Conversational Korean: From sparring to snacking and beyond

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

This is a serious-language-learning face.

One awesome thing about my son, Ashar, is that he has always loved languages. He began kindergarten in a class with a Spanish-speaking aide, and she worked with the kids every day on new words. He was hooked!

Since then, he’s drifted through smatterings of all sorts of languages. For a while, he wanted to learn French, accompanied by a stuffed penguin named Pierre. We had French magnetic poetry, and we still look at our big black cat, Mr. Bill, and sometimes yell, “Le chat noir! Le chat noir!”

He got interested in Germany while studying World War II history and picked up some German phrases.

For a long time, we did a “word of the day” poster project and one of the most fun parts was discovering each day’s word in other languages.

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

Ashar’s love of languages goes way back to these middle-school “Word of the Day” posters, featuring each day’s word in multiple languages.

In exchange for the honest review of our experience which appears in this post, our family received a free “Kitchen” box from TalkBox.Mom. We were compensated for our time completing the review, but the fun had enjoying new words and phrases was all ours!

One of the most long-term languages we’ve been exposed to, though, is Korean. I actually started learning Korean when I was in elementary school, taking tang soo do lessons. As an adult, I earned my second-degree black belt in tae kwon do – another Korean martial art – and Ash studied with me for a year or two. And now, I am studying tang soo do again, so Korean is an everyday “thing” in our house.

But as it turns out, martial arts words don’t have a lot of… other applications. Counting to 10 is useful (hana, dool, set, net, ta sot, yo sot, ill gop, yoh dohl, ah hope, yeol), sure, but “low block” (ha dan mahk kee) and “ready stance” (choon bi) and “roundhouse kick” (dollyeo chagi)… not so much. And, let me be honest: Most of my instructors are not Korean. So most of what we hear is pretty “Americanized!”

So, when I heard about program that’s designed for whole-family language learning in a more everyday way, with the ability to actually hear words said by native speakers, I was pretty psyched to try out some more Korean!

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

Language learning and penguins: A winning combination.

The TalkBox.Mom Korean foreign language program

TalkBox.Mom is a fun subscription-box program designed to get whole families working on learning new languages together. The creator, Adelaide, and her family travel around the world, and they’ve turned their successful methods for immersing themselves in new languages into a really workable plan.

Each box focuses on a theme – starting with arguably the thing we spend the most time on, EATING! Our box came with awesome posters, which got a place of honor on our fridge and our wall, plus a big set of phrase cards based on kitchen objects like the toaster.

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

I did not know there were so many phrases involving the toaster! I was trying to spread out these cards with their relevant “stuff” so that it’s easy to remember to look at our words and phrases.

Homeschool Korean: The “distance learning” approach

In “it’s 2020, of course things don’t go as planned” fashion, Ash and I agreed to work together on this review. I hung the posters and spread out the cars and got all excited… and then I ended up flying across the country – terrifying, do not recommend – to help out a family member who was undergoing a couple of surgical procedures.

Ash and his dad, Chris, stayed home with four recalcitrant and needy cats, much colder weather than I’m facing in Arizona, and … my strategically placed Korean posters and cards.


TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

Talk about appropriate placement!

But! What was awesome was that the system was so flexible (and simple) that we kept learning together anyway! Ash texted me Korean words of the day, and I used the TalkBox.Mom app on my phone to listen to them!

What was really cool was how many of them are similar to English. Cheese is Chee-ju, and realistically that covered about 30% of our daily food needs. (This also marks one of the things from my college Spanish minor that I remember most clearly – Quiero todo el queso – I want all the cheese.)

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

Distance-learning Korean with my kid for the win!

I am not at all sorry to admit that we did not do much to practice ah-tee-cho-keu, another cognate – artichokes. Ugh. But at least now I can dislike them in a new language too!

We saw this a lot with foods that were not native to Korea – especially things like tropical fruits like pineapples, or pah-ee-nae-peul, and, see if you can guess this one without help, leh-mon. But things like figs – more likely to grow in Asia – are moo-hwa-gwa. That led us down the fun unschooling rabbit trail of speculating about foreign and colonizing influences on languages!

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

That was cool. Another especially fun part was seeing Ash work the words into his other conversations – like telling me he was sitting in the backyard, feeding our squirrels and chipmunks ddang-kong, or peanuts, out of his hands!

I head home in another two weeks, and I’m excited to see what other words I can learn once we’re all in the same place. One of the great things about having basically an adult learning with me is that he is the one teaching me, much more than I am teaching him!

TalkBox.Mom: Learning conversational Korean as a family!

Try TalkBox.Mom for free!

TalkBox.Mom is currently offering a free language starter pack that offers 21 days of language-practicing activities.

Give it a try here – no purchase required.

(And no matter what language you end up pursuing, you owe me information on how to say cheese. This is clearly still the most important word in any language.)

The 100 best teen art supplies

Art has been a huge part of our family’s life since we began homeschooling in 2012. Unschooling art has taught all of us that there is more to being creative than whether you can correctly replicate a basket of apples on canvas. (Pro tip: I’ve had art on display in MANY gallery shows, including one show where just my work filled the whole gallery, but no, I cannot draw, sketch or paint you a basket of apples.)

That said, realism is a great art form! But collage, and abstract art, and mixed-media work, and surrealism, and any number of other things are also great ways to explore your creative side.

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!
Too many teenagers, whether in public school or homeschool, get the idea that art is something you are “good” or “not good” at. You can absolutely have specific talents in art. But it’s still art when it isn’t award-winning. Art is the process, not the result, and we have a ton of fun exploring even the media we are truly terrible at.

With that in mind, Ashar and I came up with a list of the 100 best teen art supplies. If you’re looking for a gift for the teenager in your life, these make a great starting place! Almost all of these are things we either use now or used in the past ourselves.

(And if you’d like to see other great gift ideas for unschoolers, especially teen unschoolers, check out our gift guide here!)

Unschool Rules: See the Best Teen Art Supplies

Workspace organization

These supplies can help you organize and display artwork of all kinds.

  1. Kallax – IKEA’s square shelving unit is basically the only shelving we use in our house. At a quick count, I believe we have something like 20 separate Kallaxen (our preferred plural of Kallax) in different sizes. Pairs well with…
  2. Drona! – These fabric bins fit perfectly inside the Kallax squares and can hold a surprisingly large volume of supplies, both in size and weight.
  3. Drafting Table Art & Craft Drawing Desk – Having a good basic workspace is important. We like this one because it doesn’t need a huge space.
  4. US Art Supply Wooden Tripod Display Easel
  5. US Art Supply Coronado French Style Easel with 12″ Drawer
  6. S. Art Supply Beachwood Sketch Box Easel with Divided Storage Compartment
  7. Art Alternatives Marquis Artists Adjustable Desk Box Easel – Most artists have a good easel, and these are great starter ones in a variety of sizes.
  8. Washi Tape Storage Box – I’m not saying washi tape breeds like rabbits in our house or anything, but…
  9. Art Profolio Presentation Book
  10. 24-Inch by 36-Inch Black Student Portfolio – If you have a teen artist, they almost certainly need a portfolio.
  11. LED Artcraft Tracing Light Pad – Ashar bought this for himself with his graduation money. He has used it to trace base shapes that he then expands upon!
  12. Deluxe Teal Geometric Rolling Papercraft Organizer Case
  13. Vencer 5 Drawer Wood Art Storage Box
  14. Blue Hills Studio Wide 8-Drawer Storage Cart
  15. Crafter’s Companion The Ultimate Marker Storage
  16. VonHaus Black 15-Drawer Organizer Cart with Rolling Wheels
  17. Craft Paint Revolving Storage Rack
  18. Everything Mary Rolling Storage Tote
  19. California Home Goods Snapcube Stackable Arts & Crafts Organizer Case
  20. US Art Supply Artist Wood Storage Box with Drawers
  21. ArtBin Transparent Art Supply Storage Box
  22. MyArtscape Paintbrush Holder – Organizer for 15 Long-Handle Brushes
  23. Loew-Cornell Multi-Bin Brush Organizer, 49 Hole
  24. Tinksky Artist Paintbrush Roll-Up Bag
  25. WeiBonD 96-Slot Pencil and Pen Holder
  26. ArtBin Clear Marker Storage
  27. Creative Mark Rue Art Drying Rack – If I could put an item on this list for “magical device to keep your cats from walking on your art,” I would, but barring that, this is the next-best option.

Paper, canvas and more

  1. Legion Paper Tape Binding Watercolor Pad
  2. Fabriano EcoQua Notebooks, Large
  3. Fabriano EcoQua Notebooks, Small – We LOVE Fabriano notebooks. These are just a couple of our favorites; you can search either Fabriano or Fabriano EcoQua to find tons more options.
  4. Strathmore Visual Journals – These make GREAT mixed-media notebooks. I use one as a “collage journal,” which is a ton of fun.
  5. Colore ProVisible Graphite Transfer Artist Paper
  6. Alvin Lightweight White Tracing Paper Roll
  7. Bienfang 20-Yard by 12-Inch Wide Sketching and Tracing Paper Roll – If you want to make something long on paper, this is your best bet.
  8. S. Art Supply 36″ Wide x 6 Yard Long Canvas Roll – The canvas version of the long paper roll above.
  9. Canson XL Series Watercolor Textured Paper Pad
  10. Strathmore Toned Gray Sketch Pad
  11. Artistik Canvas Panels
  12. Daveliou Stretched Canvas

Things that put color on other things

These are the paints, inks, colored pencils and more that we use to add color to our work.

