Unschooling: Our January and February 2017 adventures

You get two months of unschooling at once in this wrapup, because I spent the early part of February traveling and with only limited internet access! As always, if you want a more frequent peek at what we do, you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook.)

Unschooling on Unschool Rules: One of our biggest new adventures in February was getting a Cozmo robot, which was a joint Valentine gift for the whole family. Sarah is playing "Quick Tap" here with Cozmo, who has learned our names and makes us all melt when he talks to us.

One of our biggest new adventures in February was getting a Cozmo robot, which was a joint Valentine gift for the whole family. Sarah is playing “Quick Tap” here with Cozmo, who has learned our names and makes us all melt when he talks to us.

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.

Cozmo

So, as you can see in the photo above, we have a new friend – an amazing little robot named Cozmo.

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!

Sarah’s description of him: “He’s adorable!” Cozmo gets smarter as you play with him, and he likes to play games.

What’s cool is that he has a personality – he’ll get sad if he loses a game, and if he wants to play something different than what you want to do with him, he’ll be stubborn until you do what he wants. You can also teach him to recognize your face and say your name, so every so often, you’ll be sitting there and he’ll say “Oooooh… Jo-ooan!” and bounce up and down. It’s just about the best.

He isn’t cheap – we had been eyeing him up since just after Christmas, and finally decided to splurge as a Valentine’s Day gift for the whole family instead of buying each other gifts. Do not regret this in the slightest – he’s great!

Books

Like I mentioned in our last wrapup, Sarah has really rediscovered her love for R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series thanks to a jigsaw puzzle of Goosebumps covers she got as a Christmas gift. Her reads in this series for the past couple months included Welcome to Camp Nightmare, One Day at Horrorland and The Lizard of Oz.

On a more challenging note, she’s also still reading Dante’s Inferno, which we talk about as she goes.

And for pure fun, she’s been tearing through a bunch of great comics, including Deadpool Kills Deadpool, Deadpool: Too Soon?, Deadpool and the Mercs for Money and Deadpool the Duck. Going to the comic store and then to Panera to read is a frequent pastime for her and Chris.

On top of all of that, we’ve had a bunch of great bookstore and library trips, including a couple of weeks in January where we visited four or five different bookstores and brought home a whole bunch of neat new stuff.

Unschooling on Unschool Rules: After a trip to the local science center and its planetarium in January, Sarah thought Plaid Pengin would like to have his own rocketship. One roll of tinfoil later...

After a trip to the local science center and its planetarium in January, Sarah thought Plaid Pengin would like to have his own rocketship. One roll of tinfoil later…

4H projects

Sarah was elected president of two of her 4-H clubs – Wildlife Watchers and Alpaca – for this club year, so the year began with her first meetings in that role. She’s done a great job and her confidence and focus are really impressive!

In her other club, the Clover Canines (a dog group), we’ve seen presentations by a dog trainer and a dog groomer, which has been cool.

Our biggest work in 4-H, though, has come with the alpaca club. This year, everyone in the club needs to produce a fiber-related project, and Sarah and I are not (I cannot emphasize this enough) weavers/knitters/needle-felters/spinners/whatever. We like to wear soft, fuzzy alpaca clothes, not make them.

But we worked together to come up with something that she absolutely loves, that still fits the criteria. She’s studying alpaca genetics and breeding for fiber color, which is apparently much more complicated than genetics in humans. She’s working on figuring out the breeding history on the farm she works at, analyzing that data as well as published papers on color-breeding, and then coming up with a plan to help the alpacas’ owners breed for colors they’re trying to generate. That’s pretty hardcore, and I’m really impressed at how much work she’s put into it!

Unschooling on Unschool Rules: Dan and I were treated to an amazing cruise with his family as his 30th birthday present from his parents. Here we are on a glass-bottom boat tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, enjoying 80-degree weather in February.

Dan and I were treated to an amazing cruise with his family as his 30th birthday present from his parents. Here we are on a glass-bottom boat tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, enjoying 80-degree weather in February.

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!

