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.

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!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Unschooling Path to "Success": What is it?

I frequently run across discussions on homeschool blogs, groups, and message boards on the topic of a child's success--more specifically, what direction they should be steered toward to ensure they will be successful adults. College or not? At age 18 or 21?

I have a number of problems with this.

My issue isn't that the debate can get rather lively on the subject, but rather the idea that there is supposed to be a single, unified answer to the question in the first place.
Problem 1: What is "Success"?

How is success defined? The trouble with the word success is that the answer varies based on who you ask. A cross-section of homeschoolers asked this question might offer answers like these:

*Having a status career, such as doctor, lawyer, celebrity, or professional athlete

*Having lots of money and status "toys"

*Getting paid to do something they love

*A life involved in helping others and the planet

*A good marriage and raising a happy family

*The ability to find inner peace and serenity whatever the circumstances

*Attaining popularity with many friends

*Following spiritual beliefs to the best of ability

So right there we have eight possible viewpoints on what constitutes success.  Which one most closely meets your personal definition?

Problem 2: Different Goals Need Different Approaches

If one person's definition varies from the next, it stands to reason that there is no one answer as to how to achieve the end goal. In the above list, it's easy to see one path won't necessarily work for all goals. College, for instance, may be the only route to becoming a doctor, but it isn't necessary or even relevant to other goals such as a wonderful home life, spiritual path, or launching certain careers.

Problem 3: We are Not Our Children

Our definition of success may not be the same as our child's, and we need to be okay with that. Of course we have certain hopes and dreams for our offspring, but pushing them onto a path to meet our expectations doesn't allow a child to grow into their own unique success. Respect a child as an individual and be willing to guide them onto whatever path best supports their current life goals...which brings me to one more problem.

Problem 4: Times--and People--Change

I've asked myself the "What is success?" question off and on over the years, and the answers have changed even as I have developed as an individual. Ask a 3-year-old what they want to be when they grow up and you'll likely get a very different answer when they are 8, 12, and 18.  So should you plan ahead for college when they're 4? Absolutely. But should you insist that they go when the time comes if they have other ideas? I say not.

It can be hard to let go and trust a child with things like the future. We'd rather they learned from our own experience and mistakes instead of their own. But honestly, how open is a child to learning when it is required rather than desired?

My own college education began after I was 35. I went back to school to pursue a career path I ultimately decided against, but nevertheless I spent two years in classes. It was hard, going to school full time when I already had the adult responsibilities of a job and family, and some might wonder whether I'd have been better off having had college right out of high school. But because it was my personal choice to attend, I appreciated the experience more. I thrived in the setting, excelled in my classes, and absorbed knowledge that enriched my world view and my understanding of who I am. Had I been pushed into college in my teens, it would have been a whole different story. I was in a wholly different place back then and much would have been lost on me. I wound up going at the right time for me rather than the right time as determined by common practice.
Does this mean I think kids should avoid college or wait until their thirties? No way. But we don't all dance to the same drummer, so why should all kids be forced to start college at the same time-or at all, for some? We homeschool our children because we recognize the benefit of a different approach from the mainstream. That philosophy doesn't need to stop when they come of age.

Times have changed as well. College is no longer the place where you stick a brand new adult in a learning mill and have them emerge with a guaranteed career. Many, many college grads cannot get jobs regardless of their education. In addition, many grown kids are falling back into the nest or are launching later in the first place. So what's the big hurry to shove a child out the door the minute they turn eighteen? If they want a year off to travel after high school or opt for a career that doesn't require university, why shouldn't they be supported to do so? They will continue to learn about the world because they'll still be in it.

My six grown children range in education from high school to vocational training and military education to Master's degree work, yet they all have one thing in common. I consider every single one of them a total and unmitigated success. All of them have learned how to think, how to learn, and how to adapt to the changing face of their futures. They set goals and find ways to achieve them based on what best fits their circumstances. And in the end, isn't that the best training we can give a child--the mental tools to pursue their unique definition of success?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Workboxes for Unschoolers: Organized Strewing

I'd describe our learning style as relaxed unschooling with occasional bursts of organizational insanity on my part, and I often find myself trying to brainstorm ways to bigger/badder/better whatever we're doing. This year, I am determined to be more aggressive about "strewing." For the uninitiated, strewing means leaving various items of interest lying around for a child to notice in hopes of sparking learning moments. But while I want to offer these opportunities more frequently, there's been a problem that has held me back: the issue of clutter.

We barely moved to a new place, and not only did we just get rid of a ton of excess junk I'm not eager to find replacements for, the new house is tidy and zen and I'd like to keep it that way as long as possible. We don't function well in a messy space, Bri included, so the thought of having "strew" lying out and piling up doesn't inspire me much. I wanted a way to offer a frequent variety of tidbits without the mess. 

That's when I remembered the rolling cart sitting empty and unloved in Bri's room.