  1. Daler-Rowney Pigmented Water-Resistant Liquid Acrylic Ink Set
  2. Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens – Cannot say enough good things about these. They’re what we use for almost any kind of writing, both artistic and day-to-day. I use them in my planners as well as a whole ton of crafts.
  3. Arteza Acrylic Paint Set, 60 Colors/Tubes
  4. Castle Art Supplies 72 Colored Pencils Set
  5. Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art Markers, 96 Color Set
  6. Woodman Crafts Paint Sticks
  7. Copic Marker Skin-Colored Markers, 6-Pack
  8. Crafts 4 ALL Set of 12 Professional Paint Brushes
  9. Colore Acrylic Paint Set, Set of 12
  10. Colore Watercolor Painting Kit, 24 Colors
  11. AIT Art Fine Detail 11-Brush Set
  12. Jen Manufacturing Poly-Brush Disposable Foam 3″ Brushes, 36 count
  13. Bob Ross Liquid White Oil Paint
  14. Artists’ Grade Gamsol Oil
  15. Plastic Paint Tray Palettes
  16. Acrylic Paint Brush Set, 50 pcs
  17. CONDA Cotton Canvas Painter’s Apron
  18. The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver
  19. Frjjthchy Stainless Steel Brush Washer – Technically, these last few items KEEP color from getting on other things, but you know what I mean.
  20. Wow! Extra Fine Glitter Set from American Crafts – Let’s hope your teenager can keep this neater than I can.
  21. EasyInk Temporary Tattoo Kit – One of Ashar’s current career explorations is tattoo artistry. I’m hoping to get him this so that he can see how ink goes onto skin in a less… needle-involved fashion.

Unschool Rules: See the Best Teen Art Supplies


  1. Westcott 12″ Personal Trimmer – A must if you do any kind of paper-crafting.
  2. Fiskars Paper Crafting Bypass Trimmer, 12-Inch
  3. Tonic Studios Tim Holtz 371 Retractable Craft Knife
  4. Bira 2″ inch Oval Lever Action Craft Punch for Paper Crafting
  5. Bira 3.5 inch Star Lever Action Extra Large Craft Punch for Paper Crafting
  6. Bira 2″inch Heart Lever Action Craft Punch for Paper Crafting
  7. Cassette Craft Punch Alphabet+number Set 36 Piece – Punches are awesome! Not only can you use these for traditional paper-crafting, but punched-out heavy cardstock is great to add to mixed-media work too.
  8. AC Cardstock Multicolor Extreme Value Pack
  9. American Crafts DCWV 12″ x 12″ Pastels Textured Cardstock Stack
  10. 12 x 12-inch AC Cardstock Pad by American Crafts
  11. DCWV Corrugated 12 by 12 Paper Pad
  12. ColorBok Cardstock Paper Pad, Delilah
  13. ColorBok Cardstock Paper Pad, Marble
  14. ColorBok Cardstock Paper Pad, Mint Julip – Cardstock is great for a number of art styles, from scrapbooking to mixed-media assemblage. We just happened to like these colors, but you can go wild choosing any size and color you want.
  15. Paper House Productions Paper Crafting Kit, Sun-Drenched – Patterned scrapbooking paper is awesome, and this reminds us of the beach, which we really love.
  16. Perfect Paper Crafting Cutting Mat
  17. Fablossom Paper Starter Kit to Make Paper Flowers
  18. Cactus and Succulent Stencil Templates
  19. We R Memory Keepers Twine for Paper Crafting, Secondary Colors
  20. We R Memory Keepers Twine for Paper Crafting, Neutral Colors
  21. Uxcell Plastic-Handled Scissors for Paper Crafting
  22. 40 Rolls Solid-Colored Washi Tape
  23. 60 Rolls Glitter-Patterned Washi Tape
  24. 48 Rolls Decorative Washi Tape – Remember how I said our washi collection is… ample? These are just a few of the basic styles.
  25. VENCINK Real Bone Folder – If you’re not familiar with papercrafting, this may seem weird. It’s not a folder like a thing you put papers in; it’s a thing that helps you fold paper, especially heavy paper, in neat creases.
  26. Sizzix Big Shot Cutting/Embossing Machine
  27. Silhouette Cameo 3
  28. Cricut Explore Air 2 – This and the Silhouette are great for cutting out specific shapes, including some very complex ones; in fact, you can even create your own art and have it cut. The Explore Air also lets you do custom printing and cutting at the same time. They can all be complicated to learn but once you get the hang of them you can do a ton. Some even cut fabric patterns for you, which is just more than I can deal with but very cool.

All things mixed media

This is a little bit cheating, because you can use literally anything as part of a “mixed-media” piece. These items are ones that especially work well when added to other art.

  1. Sizzix Thinlits Die Set for Mixed Media by Tim Holtz
  2. Tim Holtz Idea-ology Thrift Shop Ephemera Pack for Mixed Media – Laying this down under a thin coat of ink looks amazing!
  3. Aokbean Assorted Vintage Mixed Color Metal Steampunk Charms for Mixed Media
  4. Lindy’s Starburst Gang Spray Set Embossing Powder for Mixed Media
  5. Stampers Anonymous Tim Holtz Cling Rubber Stamp Set for Mixed Media
  6. Fiskars 8-Inch Amplify Mixed Media Shears
  7. Andy Skinner Mixed Media Alphabet Spaghetti Stencil
  8. Strathmore Mixed Media Roll of Vellum
  9. Hibery Mixed Set of 30 Antique Vintage Skeleton Keys, for Mixed Media – Ashar went through a period where he collected anything to do with skeleton keys, so finding ways to work them into art was big for us.
  10. 70pcs Vintage-styled Alphabet Rubber Stamps, for Mixed Media
  11. Faber Castell Metallic Texture Kit – Mixed Media Paper Crafting Kit

Just for fun

Because who can’t use more Bob Ross stuff?

  1. Bob Ross Heat Changing Mug
  2. Bob Ross Funko Pop
  3. Bob Ross Happy Trees University T-Shirt

Read more

This post is part of the 100 things post series on iHomeschool Network, where a bunch of my fellow homeschool bloggers share their lists containing, you guessed it, something more than 99 things.

Unschool Rules: 100 Best Teen Art Supplies is part of the iHomeschool Network's 100 Things series.

See other posts in the 100 Things series here!

What unschooling after high school looks like

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks inundated with back-to-school photos from friends across the country on Facebook. Some of our friends have younger kids; some have students still in high school; and many kids Ashar’s age are headed out to work or college.

For our “living is learning” family, this year – Ashar’s first since officially earning her diploma and finishing compulsory schooling under Pennsylvania law in May – isn’t much different than previous ones.

That’s why we’re still joining the iHomeschool Network’s Not Back to School Blog Hop for “curriculum week!” This time, we’re looking at what unschooling after high school might look like, not just for Ashar but for the rest of our family as well.

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:

Unschooling After High School on Unschool Rules

While our learning philosophy hasn’t changed, our year ahead is going to be an unusual one. But I talk to people all the time who want to know if unschooling can work when life gets weird. And the answer is absolutely yes, but sometimes I think it helps to see how.

So with that, here is…

The Conciliotto family’s adult education plan

Probably the biggest question our family has fielded for the past couple of years:

What’s Ashar doing next?

Well, we know the answer. Have you been wondering? I know you’re all sitting at home going “What ARE those wacky people doing?” Good news! This is the post for you. Also, I’m very sorry. Get Netflix. It’s more interesting.

Anyway, in all seriousness, we haven’t talked about it much online up to this point, but Ashar is having major surgery in exactly a month. On Oct. 2, he’ll go to Nemours duPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, to have major spinal fusion done for severe scoliosis.

Nemours duPont is about two hours and change from our house, but it’s absolutely the right place for us to be. His team is nothing short of amazing – led by Dr. Suken Shan and nurse practitioner Alicia McCarthy, but including a ton of other great people just in our experiences to date.

We haven’t even talked much about Ashar having scoliosis, though we’ve mentioned it here and there, but… it’s pretty major. Like, whoa. Like his spine curves something like 87 degrees – almost a right angle – instead of going straight.

But you know what else is pretty major?

Ashar’s anxiety. He’s struggled with generalized anxiety for years, but there’s one thing that has always been a huge trigger, and that’s anything medical. Routine doctor visits were a no-go for years. (Thank goodness he was rarely sick.) The dentist and eye doctor were always all right, and chiropractic adjustments over the past few years helped him get used to it a bit more, but hospital? Nope. Not even slightly.

But after not actually bothering him for years, Ashar’s curve was starting to cause him pain – and other health problems. (Did you know that when your ribcage touches your pelvis, you cough a lot?) So we decided to see what we could work out. Thanks to an AMAZING physical therapist, Andrea Yaktus at Empower Physical Therapy in Exton, we found out about Nemours and were able to get things in motion.

Ashar’s doing “prehabilitation” work with Andrea, which is amazing. (This woman is going to drive an hour and a half to our house after the surgery to go for a neighborhood walk with Ash. I’m not kidding. She’s seriously the best.) After some recovery at home, Ashar will go back to Andrea for outpatient PT in the months following the surgery too. They’re saying he’ll be back to full activity in about six months, which is mind-blowing.

Relatedly, this whole experience has helped Ashar be ready to pursue counseling for anxiety and some of the other things he struggles with. We don’t talk a ton about it, but Ashar has ADHD, autism and OCD on top of the anxiety, and life is just hard for him sometimes. He is my hero, because every day, he gets up and keeps trying. Adding a counselor and a psychiatrist (who’s going to help Ashar find an anti-anxiety medicine that’s a good fit) to the “medical mix” was also scary, but Ashar thinks it’s really helping.

