Unschooling: Our August 2016 adventures

I can’t believe it’s September already. This year seems to be flying by. It’s time to check in with a look at unschooling in August 2016, which featured some art, some alpacas, a concert, Battlestar Galactica and more.

This painting of Sarah's, "Imagine," won first place for 15- to 17-year-olds in the 2016 YorkFest.

This painting of Sarah’s, “Imagine,” won first place for 15- to 17-year-olds in the 2016 YorkFest.

If you’re new to seeing our days recapped in this format, check out our archive of previous wrapups here for some more info on why we take this approach and some other highlights of our adventures.

I love Sarah's hair. Not as much as she does, though.

I love Sarah’s hair. Not as much as she does, though.


Sarah’s reading in August has been focused on Double-Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it’s because we really do believe in the book or item!

She wants to finish the whole book before we leave for the Free to Be Unschooling Conference in late September, and has committed herself to a schedule of a chapter a day.

The interesting thing about this is that we used to have an unofficial family read-aloud time at night before bed, and as our bedtimes diverged (mine getting way earlier, mostly), we sort of stopped. It’s cool that Sarah decided on her own to bring back focused reading time!

One other project under way in our house right now: the creation of a “reading room” in a spare alcove. We have to get rid of a bed that’s there now and buy a futon-type thing, but then we’ll have a great reading space.

Our 4-H Alpaca Club show was this month, and Sarah place third in both obstacles and showmanship with Glacier.

Our 4-H Alpaca Club show was this month, and Sarah place third in both obstacles and showmanship with Glacier.

Movies and TV

A special note for our newer readers: I’d love for you to check out our post on learning from movies and TV shows. It really explains a lot about why we are such fans!

  • Scrubs: One of Sarah’s recent favorite series.
  • The Walking Dead: Chris and Sarah are watching this in the evenings and are getting ready to start Season 6. Sarah really does love her zombies!
  • Battlestar Galactica: Sarah and my mom, her Mommom, finished this in August. They always have a series going and watch an episode together when Sarah gets up each day.
  • Firefly: This was what Mom and Sarah picked up after Battlestar Galactica, at Dan’s suggestion.
For the 4-H fair, the Alpaca Club made posters this year, and Sarah chose as her topic "Alpaca Geography," exploring the countries where alpacas are native.

For the 4-H fair, the Alpaca Club made posters this year, and Sarah chose as her topic “Alpaca Geography,” exploring the countries where alpacas are native.

Video, board and card games

This is another area with prerequisite reading! I have a whole series about video-game learning that I’d also love for you to check out if you haven’t already.

  • MLB 15: The Show: Sarah’s new custom player, Kuekuatsu “Wolverine” Logan Jr. (yes, really) has been vying for a hitting streak.
  • The Sims 3: Chris got this for Sarah and she has absolutely adored it. She recreated the Wolverine Logan family of MLB fame and that’s who her Sims family is based on.
  • Destiny: Sarah got into this a couple years ago but found it really hard to play; lately, she has friends playing with her online and is really enjoying it again.
These doughnuts happened.

These doughnuts happened.

Places, projects and other odds and ends

4-H: This month, we had the club alpaca show, where Sarah placed third in both obstacles and showmanship with her new project animal, Glacier. We also had the 4-H fair, where her poster on “alpaca geography” and her Wildlife Club journals both won gold ribbons, the highest honor.

Dual enrollment: I mentioned in our un-curriculum plan for this year that Sarah wants to take dual-enrollment college classes at HACC, our community college. She took the first round of placement testing in August and really struggled with it, not because of the subject matter but because of the testing itself. Multiple choice has never been Sarah’s friend. She had a number of options, but what she eventually decided is that she wants to work on her test-taking strategies and take another round of placement exams in early November, so she can register for the January classes she wants.

New hair: Sarah got a blue-and-black mohawk. I got a bunch of blue put in the front of my hair. Both are awesome.

Doughnut day: Because we’re weird, Sarah, Chris, Dan and I spent a Sunday in late August driving around Lancaster County looking for gourmet doughnut shops before finally landing at Duck Donuts. It’s probably – definitely – good that it’s 45 minutes from our house, or else I would gain all the weight.

This is York Mayor Kim Bracey presenting Sarah with her YorkFest award.

This is York Mayor Kim Bracey presenting Sarah with her YorkFest award.

State ID: This is my PSA: If you have 16-year-olds who don’t want to start driving right away, go get them a legal state ID card. So, so, so many things are requiring a photo ID for her and we didn’t have one. Best $30-some I ever spent.

YorkFest: YorkFest is our local arts festival held every August. Each year, there’s an art show for kids and youth, and this year, Sarah won first place in the 15- to 17-year-old category for her painting “Imagine.” The prize is a $50 gift certificate to an art supply store run by our friend Rita, which could not possibly be cooler.

