This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Geocaching- A Perfect Unschooler Activity

Geocaching app-location map
As a relaxed/mixed unschooler who firmly believes in "strewing" and offering activities to my daughter, I'm always on the lookout for interesting ideas. The latest find is one the family had great fun with this past weekend--geocaching.

For the uninitiated, geocaching is a sort of global treasure hunt where people hide boxes or "caches"all over the world for others to find via GPS (on a smartphone or handheld unit). The caches may be tiny, the size of a hide-a-key box or smaller, or they might be very large. Inside the geocaches, there might be little toys, coins, or other fun items that you can take (and swap for a trinket you leave in its place), but many hold only a log book for you to sign when you find it. Some are fairly straightforward to find right around town, while others are more challenging and off the beaten path. Chances are there are many caches around your hometown. There are over 2 million caches hidden worldwide!

Our 1st find! Hide-a-key size
Participating in geocaching is as easy as going to the official website, You can sign up there and start searching for nearby caches right from your computer. Then you can download an app for your phone that will help you find caches on the go! 

This whole thing sounded right up my family's alley, and we were eager to give it a try.  Our first day out, we found 3 caches and searched for 2 others we couldn't quite spot (they can be a little tricky to keep random folks from stumbling over them by accident).  Bri was thrilled when we found the third box and there was a tiny costume jewelry ring inside. We traded it for money and signed the book.

From a learning perspective, geocaching offered several opportunities rolled into one:
Technology (using GPS)
Social Studies-
Bri sports her treasure
Social Responsibility (replacing the cache carefully; honor system of taking only one item and swapping it for something of equal or greater value)
Phys Ed-some hiking and depending on the difficulty level, climbing can be required to get to caches
Language Arts and Logic-Reading clues, some which can be vague, about cache locations. Decrypting special hints that are often available.s

This can be a fun companion activity while traveling to new places, and for a challenge, families who like camping or hiking in woods or other out-of-the-way locales may try their hand at some of the tougher caches!

We plan to do more geocaching, and eventually, we may even hide one of our own. That would offer Bri a whole other side to this unique learning experience: picking out a suitable weatherproof container, deciding what items to include in it, finding a hiding place, writing up the description and clues, submitting it to the geocaching site, and being responsible for maintaining the cache once approved.

If you decide to try this, be sure to check out the 101 videos on the geocaching website. Make sure to go prepared--wear jeans and practical shoes, take water, and I recommend gloves or at very least, a wary eye (spiders sometimes weave their work nearby caches). Also, bring a pen or pencil so your family can sign the log books!

Have you tried geocaching? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When Unschooling Just Doesn't Work

I have a confession to make. I flunked Unschooling 101 last semester. 

This was far from an easy realization, since I believe in the concept of free-range learning wholeheartedly. In fact, I daresay it's impossible to get through life without unschooling whether a person means to or not. That said, unschooling was not the answer for us--at least, not in the way we were doing it.

We had reverted to unschooling after a stressful charter program experience prompted us to withdraw from the program. Bri was allowed to self-select activities, although I frequently "strewed" items of potential interest as well as suggestions. As a deschooling method, this worked wonders. She made huge gains in the reading and spelling she'd struggled with, and she regained some of the confidence lost when charter requirements made her feel "dumb". After a while, however, I found our unschooling approach seemed to be causing more problems than it solved.

Clutter creates mental chaos for us!
The more academic and personal freedom my daughter was given, the unhappier she became. Her behavior grew difficult. Her room was a health department nightmare. She was irritable from lack of sleep and got sick frequently. The group of playmates she self-selected were an unruly bunch who created nothing but stress, fear, and drama. 

After taking stock of the steadily mounting pile of issues, I put the brakes on this runaway train. One of the biggest reasons I homeschool is to have the freedom to tailor learning experiences to the child. If something isn't working, it's time for a change--so I did some soul searching. Some kids can skip happily through day after day of unplanned spontaneity.  Bri, on the other hand, has drilled us since she could talk for details on what the day/week/year's schedule holds.  Other kids  function just fine with a messy room. Clutter in Bri's room (or the house) makes a big impact on her focus and state of mind.

It occurred to me that a child whose very nature is to seek order and a consistent schedule may not be the best candidate for a "whatever the winds may bring" approach to life and learning. She thrives best on structure, and lots of it. So that's what I gave her. In fairness, I didn't just drop unschooling like a hot potato and run screaming into traditional academia. We put pieces back together a step at a time. Her room was reassembled into a functional space. "Bedtime" became more than an idle concept. A set time for learning was reestablished, and we went back to using workboxes--first one or two a day, then more. And a big shift happened in terms of playmates and unsupervised time.  

I won't say she was delighted to embrace this global change. However, she was thrilled to get her room back shipshape, and I saw the marked relief that seemed to follow having a schedule to rely on. In the months since, things have gotten back on track, enough to know that for now, we're on the best path for us.