As a fun side note, that is largely thanks to the Nemours team too. Ashar had to have a full-spine MRI, which was done under sedation, and they gave him some Versed to help him relax before starting the laughing gas and sedation. The change in him with the Versed was basically nothing short of miraculous. He wasn’t silly like he got as soon as the gas hit him – he was just CALM. “I feel OK,” I think is what he said. When we explained that medication absolutely can help other days be more like that, he – on his own – asked his counselor to make him a referral to psychiatry for medication support.

I could say tons more about this whole experience – and I’m sure I will – but for now, let’s just say that we expect focusing on the prehab, the surgery, the rehab and the accompanying anxiety to take up the better part of this year (and to be a learning experience for all of us).

Separately from that, though, Ashar has other plans and hopes. And we have other adults in the household who are living and learning as well. Here’s a short look at some of the rest of our lives.

Ashar’s non-surgery goals

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!
  • OK, so this one is surgery-related, somewhat: Walking Dead Season 9 premiers Oct. 7 and his goal is to be home from the hospital to watch it
  • Turn 19 (“I just feel old. That’s my last year with ‘teen.’ Then I’m 20.” That’s what he said when he was telling me what to write.)
  • Continue with Outschool – he’s taking a 10-week forensics class with one of his favorite teachers, Thomas Jones, who he’s had several classes with in the past year.
  • Visit Georgia to see where the Walking Dead is filmed and eat at Norman Reedus’ restaurant
  • See Alice Cooper in concert (spoiler alert: He does that this week with a friend.)
  • Go to another Walker-Stalker Con to see Norman and Jeffrey D. Morgan)

As a quick wrap-up of the past year, Ashar says:

  • He didn’t know about Outschool before but now it’s a big part of his life
  • We saw Fall Out Boy in concert (that was just on Sept. 1)
  • He graduated!
  • He did a ton of work on Shakespeare, including acting in Antony and Cleopatra as well as The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • He read a lot about serial killers, and did some related Outschool classes on unsolved crimes, which is how he found Thomas Jones, mentioned above. Seriously, if there was a Thomas Jones fan club, he’d be president.

Ashar’s Mommom’s plan

My mom, Ashar’s Mommom, is back on her feet again after a heart-medication tuneup over the summer. She may still have more adjustments in the future, but she’s starting to feel a good bit better and has a lot of fun stuff planned for her and Ashar to do.

Some of their highlights:

  • Cooking and baking – including making more pretzel rolls, which Ashar loves
  • Sewing – including making a “button monster,” which has been on her and Ashar’s want-to-do list for easily 3 or 4 years now
  • Rock painting – which moved up on the list after Ashar found my mom a painted rock while Mom was in the hospital earlier this year; it was such a great experience that they’re going to spread some joy of their own that way

Mom also is staying involved with Stephen Ministry at her church. She started the program there, and campaigned and campaigned to get her friend Barb trained as a fellow Stephen Leader so that she could ensure the program will be successful even if her health keeps her from being as active in it. So her goal for this year is getting Barb fully up and running, and staying involved as much as she can herself!

She also wants to get to the beach, which I think sounds amazing.

My goals

  • Graduate with my Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security – Public Health Preparedness next May – that’s a mouthful
  • Get two or more papers published in academic journals
  • Present at an international conference for work (happening in late October, because NOT LIKE I’M GOING TO BE BUSY OR ANYTHING)
  • Finish the 2018 calendar year having read 100 books (currently at 75)
  • Get back to tae kwon do and training regularly so that I can test for my third-degree black belt by summer 2020

Last year, one of my big topics of interest was prison reform, and I did a ton of reading in that area. That’s probably the deepest dive I’ve taken into a non-grad-school or non-work-necessitated subject in a long time, and it’s still something I’m exploring.

I also earned my second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, which was great. And then I promptly proceeded to stop going to class when grad school kicked my butt two semesters in a row. Which is why the goal above is to get back to it – again.

Chris’s goals

Chris has been in the middle of a HUGE, HARD transition at work. He has been the sports editor for LNP (a regional media organization) for several years, and this summer he was named the deputy opinion editor. It’s been a long transition and it involved him working something like 24 days out of 30 or something crazy like that, so he has not had time to put together a full list, but when he does, I’ll add it here. I know that he and Ashar are still planning to do a model train setup in our basement, which should be awesome!

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!

The ultimate guide to creating an unschooling high school transcript

When we pulled our son, Ashar, out of public school in the middle of sixth grade, and moved toward an unschooling lifestyle, we had relatively few critiques of our learning from life approach. In fact, most people – homeschoolers and not – thought it was pretty awesome.

As Ashar got a little older, however, I started getting some questions. “Oh, that seems fun for now,” a homeschooling acquaintance said, “but you’ll have to do normal stuff for high school, right? Not just play?”

Ah, so many things to unpack there, but at the root of it is a misconception I hear a lot: Unschooling is a great way for young children to learn, but teens can’t succeed in life without a more traditional education.

Even many longtime unschooling families I know think they have to “play the game” and push their high-schoolers through more traditional coursework in math and foreign language, even if they feel a more relaxed approach is the best educational path in a broader sense.

That’s why I’ve taken the time to create this Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript. I want to encourage unschoolers and relaxed homeschoolers that they can make high school work in a less formal style – and still create a top-notch transcript that helps their children stand out!

Unschool Rules: The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript

Here’s who this guide is for:

  • Unschooling parents who don’t use any formal curriculum and wonder how to make “learning from life” work at the high school level.
  • Parents of homeschoolers with special passions, such artists, mechanics or entrepreneurs, who want to translate the work their teens spend the most time doing into high school credits.
  • Parents of homeschoolers who want to go to college, and who need to show certain prerequisites.
  • Parents of homeschoolers who want to enter the workforce after high school, who are looking for ways to create or enhance an introductory resume.

That covers a lot of ground, right? Mostly, I encourage you to read through and see how much learning to speak transcript-ese can help you show what your unschooler or relaxed homeschooler knows.

Unschooling high school transcripts 101: Know your requirements

Let’s get the basics out of the way: Before you begin creating an unschooling high school transcript, you need to gather some information.

  • What are the graduation requirements and other state laws where you live?
  • What are your teen’s post-graduation goals?

Sorting out these facts will help you know what you and your teen might need to reflect in a transcript. Whether you haven’t yet started the high-school years and want to plan ahead or you’re coming back to a transcript after some or all of your child’s later compulsory school years are completed, this is what sets the target you’re aiming for.

State laws: Where I live in Pennsylvania, to be considered a high school graduate, you must complete your requirements for evaluation of a portfolio of work each year, and your student must have completed a requisite number of credits in English, mathematics, science, social studies and arts and humanities. If these requirements are met, your child earns a standard high school diploma.

In Pennsylvania, there is no requirement to keep a transcript; however, we have submitted one to our evaluator each year with our portfolio so we can easily keep track of Ashar’s progress toward the credit requirements. It also helps us to “categorize” the work he does – based on what the state’s requirements are, for instance, I might list a philosophy course under social studies or under arts and humanities, wherever I need to fill in a credit.

We’ll talk about this in detail later, but the important point remains: Know your state’s requirements for graduation, and if a transcript specifically is required!

(And, if you’re interested in Pennsylvania requirements specifically, please check out our Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling and Unschooling in Pennsylvania for way more information.)

Your child’s goals: This is the other key area you have to know before you start work on your transcript. You’ll waste a lot of time and energy if you’re creating a college-admissions-type transcript and your teen wants to start a business or get a job – and vice versa!

Even if you’re starting this process early, begin talking about goals. Knowing if your teen is headed more toward veterinary school or a vet tech program or community college or a state engineering university will be a key to creating the right kind of transcript. And nothing says you and your teen can’t change course later on! If you’re already at the decision stage (such as a college application process), you can get even more specific here.

One thing I strongly recommend is, if your teens might be college-bound, talk personally with admissions counselors at a few schools of interest. Do not just rely on what’s stated on their websites. Most schools have separate guidelines for homeschoolers, and many actually prefer the kinds of coursework that homeschoolers have that traditional public-school students might not – so you’ll actually do your teens a disservice if you try to make it look as if they’re exactly like their public-school peers!

Our success story: Ashar is not, at this time, interested in pursuing a traditional four-year college degree. He does, however, want to leave open the option to take some college classes in the future.

He used his transcript – created ENTIRELY from unschooling experiences – to apply for and gain acceptance to a dual-enrollment program at our local community college. It does work, everybody! We’re living proof!

Unschooling high school transcripts: What to include

So what information needs to be part of your transcript? And, maybe just as important, what doesn’t need to be included?

Unschool Rules example of an unschooling high school transcript header

Here’s a sample transcript header from our actual transcript. The top of each page should contain this information.

Include at the top of each page:

  • Your student’s name, address, phone number and email address
  • Your homeschool’s name, address, phone number and email address
  • Full names of the parent or parents of the student

You can see how we’ve addressed these items in the sample header pictured above!

Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript one-year record sample (freshman)

Here’s an example of how one academic year looks on an unschooling high school transcript. This is from our son’s first year of high school-age reporting.