For months I'd been wanting to re-purpose the cart, which we used for the workbox method we abandoned when we withdrew from the charter school. (Check out THIS POST if you're unfamiliar with workboxes.) Although I'd figured the workbox approach was history since we no longer did structured lessons, I liked the idea of it so much I kept the cart and labels in hopes of resurrecting it somehow. And that's exactly what I'm going to do...sort of.

The Unschooling Workbox

The typical method for workboxes involves filling each box (or drawer, in our case) with a worksheet, text, or activity to complete. The child goes through each box in order until they're empty for the day. What I'm going to do instead is stock the drawers with "strew" rather than required schoolwork. The cart currently sits in Bri's room beside her desk, and I'm going to leave it right there for now. She will not be required to look in the drawers or complete anything in them. I'll add new things and change the contents regularly to keep it intriguing.

 What kind of "strew" will go in the drawers? The same things that can go in regular workboxes: puzzles, card games, magazines, fun books, science activities, Play-Doh, mad libs, kid-friendly recipes, a magnifying glass, paper and paint/crayons, a bunch of different buttons, squishy balls, blocks, interesting newspaper clippings, jokes, fall leaves, pretty rocks, a new journal, a set of play money, a scavenger hunt list, a note offering a surprise trip to the library, museum, or other day trip...anything that can fit inside, really. And oh, workbooks. Yes, I said workbooks. If you read my post on When Workbooks are for Unschoolers, you'll understand why I believe they can be useful (for some kids) in an organic learning environment. Granted, Bri is FAR less enamored with them since the charter school, but after almost a year of deschooling I'm prepared to quietly reintroduce a few favored kinds to see where it leads. Maybe her earlier love for them will return. If not, like any other strew, she can choose to ignore them.

While the workbox plan might keep items contained, one of main ideas behind strew is that it is supposed to be, well, "strewn" about in the open where it can be encountered. Sticking stuff away in a drawer doesn't quite fit that bill. Won't it be an out of sight, out of mind thing? I'm hoping not. For one, Bri was very intrigued about her workboxes when they were introduced, and every day she would run to them wanting to see what new stuff would show up. I also have a drawer label called "Surprise!" that will pop up from time to time that will contain special things--for instance, the first in a series of clues leading her on a hunt for an item of interest, a new game, etc. Fun! Second, I will still be strewing the regular way, which at our house usually means interesting things appear on the dining room table at breakfast time--clay, crayons/paints, interesting articles, flyers for upcoming activities, books, cool rocks, etc. 

My other issue with strew is that it accumulates in the house. Over the years of homeschooling, our old apartment got pretty piled up with things she either liked and used, had liked at one time, or never showed interest in (but I kept them "just in case" she changed her mind. So I'm setting a new rule for strew: as contents are changed or added, decisions will be made immediately on items being cycled out. Rather than stockpiling a warehouse full of stuff on shelves and in closets, I vow to be as vigilant about letting go of old things as I plan to be in offering new ones.

By making the drawer items fun and changing them often, I have high hopes for the unschool workbox this year. I'm sure some refining will be involved. I'll post back with updates on whether it was a hit or a miss.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brianna's Wonder World Episode 4

Shopping Shenanigans abound when Bri decides to take Mom's wallet for a fast ride over to Walmart.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Double Sock Buns: Hairstyle of the Week!

As mentioned on Valentine's Day, we started doing our Hairstyle of the Week videos over on YouTube. Here's our very first, featuring adorable double buns that were easy to make...and as a bonus, see the photo below for the beautiful curls Bri wound up with after sleeping in the buns overnight!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Fun: Hairstyle!

Bri has been spending a lot of her learning time lately over on YouTube, and I took a cue from her this past week to explore hairstyle ideas. We've had so much fun with it that we'll be featuring a different style each week. Here's what we did for Bri's Valentine's Day hair:

This style idea came our way courtesy of (more photos and tutorial available there or on YouTube). It took about ten minutes to do and Bri loves it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Star Wars: Jedi Academy at Disneyland!

Bri recently got picked to be part of Disneyland's Star Wars: Jedi Academy show. It was awesome! Check it out here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Surprise Disney Tickets!

Brianna got a big surprise over the weekend!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Brianna's Wonder World Episode 2

Check out this week's episode: Dolls Gone Wild! Bri's dolls have a couple things to say about the new YouTube channel and pillow flight. (Yes, that's flight, not fight. Right?) Also, Bri (sort of) unboxes her Monster High Valentine's pencil set early.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Mingle

In my other guise as a romance author, I've done a few blog hops in my day...but this Monday Mingle is a first for Wonder World Classroom!

Thanks to Tough Cookie Mommy for launching this great hop.

About our unschooling family: I have seven children, all of whom are grown except the youngest, 9-year-old Bri. Almost all were exposed to some type of homeschooling at one time or another, beginning with the oldest back in 1988. None, however, were unschooled. We knew from age 3 that we wanted to homeschool Bri exclusively, and of the various forms we've tried, unschooling has worked best by far.