Our unschooling fun is staying!
Unschooling hasn't gone away totally. Remnants stayed with us, and will continue as we begin the new school year next week. Last term, we used Disneyland/CA Adventure as an interesting learning tool that we will continue the rest of the year (thanks to annual passes). She was allowed to self-select some topics to study this year, including world religions and learning Mandarin Chinese. More of her learning will take place from videos and personal research than from rote workbooks or text (although those will still be included). And we will have one designated "unschooling day" per week, where she is free to pursue current interests. (These differ from a regular day off because they take place during set hours and she will be asked to use her OneNote journal or notebooking to record her discoveries.)

I'm looking forward to a productive year, but the thing I most want to remember is that as a homeschooling parent, I want to look for signs that a better way to learn is needed, preferably before the yarn ball unravels.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Allowance Game –Review

My daughter is at the age where she does her own transactions when buying toys, food, etc. However, she has difficulty remembering coin values, routinely mixes up quarters and nickels, and often gets confused switching from counting by fives to counting by ones when she has multiple denominations. As unschoolers, workbooks aren’t our go-to for teaching these concepts (and we had little success with it during our “school-at-home” phase). Since Bri was frustrated by her lack of money know-how, I decided to look for a fun way to reinforce the basics.

Enter The Allowance Game by Lakeshore Learning Materials. ($16.99 on Amazon.) This board game can be played by 2-4 players, suggested ages 5-11. The object of the game is to be the first player to save up $20 in allowance and earnings.

The board and play is reminiscent of Monopoly. You move a token around and either earn or pay out money depending on what square you land on. The play “money” includes coins as well as cash and looks quite similar to the real thing. There’s an option to let everyone be their own banker, and we play that way so Bri can learn to make her own change.

Bri was very excited to get this game, and we have played many rounds in the couple of weeks we've had it. Like Monopoly, sometimes the game is over pretty quick, while other times it takes forever for someone to get to $20. Several types of earning and spending are covered. Earn money for birthdays and allowance or by doing specific chores, like babysitting. Deposit money in a savings account and accrue interest. Or buy a lemonade stand and earn money from other players. Spending can happen for shopping or activities, but money can also be lost or paid out in fines. There's the overdue library book square, for instance, where one must not only pay a fine, but lose a turn.

Within the first game I noticed Bri was already grabbing appropriate numbers of dimes without counting onesy-twosy. She’d equated two quarters automatically as fifty cents, which impressed me since she’s had particular trouble skip counting quarters. She was learning without even realizing it—she was too busy having fun.
We’ve had this game for a couple weeks now and have played many times. She continues to hone her money skills and enjoy playing. I expect that as she perfects counting the small stuff, she will lose interest in favor of games like Monopoly or Life. For now, we’re quite satisfied.

You might be wondering why we don’t just teach with real money rather than buying a game. We do sometimes play “store”, which Bri loves, but I prefer play money for that as well. We don’t keep lots of denominations of cash on hand, for one thing. Plus, real money is so danged dirty that I’m not wild about playing with it. Beyond this, while Bri does do real transactions, it isn’t constant enough for the concepts to stick. Even playing store involves a lot more play than money-changing. There’s nothing wrong with that! However, this game offers a lot more exposure to money changing from minute to minute, so it’s a more intensive experience. Finally, Bri gets anxious and embarrassed in front of vendors when she isn’t sure what she’s doing. This game is improving her automaticity without the stress so she’ll be more confident dealing with the real thing. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New for Strew: Update on our Unschooling Workboxes

Still love this, but it's sitting on hold for now!
 I posted recently about how I was going to repurpose our old workbox system (a 10-drawer rolling cart like this one) into a way of keeping our “strew” under control in our new—and not particularly large—townhouse. Well, I haven’t fully jumped on that idea yet. I haven’t abandoned the thought—Bri really loved opening the drawers to see what treasures she’d find inside—but I immediately hit on something I wanted to try more.

A cool under-stairs storage area

I picked up one of these bin-style toy carts and tucked it away inside the cupboard under our stairs (which we’ve jokingly dubbed “Privet Drive,” but I digress). Now, I have an easy place to store “strew” when I’m not leaving it out for Bri to find.

kay, I realize this is hardly an innovative solution since I’m betting one out of every four or five homeschooling houses has this exact same storage bin setup. What got me excited about it is that it offers me a quick and interchangeable grab-and-go solution for offering fun activities without the mess. And we’ve got it right next to the dining table, which is where art, projects, and games happen most often.

Our bins are currently stocked with Play-Doh, art supplies, a puzzle Grandma sent, laminated fact sheets on the 50 states and U.S. Presidents that I will be turning into a game, dice games, blocks, library books, workbooks-for-fun, and more. Even better, some of the boxes are still empty, or are about to be emptied out, so as I acquire strew it will have an automatic (albeit potentially temporary) “home”.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but the cupboard under the stairs is nice and deep and just BEGGING to be turned into a super-secret kid’s nook for Bri to read, play, or hang out in. I’m thinking of repurposing it as a surprise for her birthday. Having the bins in there means it’s already stocked for fun!

Stocked for fun!