Include for each course:

  • The course name
  • A short (approx. 15 words or fewer) description (technically optional)
  • The academic year in which credit was earned
  • The number of credits earned

You can see how a full year of this looked for us in the image above. One note: You are really not required to offer course descriptions, but some places ask for them and we’ve found that including something short on the transcript itself usually prevents requests for a more detailed summary later, so we have seen it in our best interest to include them!

Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript footer sample with total credits and supplemental experiences

This is an example from our son’s transcript of the footer at the end of the last page. We use a “supplemental secondary academic record” to show secondary-level work completed before the traditional high school reporting period. We also provide a total by academic area of credits earned, since Pennsylvania graduation requirements are based on those areas, as well as a signature statement from the homeschool supervisor.

Optional, but suggested, at the bottom of the last page:

  • Supplemental relevant academic experiences from seventh and eighth grades, with years participated
  • Total credits earned per subject area
  • Homeschool supervisor’s signature staement
  • Evaluator’s signature statement, if applicable

We use the “supplemental academic experience” format to cover work done at the secondary level that might be relevant, but which was done before the traditional four-year high school reporting period. This is similar to how a public-school student who takes a high school algebra course in eighth grade would see that work reflected on a transcript.

You’ll also see we show total credits earned by academic area; that is by no means required, but since Pennsylvania graduation requirements are for a fixed number of credits in each of those areas, we find it easier to include for record-keeping.

Finally, you’ll see we have a signature statement verifying the accuracy of the experience. Since we work with an evaluator in Pennsylvania, not only will I sign that, but I will likely also add a space for our evaluator’s signature as an additional verification.

Things we don’t recommend:

  • Letter or number grades for each course
  • Standardized test scores

What, transcripts don’t have to have grades assigned? That’s right! Please do not “fake” grades for your child if you do not assign them. If you do assign As or Bs or 85 percents or whatever, that’s fine, as long as you know it’s not a requisite to include that information.

If you don’t already create grades, your homeschool uses what is known in transcript-ese as the mastery approach. That’s somewhat like grading on a pass/fail scale, but really is more like saying, “We work on a subject until my child understands it at the appropriate level, so the very fact that it’s on the transcript means the grade would, in essence, be 100 percent.”

When you talk to college admissions counselors and employers who are curious about a grade-point average, you can simply say “Our homeschool uses the mastery approach, so we do not consider a course complete until the material is mastered at the appropriate level.” That works very well. (And if they need a number grade, which few will, you can in good conscience tell them 100 percent. I have done this and no one cared; they literally just had to type in a number into an automated form and needed some digit-based answer.)

For any type of training, you need to take care of the student’s health, if you study at home, you can order medicines online at a discount.

Similarly, standardized test scores, whether SATs/ACTs or state exams or another test, if your student has taken them, do not need to be part of the transcript. Any place that requires this information will receive it separately, and there’s no reason to provide it on a document summarizing educational experiences.

Unschooling high school transcripts: Speak the language

All right, you’ve had a brief introduction to some “transcript-ese,” right? Now we really get into speaking the language.

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!
First of all, let’s talk about what makes a credit.

We, and more importantly many other organizations, use the Carnegie Unit guidelines for a credit, which equates to 120 hours of study on a topic.

That means that if Ashar pursues any topic for 120 hours, he earns one credit. If he completes 60 hours of effort, that’s a half-credit. A quarter-credit is 30 hours. (I don’t bother with those, but you certainly can if you like.)

That’s it. Credits do not need to include textbooks, final projects, reports or any of the other stuff you might see in a more traditional learning environment. A 60-hour commitment to music lessons is a half-credit whether or not you have a recital.

If you do follow a more traditional educational path, there are other criteria you can use for a credit, including:

  • Completion of three-quarters of a textbook
  • Completion of a 10-page research paper, using at least three sources
  • Presentation of a 30-minute speech or demonstration outside the immediate family
  • Completion of a college course on the subject
  • Passing an Advanced Placement exam on the subject

You can also do combinations – such as a five-page paper and 60 hours of study for a full credit – but that’s way more complicated than I want to get into. There are also people who will tell you that you can assign an “honors credit” for, say, 180 hours of effort, but unless you’re also doing a weighted GPA, that’s a lot of extra work for something that is still 1 credit on the transcript (albeit with that “honors” designation).

Again, talk to the people likely to receive your student’s transcript. Most will tell you that Advanced Placement and, if required, SAT/ACT scores are the factors that affect your child’s placement into college classes, not the designation of honors (or not).

So what’s an “elective,” anyway? Argh, I hate that word. Some people like to divide transcripts into core courses and electives. Math is important, philosophy is an elective. (Or art, or music, or really 90 percent of the humanities.)

My recommendation is to create a transcript that includes the work your child spends time on. Period. If you have state requirements to meet regarding math, science, etc., meet them. But if your teen has other passions, don’t sell those short on a transcript by dropping them into an “elective” category. These “electives” are often the differentiators that colleges and employers are looking for. Play them up! Make them a key part of the transcript content.

Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation

· Fully editable transcript template
· Full copy of our current transcript
· Samples of detailed documentation on what we did each year that comprised the credits shown
· List of 100+ course titles from local high schools in my area that fit “outside the box” topics

All are free for Unschool RULES email subscribers. Get your copies here.

How do I learn to speak transcript-ese? So maybe you’re a relaxed homeschooler or an unschooler, and things seem great until it comes time to write some documentation. Suddenly, running through your head is “All he’s done for months is work on Minecraft mods!” “All she does is watch TV!”

Relax. First of all, it’s easy to get in “school mode” and forget all the times you’ve had amazing conversations about how the stock market works and what really caused World War II and how recessive genetic traits are passed down. And second, when you really stop to think about what you’ve accomplished throughout the year, there are probably a lot of neat themes – that, with a little thought, you can fit into titles that sound appropriately like “courses of study!”

And that’s what the rest of this post is about – a very specific guide to the things we do, and how that looks in transcript-ese, from a “subject-based” perspective. (Which is also funny, because we don’t live our lives in terms of subjects, but again, we arrange things according to what our state graduation requirements look for!)

So read on, and you’ll see how transcript-ese looks in action! Every credit my son earned in four years of unschooling high school is broken down here!

Unschooling high school transcripts for English and language arts

Comparative Literature – 1 credit
Course description: Evaluation of literary works and their film and stage adaptations

  • We watched a lot of movies based on books – probably 120 hours’ worth in movies alone!
  • Sometimes before and sometimes after, we read or listened to audiobooks or looked up summaries online of the books they were based on.
  • We talked about how the books and movies were similar and different, and which Ashar liked better.
  • We also talked about the process of making screen adaptations, in the context of the Oscars (i.e. what’s an “adapted screenplay,” etc.)
  • We also attended some plays based on literature, including an amazing local high school production of some Edgar Allan Poe stories.

Creative Writing – 1 credit
Course description: Methods and practice of creative writing techniques in a variety of genres

  • Ashar spent a ton of time working on a story, in epistolary format, about the zombie apocalypse. (Don’t know that epistolary format is? We didn’t either until he wanted to know what the kind of writing he was doing was called. Bonus couple of hours toward his credit digging that up and talking about famous books written that way!)
  • Ashar read a lot of awesome fiction in the genre he was trying to write in. Yes, reading is part of writing!
  • He talked with our friendly local bookstore owner and several family friends who are published authors about the project and got some advice.

Classical Literature – 1 credit
Course description: Study of works by Dante, Poe, Stevenson and Shakespeare, among others

  • Ashar loves Shakespeare and Poe, so we watched movies and plays featuring their works, as well as some Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells adaptations.
  • This got him interested in the books behind the performances, so we picked up copies of those and he read some or all of them, or we read them together.
  • Somehow, he got totally into Dante’s Inferno and started reading that on his own. That sucker is denser than I remember from reading it in college! We dug into it together, including some pretty heavy online research.

Shakespearean Literature – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of the history, literary devices and content of Shakespeare’s works

  • Building on what we did the year before, Ashar kept reading a bunch of Shakespeare, and he started memorizing a bunch of monologues, soliloquies, dialogues and poetry.
  • He also performed in multiple Shakespeare plays, including The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra, and we attended at least four or five others.
  • We watched a bunch of different adapatations of Shakespeare’s plays and compared them to the original text. (Do this with Hamlet. There are VERY different interpretations!)
  • Ashar also took several Shakespeare-based classes through Outschool.

Transcript-ese hints for English and language arts

  • Anything to do with reading or books, call it literature.
  • Remember that audio books, movies and plays can very much be a part of “language arts.” They involve a ton of expressive language and work great for visual and auditory learners.
  • Think in themes. Here in PA, this is easier because we need to keep what’s called a book log. So over the course of the year, we have a pretty simple way to go back and look for what things have in common (like we did with Classical Literature). If you don’t have to do such a log, your library card records are often a good place to start!

Unschooling high school transcripts for math

DragonBox Algebra 12+ algebra app

Using the DragonBox Algebra 12+ app was one way Ashar dug into the concepts behind algebra!

Concepts of Algebra – 0.5 credits
Course description: Foundational study in equation-based thinking, conceptual math, problem-solving

Concepts of Geometry – 0.5 credits
Course description: Strategies for budgeting, personal account management, use of credit and more

  • We talk about math all the time, which is funny because Ashar will tell you that he doesn’t like math and isn’t good at it. That’s where the “Concepts of” course titles come in. We spend very little time working out problems, and a lot of time discussing the concepts behind them and their applications.
  • We do this so often I actually wrote a whole separate post about it, called Real-world high school math: Learning algebra and geometry from life. I definitely recommend you check that out, as it lists a lot of the great resources we’ve used – such as Dragonbox apps and Life of Fred books – as well as some of the many conversational topics that fall into algebraic or geometric concepts. (And while Life of Fred is described as a Christian series, we are a secular homeschooling family and haven’t had any problems using the fairly few spiritual references we’ve found as talking points about what different people believe, which we like to do anyway.