Pen-palling: Sarah has an amazing pen pal in Taiwan, a girl around her age named Christina. She and Christina share letters, gifts and emails all the time. In August, Sarah spent several days writing Christina a three-page missive on American holidays and how we celebrate them.

Concert: Sarah, my mom and I always go see Celtic Thunder in concert in Hershey, PA, and this year’s show was Aug. 21. It was amazing – probably my favorite one yet!

Baby shower: One of my nieces is having her first baby, a little girl who will be named Tova Grace, and we went to her baby shower in August. It was great to have all my sisters in one place! Only downside: A lack of air-conditioning at two venues for the weekend on one of the hottest days of the year.

News from the Mom front: I finished my second semester of grad school in August, and Dan and I launched a new website for work. It resulted in many, many late nights at work and some serious stress, but it really is nice, if I do say so!

So what’s new with your family this month? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”

The unschooled version of an 11th-grade-ish curriculum plan for 2016-17

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks inundated with back-to-school photos from friends across the country on Facebook, but for a “living is learning” family like us, there’s nothing special about this time of year… except that, for the fifth year in a row, I get to join the iHomeschool Network’s Not Back to School Blog Hop for “curriculum week!” This time, we’re looking at what unschooling 11th grade-style might look like during our last couple of years of mandatory reporting under Pennsylvania law.

Each year, I’ve heard from people literally around the world who loved seeing how an “un-plan” comes together. If you haven’t already, I invite you to check out our previous ideas, the unschooling version of a 10th-grade-is curriculum plan (2015-16), the unschooled version of a ninth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2014-15), the unschooled version of an eighth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2013-14) and the unschooled version of a seventh-grade-ish curriculum plan (2012-13).

Most days, we have no idea what we’re going to learn about until it happens. We make plans – of sorts – but the best opportunities always seem to be those that just arise naturally.

But I see great value in joining the “curriculum week” blog hop, mostly because I want to show other not-exactly-planning, not-exactly-at-a-grade-level, not-exactly-textbook people – and I know you’re out there – that you CAN make this homeschooling thing work!

So with that, here is…

The Conciliottoman family’s unschooling 11th grade plan

We like books.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links, which will make me a little bit of money if you choose to purchase any of the products I’ve mentioned through them. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it’s because we really do believe in the book or item!

We like history.

We like alpacas.

We like taking trips – to well-known destinations and, uh, some crazy out-of-the-way ones, too.

We like giving away stuffed penguins.

We like sports.

We like time with our family and pets.

We love going with the flow.

So how does this turn into “curriculum” – and what else will we be mixing in?

As well as I can, I’m going to try to do a subject-by-subject look; that’s NOT how we learn, and most of what we do is what would in my state documentation be called cross-curricular, but this way, if you’re using a planned curriculum in some subjects and want to mix in something we’re using in another, you can see how it might fit.

History, social studies and geography

Sarah remains incredibly passionate about World War II.

Right now, she’s focusing on spies and espionage, reading a book called Double Cross:The True Story of the D-Day Spies.

We also hope to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.; we’d planned to do that last year and just ran out of time. We also want to watch Grave of the Fireflies (which I HIGHLY recommend).

One of our other big focuses this year will be geography-related. Sarah has started and wants to spend more time working on a notebook with facts about different countries that interest her.

The biggest thing this year is that Sarah is working on being ready to take dual-enrollment courses at our local community college in the spring. She hopes to take a history or geography class, and that will of course be a huge change!

But before she can do that, we have to address one other topic…

Test-taking skills

Dual enrollment comes with a placement test. In order to do her best on it, Sarah’s spending this fall doing something she really hasn’t done for six years – learning how to take a standardized test.

The specific test she’ll take doesn’t have a lot of specific prep materials, except for one sample test she’s already done. So we’re improvising with a couple of books based on the GED, which should be at about the same level.

The first is the Steck-Vaughn Social Studies Test Preparation for the 2014 GED Test. There is actually not a social-studies component to Sarah’s placement test, but it’s one of her favorite topics, so we figured it’s just as good to learn the skills for doing well on these types of questions with a topic she really does like!

The other book we’re working through is GED Test Skill Builder: Reasoning Through Language Arts. This gets at the specifics of what Sarah’s placement test will include for reading comprehension, essay writing and that sort of thing.

This is going to be a big focus this fall for us, and will probably also make up a good part of our “language arts” credits this year too.


This year’s key topic for Sarah is astronomy, especially the planets. Her goal is to create a “Planets Notebook” like her “Countries Notebook” I mentioned above.

We’re super-lucky to be members at a local science museum that has a great Sci-Dome where we can watch all sorts of shows about earth and space. These are AMAZING and we’ve had a great time so far.

Also through that museum, Sarah is looking to take part in a program called STEM Sisters, designed to show girls in sixth through 12th grades about careers in science, technology, engineering and math. We’re looking forward to the kickoff of that in October!