Here’s a look at some of what we watched this month:

  • The Celebrity Apprentice – Ahnold. What more do I have to say?
  • Boondock Saints (1 and 2) – Starring Sarah’s newest hero, Norman Reedus (of The Walking Dead). These movies are not fod kids, people who hate swearing, people who dislike violence, or people who enjoy hope and happiness.
  • Big – A movie much more my speed.
  • 3rd Rock From the Sun – Sarah and Mom’s most recently finished midafternoon series.
  • Adam Ruins Everything – Dan found this series, and he, Sarah and I have watched a ton – and learned a bunch of things we didn’t know. If you like Mythbusters, you’ll probably love this.
  • Suicide Squad – Sarah’s favorite: Villains.
  • Anchorman (1 and 2) – That escalated quickly.
  • Stand By Me – Part of Chris and Sarah’s 2017 Movie Book Project, in which they’ve made a big list of movies to watch together. He’s enjoying showing her some of his old favorites.
  • Night of the Living Dead – In exchange for watching Sarah’s zombies with her, Chris said she should watch this classic.
  • The Walking Dead – Sarah’s aforementioned zombies.
  • Misery – Another from the movie list project.
  • Big Fish – I don’t know if I’m just not smart enough for this movie, or what. Dan, Sarah and Chris all love it and I just can’t get into it.
  • 30 Rock – Mom and Sarah’s current series.
  • Inception – Another Chris and Sarah movie-lister.
  • Apollo 13 – Sarah wasn’t quite old enough for this when she was super-interested in the solar system, so she and Chris watched it now. She loved it.
  • The Waterboy – Sarah and Dan watched this as part of a movie marathon while I was away scrapbooking one weekend.
  • WarGames – Also part of the movie marathon; I’m sad I missed it.
  • Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Also part of the movie marathon; I’m not sad I missed it.
  • Dr. Strange – We’d all seen this together, but Sarah and Dan’s movie marathon was a good time for a rewatch.
  • Accepted – Last stop in the movie marathon tour.
Unschooling on Unschool Rules: One of our favorite places to go is a huge pet emporium called That Fish Place/That Pet Place in nearby Lancaster County. They have a stingray tank where you can pet the rays, and Sarah loves it.

One of our favorite places to go is a huge pet emporium called That Fish Place/That Pet Place in nearby Lancaster County. They have a stingray tank where you can pet the rays, and Sarah loves it.

Video, board and card games

We’ve had TONS of gaming fun in the past two months. Some of the highlights have included the Simon’s Cat card game, which Chris gave Dan for Christmas; Uno Attack, a longtime family favorite; Gloom, a new game we got for Christmas that is RIGHT up Sarah’s alley; Jenga, also a hit; and a great game night with some friends where we got to play, for the first time, Pirate Loot and Ticket to Ride.

Unschooling on Unschool Rules: February's highlight for me (besides safely arriving home from our big trip) was getting back into regular tae kwon do practice. Here I am (second from left) with some of my fellow "dragon ladies."

February’s highlight for me (besides safely arriving home from our big trip) was getting back into regular tae kwon do practice. Here I am (second from left) with some of my fellow “dragon ladies.”

Universal Yums

One of the coolest presents I got to give was a family subscription to Universal Yums, a subscription box that sends snacks from a different country each month. You can read about our December box, which was from Germany, here.

In January, we traveled to the Ukraine, which included something I loved – mushroom-flavored potato chips – and something Sarah loved – chocolate. (Apparently, all global chocolate is good to her.)

Then, in February, we got a taste of Italy, with lemon potato chips, anise drops (surprisingly, those were a hit with Sarah), more chocolates, and lots of hazelnut.

What’s really cool is that we try to make an evening out of our taste-testing. All five of us try a little bit of each snack, we rate them, we look up facts about the country and we have a good time. Sarah ended up reading aloud most of the Wikipedia page about Rome as we dug into the Italian snacks, for instance!

I’m not an affiliate of Universal Yums, but I can definitely HIGHLY recommend it. You can definitely look forward to hearing more about this in our roundups as long as our subscription continues!

Unschooling on Unschool Rules: Sarah's verdict on the chocolate in January's Universal Yums from Ukraine: Amazeballs.

Sarah’s verdict on the chocolate in January’s Universal Yums from Ukraine: Amazeballs.

Unschooling places, projects and odds and ends

Mom adventures: Dan and I celebrated his 30th birthday and his mom’s 70th with his parents, brother and two aunts on a Mexican cruise! This was an amazing gift – neither of us had ever been on a cruise before, and I, a true East Coaster, had never seen the Pacific Ocean. We were gone for two weeks, and while I missed the rest of the family at home, it was great just to get away, relax, read and stay off the internet! Once I got home, I also got to go away with two of my best girlfriends to a scrapbooking weekend, where I finished January through May of our 2016 album. (I generally do the previous year’s within the first half of the new year, then spend the second half of the year catching up on other scrapbooking projects, like our family albums from before I was born.)

