they were just packing up to leave.  The spot was pretty much the coolest spot that we had seen in all of our searching. Score!  Friendliness pays my friends!

Here is our kick ass camp site:

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The perfect spot!

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Our campground from the distance.

After the elation of knowing we had completely lucked out we settled in to our campsite.  All day long campers drove in and out of the campground looking for spots that were already occupied.  This parade of campers continued into the night and started to really grate on our nerves.  It seemed as though people were driving in all night long on Thursday and Friday night and each time it would wake us up as they drove by our site.  Friday night was the worst and we got hardly any sleep.  Campers across the way had friends meet up with them at 2am on Friday night and it took them an hour to set up camp. They were so loud that we laid awake waiting for them to finally finish, listening to their car doors slam at least twenty times.  I have to wonder how it is that people can even come into the park so late at night. I know in Canada parks close down at 10pm and the entrance gates are locked to avoid this very scenario.  Does this not happen in American parks? Can someone enlighten me?

We noticed that when campers left for the day to explore they packed up pretty much all of their camp gear and then unloaded again when they got back.  We took this as a hint that there may be a theft problem and made sure to pack up anything of value when we went hiking.  On the last day we were there we came back to camp to discover that someone had come into our camp and stolen all of our firewood!!!  When we told the park ranger he said, “Yup, people will steel anything here.”

Being that this is such a popular park with its close proximity to LA and San Diego I now know to never come here on a weekend.

OK. Enough complaining.  Really we had a good time at this park despite the busyness.

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Joshua Tree is really a stunning, out of this world kind of place.  There are these huge piles of boulders perched seemingly precariously on each other strewn throughout the park.  The rocks are like super grit sand paper which makes scampering up them easy and scamper we did!

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We managed to get a few hikes in each day, trying to keep each hike under two miles.  Our favourite area was actually the area around our campsite (Belle Campsite) as it was far enough away from the main attractions to actually get the feeling like we had the rocks to ourselves when we explored.  We learned a tonne about the local plant and wildlife from the kids participation in the Junior Ranger program which I highly recommend.

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So while our feelings of this park is mixed based on our experience there I would still recommend the journey simply for its stunning landscape.  It is popular for a reason!

Feb
24

A Secret Hot Springs in the Desert

Camped outside of the tiny town of Wikieup, Arizona, our mission was to explore the local mining area in search of yet more rocks.  What we didn’t expect was to find a hot springs all to ourselves!

As with most of the adventures we have had on this American road trip, our knowledge of places stem not from any good research on our part but on the advice and recommendations of others.  We were told by some snowbirds about this out-of -the-way hot springs and of course we had to try to find it ourselves.

The hot springs is called Kaiser Hot Springs.  We googled it on our phones and found that someone had written about it and gave a GPS location.  We were then able to get a topical view of the area on google and then back track the dirt road to the highway in order to find our way in. (I’ll post directions for you intrepid travellers at the bottom of the post).

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The road in was sometimes decent and sometimes grinding. I would recommend a four wheel drive vehicle if you are attempting this road.  We drove in as far as we could before the road got too hairy for our liking and then we walked in the rest of the way through a canyon wash.  The hike in was not strenuous and took us about a half hour with stunning scenery along the way.

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We were rewarded for our efforts with the small pool of Kaiser Hot Springs all to ourselves.  The water was bathtub warm which was perfect for the warm (but not hot!) spring day.

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Our one mistake of the day was not packing a lunch. We could have stayed much,much longer if it weren’t for the growling of our bellies.

Kaiser Hot Springs is between Wikieup and Burrow Creek State Park.  Heading South from Wikieup the turn off is between Signal Road and the large bridge that spans the canyon. The turn off is unmarked and easy to miss. Slow down once you see the bridge and it is on the right side about 100 meters before the bridge.  Once on the road stay to the right at the first Y and follow the road around the knoll and then towards the canyon.  When you can’t go any farther continue on foot in the canyon bottom and you will reach it after about a mile of walking.

Feb
18

Ya-Ya-Ya-Yuma

We were definitely the youngest people around when we camped at the LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) at Imperial Damn near Yuma Arizona.  This is the place for retirees! Wowza!  So, so, so many people from the Northern States and Canada make their way down to Yuma to winter in the glorious warmth of Southern Arizona.