Finally, Sarah is going to continue to take part in both the York County 4-H Alpaca and Wildlife Watchers clubs, where she’s taking on more leadership roles and participating in a bunch of statewide events.


So here’s a fun note: Sarah, who hates math – like whoa hates – took that part of her community college placement test already, and despite exactly zero required “book work” for math since she left public school in sixth grade, she tested into one of the 100-level college math classes, exactly where she would be if she was a high school graduate who hadn’t taken any advanced math classes.

Learning how math appears in the real world really works, friends!

As always, any resources we use above and beyond how we talk about math in life are only if Sarah is interested, and not anything we do “formally.”

But Sarah has long enjoyed the Life of Fred series, and this year, they came out with Life of Fred: Logic, which Sarah is totally into. To her, logic = philosophy, not math, and philosophy = awesome.

Therefore, logic = awesome. (See what I did there?)

Language arts

Sarah’s goal this year is to do well on her reading and writing placement tests, and to catch up on some of the many books she wants to read.

At her request, we came up with a “schedule” for each day that builds in time to read, and to do some work in her placement test books together. This is the formal-est we’ve been in a long time, but I’m glad to do it because it is still all about helping Sarah reach the goals she has for herself!


This is another area that we spend plenty of time on every year.

Sarah is passionate about a particular style of art – acrylic ink on Yupo synthetic paper – that we do together, and she continues to build her portfolio of work. Already since our “official school year” began in July, she found out she won first place in our local YorkFest fine arts competition, and has more pieces selected to enter in our county fair later this month.

(You can see one of her paintings, a Star Trek-inspired creation called Geordi’s Visor, as the background to this post!)

One of her favorite things to do is make art to give as gifts. That’s been so fun to surprise friends around the country with!

Music, travel, physical education and other good stuff

It’s funny: I always lump this stuff together, but all in all it is probably the largest part of our learning, because it’s everything that happens in the real world that doesn’t fit neatly into a “subject” box, and that’s, uh, most of it!

I’ll try to list a few highlights here.

  • Home economics: We cook, we clean, we shop. In our family, those things aren’t “chores,” they’re just ways we interact together as a family, and we’ll keep doing that. Personal finance is another part we lump into this (and it’s also heavily mathematical)!
  • Physical education: Our biggest source of exercise continues to actually be part of our science “curriculum” – walking alpacas, maneuvering them through obstacles and otherwise putting in the hard work required on a farm! We also regularly play household games of baseball, basketball and soccer, hike A LOT, and generally try to stay active as much as we can. New this year, we joined a gym, so Sarah, Dan and I are working out at least semi-regularly there. (Sarah likes weight-lifting, like her idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger).
  • Music: Sarah has always loved music, but has really gotten into it even more in the past year. One of goals this year is to see more live-music concerts. She’d also love to see Hamilton on stage, but, uh, that’s probably not in the budget.
  • Travel: This is last, but definitely not least; it’s really one of the biggest parts of our learning each year. As with last year, our biggest excursion will be our trip later this month to Phoenix, Arizona, for the Free to Be Unschooling Conference. All of Sarah’s best friends will be there and we are looking forward to this like crazy.
  • Pen-pal fun: Sarah has a super-awesome pen pal in Taiwan named Christina, who she writes back and forth to and exchanges gifts and letters with, both by mail and email. Most recently Sarah wrote her a three-page letter describing all the American holidays, and she’s asked Christina to write her out some words in English and Mandarin Chinese so she can learn them!

So how and when do we “do” all this stuff?

I’ve mentioned before that the one thing we can count on almost every day is our family time before bed.

How to homeschool at nightFor night owls like us, this time might start anywhere from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. and go for a few hours!

This is our time to be together and be even more intentional than we try to be the rest of the day about doing stuff as a family.

We read together.

We watch movies and TV shows on Netflix.

We play board games and draw pictures and talk and laugh and pet cats.

It’s funny, because our days are often filled with work (for our house adults) and gaming (for Sarah). We see a lot of benefits to that too, but people who only know us during the daylight hours probably think we don’t do much together! We’re proud of our approach, though – because we spend our “prime time,” the hours we’re most alert, together!

Meanwhile, we also love to travel, and that’s a big part of our lifestyle. I mentioned some of our upcoming trips earlier in today’s post, and we have dozens more that we’d like to fit in.

Read more about our unschooling approach

If you’re newer to Unschool RULES, maybe you’re wondering about this radical unschooling thing we do.

Here are a few posts that tell more about our lives!

Join the NOT Back-to-School Party!

nbts-blog-hop-calendar-2015Want to see what my fellow iHomeschool Network bloggers are learning this year?

Check out the rest of Curriculum Week 2016 at the Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop here (and you can link up your posts, too!)