Personal Finance 1 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Strategies for budgeting, personal account management, use of credit and more

Personal Finance 2 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Continued work in budgeting, personal account management, credit and debt, etc.

  • Ashar has long been responsible for managing his personal savings, earning money to buy things he wants and then spending, saving and giving responsibly. Why on earth would he not get credit for the hard work he puts into this?
  • As it happens, I spent many years as a personal finance writer, so Ashar probably has heard way more than he wants to about that topic, including a ton about how credit works and the ins and outs of debt.
  • We’re also big fans of talking about our own finances with Ashar, so he’s been part and parcel to a lot of financial happenings, such as job changes, a divorce, leasing and buying a car, etc.

Economics – 1 credit
Course description: Exploration of mortgages, credit scores, stock market, national/international finance

  • The election was a HUGE part of our conversation, and specifically the stock market. We spent close to an hour a day for quite a while on current events discussions and email exchanges with Ashar from about October onward.
  • As it turns out, we wrapped up Ashar’s school year by selling our home and buying a new one. Nothing like a crash course in mortgages and real estate to contribute to an economics credit!
  • I also wrapped up my car lease and bought it out during Ashar’s junior year, and as part of that, I was proud to find out my credit score was over 800 for the first time. Ashar was understandably perplexed at a score that did not involve video games, so we dove into credit scores to find out more!

Transcript-ese hints for math

  • That “concepts of” phrase is your friend. Use that in all subjects, not just math, when you want to describe a broad survey of a subject area.
  • Don’t underestimate the things you do in your everyday life. This is so true even if you’re a more traditional homeschooler. Someone recently asked in a Facebook group I’m part of whether her son’s regular work of several hours a week on the church’s sound board could qualify as any kind of high school credit. Um, yes! (I suggested “Audio Production.”) Just because something is a routine part of your life, like personal finance, doesn’t mean it doesn’t “count” educationally.
  • Look for subjects hidden within other subjects. For instance, our economics credit for this past year could probably have been wrapped up into a current events credit, or into more “bulk” for the political science credit he also earned. But boom – pull out a piece of the topic, figure out the hours of time spent on it, and suddenly you have a credit in a subject area you had fewer “extras” in.

Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript one-year record sample (sophomore)

Here’s an example of how Ashar’s sophomore year looked on an unschooling high school transcript.

Unschooling high school transcripts for science

Ashar’s demonstrating how to determine blood type using a clotting agent, a skill he learned at forensics camp.

Forensic Science – 1 credit
Course description: Study of forensic science history, practices and applications

  • So this was one of the easiest credits to figure out, because Ashar actually took two formal classes in forensics, one as a summer program and one at our local college, which added up to almost 60 hours of his 120 for the credit.
  • Bless the people in the college program, as they suggested a ton of movies about forensics and provided some discussion ideas for them. We watched a bunch and read some more in the books they had excerpted as well.
  • We looked for places where forensics was used in the news, whether for crime investigations or, in one case, to analyze some skeletal remains found about a mile from our house. (Spoiler art: Not human, somewhat to Ashar’s dismay.)
  • We took field trips to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment and the National Spy Museum, which had a bunch of great forensic-related exhibits.

Animal/Environmental Studies 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Study of wildlife, zoology, ecology and conservation issues in PA and worldwide

Animal/Environmental Studies 2 – 1 credit
Course description: Continued detailed study of wildlife, zoology, ecology and conservation issues

Animal/Environmental Studies 3 – 1 credit
Course description: Advanced study of wildlife, zoology and conservation issues, including genetics

Animal/Environmental Studies 4 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Advanced study of wildlife, zoology and conservation issues, including genetics

  • 4-H. Seriously. Ashar actually probably could earn two credits every year for the time he spends in meetings, on trips, working on projects, doing farm work… but one per year seemed sufficient. He’s a member of the Clover Canines dog-raising club, the Wildlife Watchers club and the Alpaca club, and between them he has done some amazing things.
  • Some of our favorite field trips: A ton of alpaca shows around the state and region; the Wolf Sanctuary of PA; the Lehigh Valley Zoo; Reptiland; Lake Tobias; OdySea Aquarium in Phoenix, AZ; Bearizona, also in Arizona; more butterfly experiences in multiple states than most people can imagine; local pet stores; hikes at our county parks… the list goes on for quite a while.
  • Ashar’s biggest exploration in the area of animal science his junior and senior years was alpaca genetics – which led to a lot of human biology discussion as well. He spent hours digging up the colors of the alpacas at the farm we work on, and their parents’ colors, and exploring the ins and outs of heredity, which are apparently much more complex in camelids than they are in humans.

Early summer is alpaca baby season! This is Ashar with Mac (Macintosh), one of the summer 2016 crias.

Epidemiology and Public Health – 0.5 credits
Course description: Basic concepts of disease and health, including current events and issues in health

  • You’ll like this one: I started a master’s degree in a public health field, and Ashar was always asking me what I was studying or reading about or writing about. Guess what that turned into?
  • Besides the things we talked about specifically based on my studies, and the lecture videos of mine he watched, we also watched a bunch of movies about health issues – think Outbreak, etc.
  • The Plague app, in which you try to infect the world with a virtual disease, was great for talking about how different types of diseases spread, how they can be treated, etc.
  • We rounded out the hours for this half-credit by talking about health issues in the news, most notably the Ebola crisis.

Astronomy – 0.5 credits
Course description: Study of various topics in aerospace science, including current issues

  • Astronomy was actually one of Ashar’s first topics of interest when we began our homeschooling journey. Just this year, we really revisited it with the purchase of a museum membership at the North Museum in Lancaster, PA, which has a SciDome that does planetarium shows.
  • In addition to the museum, we worked current events into this credit. Pluto isn’t a planet any more; some people get really crazy about eclipses; are we really going to send people to Mars… that sort of thing.
  • Movies were a big part of this too. If you haven’t yet watched Arrival or The Martian, I strongly recommend them, as well as the more obvious choices, like Apollo 13. Bonus: The Martian can double as “Comparative Literature” with the accompanying book.

Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation

· Fully editable transcript template
· Full copy of our current transcript
· Samples of detailed documentation on what we did each year that comprised the credits shown
· List of 100+ course titles from local high schools in my area that fit “outside the box” topics

All are free for Unschool RULES email subscribers. Get your copies here.

Transcript-ese hints for science

  • Don’t forget to think about your field trips! When we talked about literature, I mentioned plays we went to see; here, I shared all the trips we took to obvious places, like zoos and aquariums and science museums, as well as some that you might not have automatically grouped into science, like the Spy Museum.
  • Current events, current events, current events. If your family isn’t in the habit of talking about these, first of all, I recommend that you start. If you are, think back over the news items from the past year and you’ll probably find some themes that can advise your transcript-ese.
  • Keep an eye on your movies. There, again, is a place you can often see themes that you can then reflect more on for a potential credit.

Unschooling high school transcripts for history and social studies

World War II History 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of World War II – causes, effects, key figures, Jewish resistance, more

World War II History 2 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of in-depth World War II issues, including the person of Hitler

  • Ashar originally became fascinated by World War II thanks to James Bond. Actually, it was thanks to his favorite Bond, Daniel Craig, and a movie called Defiance that he starred in, detailing the real-life story of the Bielski brothers, who led a Jewish forest resistance during the war.
  • Watching the movie led to reading the Bielski Brothers book, which led to more movies and more books.
  • We took an amazing field trip to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which not only added time to these credits from when we visited, but from the conversations we had on the drive home across several states about what we saw.
  • Later in his World War II explorations, Ashar became really absorbed with Hitler. “Why did he do what he did?
    Was he mentally ill?” These were the sorts of things he was asking all the time. He ended up helping me write a long blog post, What homeschoolers should know about Adolf Hitler, and even has read parts of Mein Kampf, which led to him wanting to understand some basic German (which you’ll see later!)

British History and Culture – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study on the history and culture of Great Britain, Medieval times to present

  • This was a great example of living our lives and letting the theme find us later. Ashar’s Brit passion started with the Beatles – and specifically, playing through all of The Beatles: Rock Band.
  • From there, he and I did a Coursera course together on the Beatles’ music, which somehow led us into some conversations about the Queen and the British line of succession to the throne, which led us into a pretty in-depth exploration, over time, of various British rules across history.
  • Then there’s James Bond. Via Ashar’s Bond fascination, we learned all about modern-day England, especially the real MI6 intelligence agency.
  • Jumping way back in time, Ashar’s Shakespeare interest led to a lot of learning about Elizabethan England, and we followed that up with some Renaissance explorations that started with our local Ren Faire and continued afterward.

World Cultures and Geography – 1 credit
Course description: Study of the culture and geography of selected nations around the world

For the 2016 4-H fair, the Alpaca Club made posters, and Ashar chose as his topic “Alpaca Geography,” exploring the countries where alpacas are native.