Tae kwon do: This also qualifies as “Mom adventures,” but since it doubles as “Dan and Sarah adventures,” I figured I’d give it its own item. I have been a tae kwon do student at Dover Dragons since 2010, earning my first-degree black belt in 2013. I practiced pretty steadily up until 2014, when lots of things in life just kind of got in the way. I’d gone a few times since, but never regularly, and I was missing it hardcore. I’m not sure what changed, but finally, I’ve been able to make it a priority, and since the middle of February, I’ve gone twice a week without fail. AND… I talked Dan into taking the two-week introductory session so he could see what it was like! (He’s not going to do it forever, but I just wanted him to see me doing my thing and really understand how much work it is!) Sarah has come to all the classes I’ve attended so far, and she’s looking at getting back into it herself (she studied from 2010 to 2012, getting as far as her orange belt) once some of her other activities end. I’m so excited!

Jekyll and Hyde: We went to see Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical at our local theater in February, and it was great! (I also didn’t realize how many songs I already knew were from this show.) Chris, Dan, Sarah and I went as part of one of Sarah’s Christmas gifts – a calendar full of family fun events, many of which included prepurchased tickets so we’d have no excuse not to go. It was a neat way to introduce Sarah to this story, and now she’s wanting to read the book too!

Science fun: We did a few cool things through the North Museum in the past couple of months. We went to hang out and saw a new SciDome planetarium show, “From the Earth to Space.” After that adventure, Sarah decided our stuffed penguin Plaid needed a rocket ship, so we made him one out of an old box and some aluminum foil. And then, as part of the museum’s STEM Sisters program for girls interested in science, Sarah worked to design a museum exhibit on the uses of rocks and minerals! I can’t wait to go check out the finished product!

Fidget Cubes: We had backed a great item called the Fidget Cube on Kickstarter last year, and our finished cubes arrived in February. They’re awesome! Sarah wears hers clipped to her belt and plays with it all the time, and Dan and I fidget with ours at work. I can highly recommend them!

Unschooling on Unschool Rules: One night in January, while I was doing some computer work, Sarah decided to color some Pusheen art from a book she got for Christmas. This was my present... I loved it.

One night in January, while I was doing some computer work, Sarah decided to color some Pusheen art from a book she got for Christmas. This was my present… I loved it.

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

Unschooling: Our December 2016 adventures, a little late

Welcome to 2017, everyone! The new year marks our sixth calendar year as homeschooling bloggers, which seems really weird to me. It doesn’t look like I’ll be any better at regular postings in 2017, based on the fact that it’s taken half a month to do last month’s roundup, but hey, maybe I’ll surprise you! I really do like sharing our family’s lives, even if it’s not the most frequent. (And you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook if you want to see more!)

Sarah makes all kinds of art and gives it as gifts. Dan’s parents, at left, got a collage of winter scenes so they can remember what a Pennsylvania winter is like back home in the desert. Dave, Dan’s brother, got what Sarah calls a “painting frame” for a favorite saying of his – done in Seahawks colors, as he’s a huge Hawks fan.

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.

Christmas things

Our Christmas this year was excellent. Dan’s parents, Paul and JoAnn, and his brother, Dave, came to visit from Arizona, along with their dogs, Sadie and Sassy. Then, right after Christmas, my brother (also Dave) came (also from Arizona) to surprise my mom, along with his son (also Dan). Other than the name confusion, it was a house full of family fun. Chris had the honor of cooking the Christmas turkey and did an amazing job, especially considering… he’s a vegetarian!

Another of Sarah’s projects in December was making gingerbread men. This one “got tangled in the Christmas lights,” she said.

We always do an advent calendar of small gifts for Sarah leading up to Christmas, and for the past few years we’ve put clues in the pockets of the calendar that lead to a surprise. (This is the same Avon advent calendar with a mouse that I grew up with.) We did Christmas-themed trivia this year, and used a true-or-false theme like we do in the family trivia game I talked about last month. So there would be a statement, like “Oklahoma was the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday,” then a note that said “If this is true, look for your gift near a large map. If this is false, look for your gift near a small map.” (That one’s false. That’s a freebie.)

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!

This year, we chose to spend most of our “gift” money helping as many good causes as possible. We adopted 5 kids through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, bought some coats for kids who needed them, got a Christmas tree and ornaments for a family that didn’t have any, paid for dinner for an older man in a diner, gave generously to Toys for Tots, sent stuffed pengins across the country, helped pay for a new roof at my mom’s church and more.

Another gingerbread project: Making a gingerbread train from a kit. The back car of the train carried two trees, which Sarah and Snowball Pengin are decorating here.

That said, we still had some neat gifts. I gave my mom an AncestryDNA kit; we’re still waiting for her results, and mine just came back from testing that I did just after Thanksgiving! (Hint: Sarah is excited because we can now confirm SHE’S BRITISH.) That also gave us a cool opportunity to talk about how DNA testing works, what DNA can and can’t tell us, and things like that.