Our style of unschooling is rather middle-of-the-road, meaning we're not radical unschoolers, nor are we particularly structured. What IS structured for us is a mindset, a sort of radar switch that my husband Mike and I turn on every morning. That switch allows us to focus on what Brianna is doing/saying/interested in to use these as learning tools. It might be a quick lesson on calculating tax on a new toy, research on a segment we're filming for her new YouTube Channel, or a visit to the local museum. There is learning inherent in everything we do, and for us as unschooling parents, we keep on the lookout for those light-bulb-over-the-head moments when Bri is most receptive to learning a particular concept. We also watch out for the warning alarms that say we're trying too hard to impart something she is not ready for.

Anyway, we are happy to be jumping on the blog hop circuit! I am eager to meet some fellow hoppers. Happy Monday!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finding Social Group Interaction

One of the things we absolutely love about homeschooling  is the fact that Bri gets to socialize with kids and grownups of all ages rather than a select group of kids all the same age for 6 hours per day.  On the flip side, one of the things we struggle with in homeschooling is the fact that she doesn't get 6 hours per day of interaction with other kids. As the only child remaining in a house where the rest have grown up and gone onto other things, we have to find ways to satisfy her craving to be part of something involving groups of kids.

Several things have been tried in the past, but for various reasons, fizzled. Our homeschool group park days changed to days we're not available, a local PE program lasted for three months before she begged to stop, and attempts to contact the one and only girl scout troop in our area have not been responded to once I mentioned Bri is homeschooled.  (That will be looked into at some point soon.) She does attend the kid's club when my husband goes to the gym, but the number and ages of kids vary so much from time to time that it isn't always a good "kid time" outlet. (The last time, she was the only kid and spent her time playing with the teachers.)

Enter the dragon...or rather, the Tae Kwon Do studio by our house. She has been begging to take classes for quite a long time, and we finally signed her up this week. Not only will she be getting group interaction, physical activity, and training in self-defense, but the school has rules about students keeping their hair/teeth brushed, their rooms clean, and their attitudes respectful. She is so excited she floated three feet off the ground when she left the signup, and we're looking forward to seeing how things work out.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Brianna's Wonder World Episode 0.5

Brianna's first Wonder World video is here...sort of! Check it out and subscribe!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bri's YouTube Channel!

Bri is hard at work shooting her first video...except she experienced technical delays due to a disharmonious Feng Shui event in her room.

Here is her "coming soon" video!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Wonder Post on How Kids REALLY Learn to Write!

My oldest daughter, who has a background in early education and chose to unschool her first child, came across a blog post on another homeschool "wonder" blog, Wonder Farm. I just had to turn around and share this great post here. Patricia Zaballos' insights on the subject of teaching kids to write really provided sound encouragement.

Since my husband and I are both published fiction authors, one might actually think we had at least a modicum of confidence on the subject of teaching writing to our child. Alas, it's not true. Bri from the beginning has had difficulties with penmanship and putting thoughts to paper, in part because we suspect some issues like dysgraphic and dyslexia. 

Check out this great post by following the link below. I hope you get as much out of it as I did. Thanks, Patricia!

Monday, January 7, 2013

We're Back--and Unschooling Again!

Still Livin' and Learnin'
It's been a long while since we've posted to Wonder World Classroom, largely because of a phenomenon we experienced as soon as we joined the charter school we were part of for two years. We joined as unschoolers, a philosophy the school happily told us they embraced. Insofar as was possible for a charter whose funding depends on adhering to common core standards. 

So what happened?

We were required to show that Bri was being taught the concepts her grade level "should" be focused on, an idea which pretty much runs counter to our personal view of unschooling. Gone was spontaneous learning from the process of life and Bri's own interests. Enter mandatory essays, work packets, and (gasp) standardized testing. We struggled to show core standard instruction every month for a child whose heart (and right-brained spirit) is strongly anchored to experiential learning. And I do mean we struggled. Our membership to the local museum lapsed, our weekly trips to the library dwindled to monthly, and park trips with other homeschoolers fizzled. This blog went kablooey. In short, we were too busy "schooling" to get around to learning. And much more important, the fire for learning Bri had found with unschooling fizzled, replaced by frustration, boredom, and many tears.

It's been a long journey, and when the decision was made to pull her out and return to unschooling, there was a lot of parental guilt and soul-searching about whether leaving was the right thing, or whether joining the charter had simply been a mistake in the first place.

And then I remembered what unschooling was all about for us. Living=learning. We didn't stop the past two years. Bri has learned a great deal, even if the specific concepts the school said she "should" have been learning were not mastered. We learned a valuable lesson about the importance of unschooling at our house. It's not only the best course for Bri. At this point, it's the only course.

So we're back! And now that Bri is reading and writing, she's excited about participating herself on the blog. She also plans to launch her own YouTube channel, posting videos about what she's up to. 

It's great to be back...and wonderful to return to the process of learning with the world as our classroom.