Advanced Cultural Geography – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of culture, geography, history, customs and foods of many nations

  • Ashar absolutely loves all things to do with maps. One of his very first homeschooling experiences was working on a blog post with his dad about an old geography textbook and he’s never lost interest. As a teen, his way of pursuing geography and culture is generally to get very interested in a particular place and then explore all he can about it.
  • One of the best ways of finding new places that are cool? Celebrities. See the earlier description of England via James Bond, but we also dug into Austria thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Argentina due to Lionel Messi and Portugal from Cristiano Ronaldo.
  • Then there’s Postcrossing, about which I cannot say enough good things. This project, which Chris spearheads, led to Ashar developing an ongoing, long-term pen-friendship with a girl in Taiwan named Christina, with whom he regularly exchanges cards, letters and gifts.
  • New this year, we subscribed to Universal Yums, which lets us sample snacks from a different country each month as well as telling us some cool trivia that almost always encourages further research.
  • One kind of traditional “schoolish” thing Ashar has wanted to do with his countries is create fact notebooks,
    for which we’ve used some great printables from NotebookingPages. Detailing the languages, currencies, weather, landmarks and that sort of thing really appeals to Ashar and he’s amassed quite a collection.
Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript example photo

Taking part in Pennsylvania’s 4H State Capital Days has allowed Ashar to meet a bunch of our lawmakers, including the state Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding.

Government/Political Science 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of the American state and federal governmental system and election

Government/Political Science 2 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Continued study of the presidential election and the American government

  • “The 2016 election” is the short answer to what we did here, over the course of two academic years. Talking about it, watching the debates, reading news stories online, sending emails to each other with the latest updates, and eventually, for everyone but Ashar (MUCH to his dismay), going to vote. Though this was officially the last election he was too young to vote in, he did have his pick for a candidate, chosen after much review of the issues that mattered most to him.
  • We also explored a lot about state government through Ashar’s participation in a 4-H program called “Capital Days,” in which they visit our state capital, Harrisburg, for several days and do a mock legislative session, culminating in a brunch where the 4-H teens sit with their lawmakers and discuss issues relevant to them.

European History – 1 credit
Course description: Survey of European history from the Holy Roman Empire to present

  • Ashar is really into tons of places in Europe – as you can tell from his earlier British History credit. We talked about a lot of major events going on in Europe, such as Brexit and the refugee crisis, and then we took some deep dives into particular countries of interest.
  • Outschool was again a big part of this, as Ashar took part in one-time classes on the history of several individual European countries.
  • A big way we found countries to explore was through our Universal Yums subscription, where we get snacks from and a book of history facts and trivia about a different country every month. In great timing, we got a Greece box the month of the Greek Food Festival in town.
  • Similary, we went to the Jewish Food Festival the month we saw a play performance of The Diary of Anne Frank, which allowed us to talk more about Jewish culture in different parts of Europe.

Transcript-ese hints for history and social studies

  • I said it in science, I’ll say it again: Current events. They can be your friend, and they can help you find some pretty obvious themes for your credits.
  • On the other hand, be on the lookout for non-obvious themes. I did not immediately put together the Beatles and Shakespeare and think “British history and culture,” but once I started to jot down all the things we’d spent a lot of time on, the pattern popped out.
  • Don’t be afraid of learning that spans multiple years. The “1, 2, 3, 4” system you’re seeing throughout this post is how we reflect that. You could also ditch years altogether on your transcript and just show a series of credits by subject, which is also a fully acceptable method. In either case, please don’t shy away from assigning a credit because you’ve already covered that topic. This is not how the public school system works, and you don’t need to either.
Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript one-year record sample (junior)

Here’s an example of how Ashar’s junior year looked on an unschooling high school transcript.

Unschooling high school transcripts for arts and humanities

Ashar won first place for art by 14- to 18-year-olds at the 2014 Yorkfest, our annual regional art show. That’s his painting at left! (He also went on to win in 2015 and 2016 as well.)

Art Portfolio Development 1 and 2 – 1 credit and 0.5 credits, respectively
Course description: Focused work on portfolio creation and gallery show participation for abstract art

Art Portfolio Development 3 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Focused work on portfolio creation and sales opportunities for abstract art

  • Creating art is a HUGE part of our family’s life, and Ashar is a key part of that. He’s got his own portfolio, has taken part in several gallery shows, including at least one adult juried show, and has won first place in our local art festival for his age group for the past several years. (Next year, he competes against me in the adult category, so I’m nervous!)
  • In addition to making and showing his work, Ashar’s been giving handmade gifts, and recently started to explore selling prints and originals, which is a pretty great first job for a high-schooler.
  • We also have made friends with the owner of our local art-supply store, and we regularly talk with her as well as a lot of other local professional artists about new techniques and ideas.

Music Theory and Appreciation 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study on rhythm, melody, harmony, theory and instrumental performance

Music Theory and Appreciation 2 – 1 credit
Course description: Continued study on rhythm, melody, harmony, theory and performance

  • Ashar spent two years taking one-on-one lessons in music theory, beginning performance and appreciation from an amazing dude named Rod, who owns Music at Metropolis. He then joined Rod’s “We Rock” group, an ensemble performance group, which was cool!
  • In addition to his lessons with Rod, he practices performance at home, and listens to a TON of music and makes notes and observations for class as well as just for fun.

Introductory German – 0.5 credits
Course description: Beginning study of German language and culture

  • I mentioned before that this came out of our World War II study. We started by watching a bunch of German YouTube videos and doing some online research.
  • Later, Ashar started using DuoLingo to practice and eventually got to more than 50 percent fluency in basic German!
  • We also explored the food, culture and cultural geography of Germany.

Philosophy: Existence – 1 credit
Course description: Reading and research in historical and current ideas of existential philosophy

Philosophy: Time Travel – 0.5 credits
Course description: Reading and research in the philosophies of time, time travel and metaphysics

Philosophy: Early Philosophers – 1 credit
Course description: Study of ancient philosophers including Plato and Aristotle and their theories

  • This started when Ashar was super-into The Matrix movie series. He read all of The Matrix and Philosophy and most of its sequel, and, from there, got interested in Plato, Kant and Sartre.
  • We took a Coursera course together on ancient philosophers, which was really great.
  • We used Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant as a springboard to talking about time-travel discussions, which included the use of movies like Back to the Future, which is “past-is-changeable” time travel theory, and others, like the “Back There” episode of the Twilight Zone series, which use the “past-as-library” theory. (This spawned so many conversations!)
  • Altogether, our hours for these three credits probably came about 60 percent from reading, about 20 percent from online courses and movie-watching, and about 20 percent from our discussions.

Much of the Panic at the Ballpark cast from October 2016, including Ashar as C.J. Logan, undead shortstop. The dude with the baseball coming out of his head is the center of the story, and the twins you see at right are friends of Ashar’s who served as “tour guides” for the attraction.

Musical Theater 1 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Study of musical theater, its history and performance

Musical Theater 2 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Continued study of musical theater, its history and performance

Theater Performance 1 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Participation in scripted and improvisational theater

Theater Performance 2 – 1 credit
Course description: Continued participation in scripted and improvisational theater

  • Attending local and national musical theater performances, and watching them on video, made up the early part of these credits (along with, of course, talking about what we saw and how it worked.)
  • Starting his junior year and continuing heavily in his senior year, Ashar began to get involved with several different local theater organizations. He’s taken a stage-combat class, participated in a monthlong Halloween attraction at our local baseball stadium, served on set and props crews and acted in a number of plays. As he sometimes spent 3 to 4 hours a night, 5 nights a week, at the theater for months at a time, the credit hours added up fast!

Film and Photography Studies – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of the art of film and photography, including creating and editing

  • Ashar developed a huge interest in this area that started with wanting to modify and edit photos for his Norman Reedus fan account on Instagram, where he learned about different kinds of filters, color balancing and more.
  • He then moved on to video editing and composition, which led to him watching several documentaries to see how those were created.
  • We studied the works of a number of photographers and videographers, and Ashar spent a good amount of time talking with a family friend who owns a photography business about the equipment and skills required to be a professional photographer, which is one of his possible career paths.
  • Once again, Outschool gets credit for a number of film study and film creation courses, including a really cool series on special effects and some neat TV and film studies involving some of Ashar’s favorite shows.

Transcript-ese hints for arts and humanities

  • Please don’t sell the arts short. It might be more obvious as a credit if your teen is actively involved in performance of dance, music, visual art or drama. However, if you have a teen who likes to listen to music, or attend theater performances, this is a key learning experience too!
  • Don’t be afraid of half-credit or even quarter-credit courses. These show your teen has had an introduction to various cultural subjects.
  • The “Appreciation” designation is great for course titles. Music appreciation is listening to and trying to better understand music. Art appreciation is looking at and trying to better understand art. I would imagine many families could show “credit” in these areas!

Unschooling high school transcripts for health and physical education

Personal Health and Fitness 1, 2, 3 and 4 – 0.5 credits, 1 credit, 1 credit and 1 credit, respectively
Course description: Self-care, safety (including fire safety), and personal physical fitness

  • Really, you don’t even need this on most transcripts. However, Pennsylvania law requires that you show continuing education about fire safety, and Ashar has spent an increasing amount of time on physical activity, so I figure why not give him credit for it?
  • Health includes all the great conversations you need to have with teens about their bodies, reproduction, hygiene and all that good stuff. I’m sure I don’t need to spell this out. You had health class, right?
  • Personal fitness includes a TON of stuff that, on the other hand, I’m glad to spell out. We do a bunch of hiking and bicycling as a family. Ashar gets a lot of exercise working alpacas that outweigh him. He developed his own fitness routine based on his hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We joined a gym. We play basketball and soccer and baseball together. We go bowling and mini-golfing and to the trampoline park. All of that counts!