Sarah’s top gifts received were her new drone (from my mom) and her new jeans (from Dan’s parents). Her favorite gifts given were the handmade pieces of art she worked hard on for everyone! My favorite gift received was a set of three-pronged forks from Dan; if you think forks should have four prongs, you’re just wrong.

This “painting frame” was a gift for my mom from Sarah.

Good things

We started a family tradition at the beginning of 2015, where we have a jar in the middle of our kitchen table labeled “Good Things” and a box of small slips of cardstock and pens next to it. Each member of the family is invited to share the good things that happen to them, big or small, by writing them down and putting them in the jar.

Then, at the end of the year, we all sit down as a family and take turns reading the good things aloud!

On the last night of 2016 when everyone was home (I think Dec. 28 or so), we did our readings, and came up with a total for the year of 209 good things. It was awesome! (My favorite: “You are my good thing. To: Mom. From: Sarah.”)

Our Good Things project is awesome. The five members of our family (plus occasional entries from some visitors) came up with 209 good things for 2016!

Steel City Con

Sarah’s big pre-Christmas gift from Chris, Dan and I was a trip for the four of us to Steel City Con, a good-sized Con in Pittsburgh that we’ve been to a few times.

Highlights here: Sarah got the autographs of two members of the cast of The Walking Dead, her current favorite show. She met and got her photo taken with Josh McDermitt (who plays Eugene) and Michael Cudlitz (who played Abraham). We had a great time! (My favorite part of Steel City is always checking out the amazing art booths, and I was able to get a bunch of Christmas presents there too.)

We call this a hulkie. (Chris, Sarah, me and Dan at Steel City Con.)

Books

Another of Sarah’s top Christmas gifts was Hamiliton: The Revolution, which she’s been reading for hours while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.

She’s also rediscovered her love for R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series thanks to a jigsaw puzzle of Goosebumps covers she got as a gift (and which we put together, glued and hung on her wall). She also received as a gift and read almost all of Ripley’s Believe it or Not 2017.

On a more challenging note, she’s decided to dig in to Dante’s Inferno and is doing an admirable job wading through that tough piece of literature. (We talk about it as she goes, which really helps.) She also got the graphic novel version for Christmas, which I think will help it sink in even more.

Sarah’s Goosebumps jigsaw puzzle was a hit! (She then went back and read or reread several of the books pictured!)

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!

Here’s a look at some of what we watched this month besides, obviously, The Walking Dead:

Sarah. Josh McDermitt of The Walking Dead. Serious happiness. (Also, she actually saved that plaid shirt she’s wearing and framed it.)

Video, board and card games

Our gaming was a bit different in December, because Sarah traded in her PS3 to start working on getting credit to put toward a PS4. (She’s not quite there yet, but by the time her birthday comes in March, she should have enough!) So we played more app-based games, spent time on Steam and enjoyed our family game nights.

Steep was a snowboarding Steam game that Dan and Sarah enjoyed together, and Sarah and I kept challenging each other in QuizUp. We also had a good time playing Apples to Apples and Family Feud with our visitors.

Universal Yums

One of the coolest presents I got to give was a family subscription to Universal Yums, a subscription box that sends snacks from a different country each month. Our December box got wrapped and put on the tree, and when it turned out it was from one of Sarah’s favorite countries, Germany, that was even cooler!

We had a great time trying the snacks, as well as reading the German trivia and listening to the German music playlist through the website! Verdict: German Oreos = amazing. German “russisch brot” cookies = excellent. German peanut curls (think cheese curls, but, uh, peanut-flavored) = maybe a taste we haven’t yet acquired.

I’m not in any way an affiliate of Universal Yums, but I can definitely HIGHLY recommend it. Our second box came today as I’m writing this, and I can’t wait to report on it next month. You can definitely look forward to hearing more about this in our roundups as long as our subscription continues!

Here is Sarah opening our first Universal Yums box. One of our favorite parts was that the tissue paper covering it made the German flag!

Unschooling places, projects and odds and ends

The weight of a cow: NO idea how we got onto this, but somehow Sarah ended up digging around to find out how much a cow weighs and how much meat you get from it. Learn something new every day.

French things: Sarah is still fascinated by French, so we got lucky when the free lesson in the Christmas Around the World Online Unit Study was about Christmas in France. We also did some more Duolingo French.

Cultural geography: That’s a fancy way of saying we’re always interested in learning about other places. Things we explored this month included world population comparisons and the tallest buildings in the world.

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