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Imperial Damn LTVA provides a place to dry camp with facilities to dump sewer and grey water as often as you need. For this service a small fee is charged. We opted for the $40 fourteen day stay although we only ended up staying for six nights.  The camping spots are dry and dusty and reminded us of camping in a gravel pit. Not the most scenic camping and although I can see the draw for other folks it just didn’t do much for us.

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As the name Imperial Damn suggests, there is water at this site. Unfortunately only a handful of the camp spots actually had a view of it.  Of course we went down to explore the cold water and found, to our delight, MUD!

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Our kids favourite part about this camping spot (besides the mud of course!) was the wild donkeys that frequented camp.  Hello Donkey!

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There were quite a few giggles when we spotted this one. Ha!

We made our way into Yuma a couple of times while we were there.  The back way was beautiful, full of agriculture.  We learned that 90% of North America’s winter lettuce is grown around Yuma.  We also stopped at Imperial Date Farms to try the renowned Date Shake.  Oh My Buddha. Date shakes are the bomb!  We had never seen date trees before either.  Here is what they look like:

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The highlight of our Yuma experience (besides the date shakes!) was watching a civil war reenactment.  I maintain the fact that travel is one of the best ways to educate.  Growing up in Canada I didn’t know much of anything about the American Civil War save for the fact that it happened. This was a great way to learn about it for sure…although my goodness those cannons are way too loud!

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Feb
14

Wild West At Castle Dome Museum

Ever heard of Castle Dome City? Apparently it was quite the place back in the day with over 3000 inhabitants (more than Yuma at the time).  The business of the day was mining and a lot of hearty men and women made their fortunes in this city.

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Now Castle Dome is a ghost town but two history loving individuals have turned this ghost town into a lovely museum. Allen and Stephanie Armstrong bought the ghost town in the mid 90’s and recreated the town as what it would have been like in its heyday.

The museum has over 50 original buildings in it filled with artifacts found strewn throughout the abandoned city.

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We totally lucked out when we went to Castle Dome Museum.  On the day we came there was a Wild West reenactment! The staff was all dressed up like they came straight out of the late 1800’s and we were treated with an hour worth of skits portraying some of the stories that came out of Castle Dome City. Think prostitutes, robberies, and gun fights in the streets! What a great way for us to learn some history!

And of course once we were done watching the reenactments we had to reenact some of our own sketches.

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The museum costs $10 per adult and $5 per child. We felt it was worth the price of admission. We spent three hours there and could have spent longer if we didn’t need to head back to camp to eat lunch. Find the museum between Quartzsite and Yuma on Highway 95. It is at the end of a 10 mile washboard dirt road. If you are looking for a great place to camp we camped at the turn off to Big Eye Mine about a half mile before the Museum entrance.

Feb
11

Castle Dome and Big Eye Mine

An hour North of Yuma, Arizona lies the once bustling but now deserted area of Castle Dome.  We found another beautiful spot to camp under the towering rock formation from which Castle Dome takes its name.

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We camped in this spot for several days, exploring the area on foot and by vehicle.  In an epic trip we took the 4×4 only dirt road up in behind Castle Dome to visit one of the largest deserted mines in the area, Big Eye Mine.  The mine was only 25 miles from our campsite but it took us three hours to reach it.  My body still aches in remembrance of the bumpy, jarring but beautiful road.

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On the way up we stopped at an area that was full of mines.  We kept our children very close at hand as we explored the area as most of the mines have been abandoned without any care for the safety of others.  There were literally holes in the earth that went 150 feet straight down. If you fell in, you would not come out alive.

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Straight down into the earth.

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Once we reached the area of Big Eye Mine we made the easy climb to the base camp. There we saw the abandoned cabins the miners had used for accommodation.  We were able to peer into the mines that went into the side of the mountain and learn about the process for which they extracted the ore and sent it down the mountain to be taken by train to a smelter in Texas.

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It took us a further two hours to come down the mountain. Why is it always so much faster coming home?

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And we made it back just in time for this:

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