Transcript-ese hints for health and physical education

  • Not much to add here, but to be explicitly clear about what I said above: Caring for yourself, if done intentionally, can absolutely count for “credit,” at least on par with the college credit in bowling that I so proudly earned back in the day by showing up once a week and occasionally not using the bumpers.
  • Don’t forget to count organized sports watching as well as participating. No, you can’t get credit for attending every Phillies game of the season, but you can legitimately supplement your credit hours with a reasonable amount of time spent watching and learning the rules of the game as well as playing it.

Final notes

Practical arts
I haven’t reflected anything in this category on Ashar’s transcript, but “practical arts,” which includes things like woodworking, car maintenance and repair, sewing, cooking, general home economics and much more, is an area you probably will want to consider on your own.

I actually wish I had done more to document and reflect these areas in Ashar’s high school years. These are absolutely valid credits.

Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation

· Fully editable transcript template
· Full copy of our current transcript
· Samples of detailed documentation on what we did each year that comprised the credits shown
· List of 100+ course titles from local high schools in my area that fit “outside the box” topics

All are free for Unschool RULES email subscribers. Get your copies here.

Work experience

Time spent working DOES qualify for transcript credit. In fact, many public high schools offer courses with titles such as “Diversified Occupations” or “Career Development” which incorporate both classroom instruction in resume-writing, etc., as well as time spent getting and working at a job.

Your relaxed homeschooler or unschooler absolutely can count the same types of activities. If your teen crafts a resume, goes on a job search and lands a position, their work in doing so is very much a learning experience, and you should reflect it as such!

Driver education

While Ashar hasn’t yet started driving, many unschooled teens will count studying for a permit test, doing road practice and getting a driver’s license among their high school experiences. Your time toward this counts as a credit as well!

Dual enrollment

If your student plans to dual-enroll in any college courses (usually done during junior and senior years), you can definitely include those on the transcript as well, and that’s super-easy – take the name and short description from the college, add the grade if you wish, and call it good!

Final transcript-ese reminders

Creating an unschooling high school transcript isn’t easy, but it’s pretty simple if you do the following:

  • Know your requirements.
  • Look back over your year and pick out the ways your family spent most of your time.
  • Look for themes in those areas. If it’s movies, did you watch a bunch of a certain genre or topic? If it’s traveling, did you go to a bunch of zoos or a bunch of history museums? If it’s listening to audiobooks or podcasts, what were some of the best ones?
  • If you’re having trouble thinking in terms of “school-speak,” or transcript-ese, pick one key book or movie or trip location and try to imagine a class you might have taken in high school or college that would have used that as an enrichment activity to support more traditional textbook learning.
  • Find some good key words and phrases, such as “Concepts of” or “Introduction to” or “Appreciation” or “Advanced,” and see how to work them into the areas you want to describe.

And, as is always the case here at Unschool Rules, if you have any other questions, please comment below! While I no longer have the availability to provide full consulting services, I do try to answer all comments and will certainly be glad to help if I can, and can recommend some great consultants if you do need more detailed advice!

BONUS: Actual course title ideas from local high schools

In August 2017, my friend and fellow York, PA, unschooler Nikki Donahue spent a day combing the websites of high schools across Central Pennsylvania and compiling a list of their actual course titles for anything interesting that was worth half a credit or more.

Her list, which includes “Exploring the Kingdoms of Life,” “Physics of Sports,” “Landscaping Design and Construction,” “Film, Fiction and History,” “Intro to Peacebuilding,” “Dystopian Literature,” “Screenprinting,” “Criminal and Civil Law,” “Theatre and Justice” and about a hundred more ideas, is part of my download library for email newsletter subscribers, so make sure you’re subscribed here to see the full list!

Read more ultimate guides

The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript is part of the iHomeschool Network's Ultimate Guides series.This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Ultimate Guides series. Click the image here to see great tips from some of my fellow bloggers on a ton of cool topics!

You can also check out the Unschool Rules ultimate guides from previous years:

I hope you’ll take a look!

Unschooling: Our April 2018 adventures

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: An antique-store friend.

Ashar and Chris picked up this new friend, Whiskers, at an antique store.

April was a bunch of unschooling fun, and one REALLY BIG thing happened – we are officially “done” Ashar’s compulsory education under Pennsylvania law! We’ll be continuing to wrap up the things we do together as a family (and the learning that goes with them) in posts like this one, but I wanted to take a minute and celebrate that milestone!

(As always, if you want a more frequent peek at what we do, you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook. You can also check out our archive of previous wrapups here.)

Unschooling in Central Pennsylvania on Unschool Rules: A month in the life of radical unschoolers.

That whole graduation business

So we’re done. Final paperwork submitted, nothing else required… right?

WRONG! Of course there’s a graduation party. We’re hosting a cookout and backyard graduation ceremony May 27 for Ashar, and I have a HUGE favor to ask of all of you. Ashar had really wanted to host a HUGE party, and for various reasons it’s not going to be nearly as large of a shindig as she’s dreamed of.

That’s where you come in. If you like reading about Ashar’s journey here on Unschool Rules, would you consider sending her a card or postcard with your best graduation wishes? She’d LOVE that (she loves getting mail) and it’d be a great way to extend our celebrating.

You can mail cards to:

Ashar Otto
3416 Essex Road
Dover, PA 17315

(Don’t freak out, privacy people. Our address has been all over the internet for years. It’s not a biggie.)

And thank you all in advance for any love you’re willing to send Ashar’s way. It means a TON!

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: Two cute cats.

That’s a whole lot of dumb right there. Mr. Angelino, top, and Mr. Bill, bottom. Names totally coincidental.


I talked last month about how we’d recently discovered Outschool. It’s a platform for independent online K-12 classes taught by all sorts of people – from certified teachers to hobbyists to trade professionals – and it’s amazing.

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!
We’ve been doing mostly single-session classes, which range in price from about $10 to $20 an hour, but in April, Ashar completed a six-session Shakespeare roundtable for teenagers, which was $75 for the full course.

In addition to the classes I mentioned in March, Ashar has now completed three courses in a series called “The Butterfly Effect,” which is a look at a famous person and how that individual changed history. They’re taught by an awesome lady named Barb Ve, who Ashar loves. In April, we had:

She’s signed up for several May courses, including:

I cannot speak highly enough about Outschool, which has been super-fun for us.

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: Biohazard art project.

Ashar’s biohazard design, compiled from a few different reference images. You can’t see it well in this image, but she has some great faint green shading behind the main biohazard symbol.

Artistic endeavors

One thing Ashar has contemplated as a future career is tattoo artistry. She did a bunch of reading and internet searching and found out that the best place to start with that at her age (since you can’t begin tattooing in Pennsylvania ’til you’re 21) is to build up a good drawing portfolio.

Since then, she’s spent time almost every day working on art! Right now, she’s mostly tracing outlines from source images and then shading and coloring them to her liking, but she’s hoping to move up to some freehand drawing soon. She’s got quite the portfolio – everything from standard tattoo-style designs to images of Norman Reedus’ face.

Ashar is also interested in photography – both modeling for photos and taking and editing them. So one night in April, she sat down for more than an hour with my best friend, Nina Myers, who runs her own photography business called CM&M Photography. Nina told Ashar all about different kinds of lenses and flashes, how she’s built her skills and more. It was a huge hit for both of them!

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: Bart Simpson art project.

Ashar made this Bart Simpson (traced from a reference image) for Kaitlyn, who is a big fan of The Simpsons.


As part of a super-cool opportunity from Candlewick Press, Ashar and I spent a bunch of time with a set of new books, including:

We also read a whole bunch of Shakespeare plays, including a super-fun thing Ashar planned in which she, Chris, Kaitlyn and I acted out scenes from a good half-dozen of them for my mom in our living room! (And she got into some of the sonnets of Shakespeare this month as well.)

Ashar also dug heavily into a book called True Crime, which is a collection of real newspaper articles about crimes from the 1800s to present.

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: New hair.

New hair for me.

Movies and TV

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: Saying yes to a wedding dress!

Yup, it’s getting real now. I said yes to the dress! (And no, you can’t see it yet.)


  • FIFA 18
  • The Sims 4
  • Destiny 2
  • Wii Sports – We got back to using our Wii after a long hiatus and it was fun to try some of these fun family games (like bowling) again!)
  • The Chameleon – This is a cool borad/table game that we got for Christmas and just played for the first time.
  • Dungeons and Dragons – You can read more about this one on Chris’s blog, Papergreat – it was very cool!
Unschooling in April 2018: Mom got a new birthday TV.

We celebrated my mom’s birthday with family on Easter, and she got a new (and much larger) TV for her bedroom from my sisters and brother. (Not pictured: I got her an air fryer and tickets to a show at Sight and Sound.)

Recent rabbit trails

I mentioned in September’s post on our unschooling planner system that our “rabbit trails” are the most fun we have in unschooling.

By far the best one this month started when Chris and Ashar were working on their family trivia game – they make up trivia questions for the rest of us on a huge variety of unusual topics. Somehow this morphed into a huge discussion on global prioritization, economics and systems of government. I can’t begin to describe it but it was very cool.

Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: New hair.

New Ashar hair.

Other fun stuff

  • Ashar’s been writing a bunch of letters – to her Pappy John in Florida (Chris’s dad), to a fellow Walking Dead fan in Japan, and more. She loves letter-writing and getting things back in the mail.
  • Ashar and Chris had a bunch of fun excursions to antique stores and to the local arcade, where Ashar got a high school on Ghostbuster pinball.
  • We went to the local Jewish Food Festival, which had better main dishes and less-great desserts than the Greek Food Festival from a few months back.
  • With the advent of nicer weather, we’ve been walking and bike riding a lot more in our neighborhood, and getting a chance to reconnect with our neighbors, which is nice. Ashar and I also spent one evening on a huge Pokemon Go hunt at a local park that is filled with them.
  • Ashar filled in for a friend in a local bowling league.
  • Ashar gave Kaitlyn some ideas for some really cool graphic designs – projects involving penguins that look like characters from The Walking Dead for instance.
  • Ashar, Kaitlyn and I went to see The Addams Family Musical at my alma mater, York College, and that was also very well done! (And funny!)
Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: Spirit Wolf art project.

Ashar made this “spirit wolf” image based on tracing a reference image.

Updates from around the family

Since our “curriculum plan” for this year featured not just Ashar but the other house adults, I figure I should give monthly updates on our progress too. So here’s a look at what’s new with the rest of us.

An update from Joan and Kaitlyn

GRAD SCHOOL IS OVER FOR THE SEMESTER. That’s basically the best thing in life for me right now. I ended the semester with two high As and have a whopping week or so until summer classes start, including my capstone project. (Though I don’t graduate until next spring due to some scheduling ick.)

I managed to read 16 books in April, including two by the aforementioned awesome Nadia Bolz-Weber. Other highlights were By far the best was Caroline: Little House Revisited by Ashar Miller, which is a retelling of the Little House books from the perspective of Caroline Ingalls, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother. Girls Like Us by Gail Giles was another amazing (and tear-inducing) read.

I also got to do a bunch of scrapbooking and, in big news, Kaitlyn and I found out that we got a pretty huge freelance contract we’d bid on earlier this year with our web development business, Technical Penguins.

Which is good, because…

Kaitlyn and I are officially planning our wedding. March 23, 2019 is the big day, and I already have my dress!

Kaitlyn also reports he’s really liking reading At Home by Bill Bryson, which Chris is also reading. Kaitlyn says it’s a great look at both the depth and breadth of history.

Updates from Chris

Chris wants to know where the [expletive deleted] April went. I’m pretty much in the same boat. Considering it SNOWED a couple of times in April, I want to know where all of spring went.

Anyway, though, this is Chris’s update. He says:

“The only book I finished in April was Adventure May Be Anywhere by Ruth Manning-Sanders. Beyond that, I accomplished six (maybe seven) sets of taxes, so that was good.”

He’s only a little bit kidding on the taxes thing.

Also he got a new car, after his previous one was totalled in an accident that was not his fault. (If you’re keeping track, THAT was the car he’d gotten less than a year ago after his previous car was totalled in a terrible parking garage vandalism incident. Chris is not enjoying cars right now, but his new one is very nice.)

Update on my mom (also Joan)

A few highlights from Mom about some of her favorite activities this month:

  • Mom and Ashar made some cookies together one day, which was cool.
  • All five of us saw The Diary of Anne Frank at a local theater, and it was heartbreaking and very well done.
  • Ashar, Mom and I went to see Nadia Bolz-Weber, an amazing (and F-bomb-dropping) Lutheran pastor, in Lancaster. I might go to church regularly if she were the pastor. She’s phenomenal.
  • Unschooling in April 2018 on Unschool Rules: Norman Reedus art project.

    Ashar traced the outline of this image of Norman Reedus and did her own shading and colorizing!

    So what’s new with your family this month? How is your 2018 starting out? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”

    Dare to be different: Homeschool learning from literary rebels throughout history

    Candlewick Books for Homeschooling: Learning from Literary Rebels

    “It’s better to stand out in a crowd than blend in.” That’s the caption my 18-year-old daughter, Ashar, put on one of her Instagram stories recently, along with a note that said “I will never stop being myself.” I cannot think of anything that would make me prouder as a parent than having a teenager who knows their worth and realizes that they are exactly perfect just as they are.

    Disclosure: In exchange for the honest review of our experience which appears in this post, our family received several books from Candlewick Press for free. We were compensated for our time completing the review, but we’ve easily spent quadruple that time with these books already because we like them so much!

    I give Ashar a ton of credit for being her own person, but I also know it’s not an accident. The choices I’ve made as a parent – especially as a homeschooling parent – have definitely helped to shape her perspective.

    In our family, we try to celebrate the rebels, the oddballs, the unique. We watch movies and read books and talk about people who dare to be different – whether that’s women throughout history, innovators like Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci, or people who don’t fit into the majority because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political views.

    One of the coolest things we do is keep a fully stocked “book basket” on our coffee table with things all of us can pick up and browse, and we definitely try to use that space to reflect literary rebels, both factual and fictional. Recently, I added a big collection of books from Candlewick Press and they’ve been amazing! You could use these as the basis of a unit study – either on one particular person or group of people, or overall to talk about being a rebel!

    Real-Life Heroes

    If you’ve been following Unschool Rules for any time, you probably know how much Ashar is into history.

    She’s obsessed with Shakespeare, and thanks to falling in love with the Hamilton soundtrack, fascinated by the Revolutionary War. The following books have been very cool ways to learn more about those topics:

    What’s So Special About Shakespeare? by Michael Rosen

    This is a great book that’s shown us a lot we didn’t know about Shakespeare. Ashar and I are actually reading it aloud together (yes, family read-alouds can still be AWESOME when you have teens!) and have learned a bunch – including how Shakespeare sort of stole a theater, that he has no direct living descendants, and how he uses language tricks to make specific points. It’s an easy read, probably designed more for middle grades than high school, but still interesting even at Ashar’s age (and mine)!

    Some of the cool things to talk about:

    • What is the role of theater in social/political commentary? Shakespeare went out of his way, usually by using comedy, to deliver very pointed insults to certain groups of people, even powerful ones. We talked about how this happens now in more modern plays that go out on political limbs, like when the Hamilton cast delivered some pointed words to Vice President Mike Pence.
    • How is our language today different than Shakespeare’s, or influenced by Shakespeare’s? If you’ve ever used the words “manager” or “uncomfortable,” you owe a debt to Shakespeare. Yet while those words continue to be important today, there’s a lot of Shakespeare’s kind of language that has died out. Ashar, for her part, loves the original words, because they have a lot of nuance that she says helps you tell what emotions the characters have, more than “regular” language would. She also points out that because you have to stop and ask questions, it makes you slow down and consider the meaning more.
    • Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? We found out from this book that Shakespeare… well, he kinda cribbed some major plot points and even some whole phrases and ideas directly from old stories. A Roman book by Plutarch, for instance, describes Cleopatra riding in a barge “the poop whereof was gold, the sails purple, and the oars of silver,” and Shakespeare, in Antony and Cleopatra, describes “The poor was beaten gold; purple the sails… the oars were silver.” So… is that OK? Nowadays we have a different idea of giving credit, but what do you think about this happening at the time?
    Candlewick Books for Homeschooling: Learning from Literary Rebels

    Ashar shows her “dramatic Shakespeare pose.”

    Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution by Roxane Orgill

    The Revolutionary War, told as a series of poems? OK, I’m enough of a lit nerd to think that’s pretty cool, but I wasn’t sure Ashar would love it, given her general “just the facts” mentality. But we ended up having a great time and coming up with some great conversation points.

    • Was it OK that Washington owned slaves? This was a big question for Ashar – whether someone can be considered a hero even if they do something we consider “wrong.” We talked about the culture of the time, but we also talked about how Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of Ashar’s heroes even though he cheated on his wife.
    • What’s an acrostic poem? This isn’t a life lesson by any means, but there were multiple acrostics in the book, and Ashar and I worked together to create an acrostic poem about ways in which she’s kind of a hero herself, using the letters of her name as the first lines.
    • What made George Washington a good leader of the Revolution? We think it’s because he was willing to think outside the box – for instance, by letting black people into his decimated army to bolster his forces, even going against his advisors to do so.
    Candlewick Books for Homeschooling: Learning from Literary Rebels

    This is Ashar’s “I’m a rebel” face.

    Fictional Bravery

    I get the idea from talking with other homeschooling parents that most of us are pretty confident about the idea of learning from books about real people – I even have a whole post on homeschooling with biographies that delves into that.

    But there is so much to learn from fictional characters as well, and I think we forget that sometimes. These books might not be 100% true, but there are DEFINITELY opportunities in them to talk about people who dared to be different – fictional literary rebels, as it were.

    A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers and Other Badass Girls and The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls, both edited by Jessica Spotswood

    These anthologies are absolutely full of great stuff. In the preface to each, Jessica Spotswood describes working with contributing authors to tell stories featuring women and girls who were on the fringes of society, or radical for their place and time.

    My favorite was the opening story in The Radical Element, about a Jewish woman in the 1800s who wants to read the Talmud for herself, which was crazy controversial at the time. There are also stories about women of color, queer women, women who want to vote, women who want to work outside the home, and more.

    We had some great conversations about women’s rights thanks to these books, and Ashar showed me these amazing Instagram posts from Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne on The Walking Dead and who starred in Black Panther, who talks about how great it is that men are starting to speak out about women’s rights:

    We talked about a ton of other issues thanks to these books, including:

    • What makes something radical? These books led us to talk a lot about time, place and culture. As in, what was radical for a woman in the 1940s – like, you know, pants – is pretty commonplace today, though it would still be radical if, say, you lived in an Amish community like the many near us.
    • Are there any ways in which you – or someone you know – is “radical”? We have a pretty unusual family. Divorced couple still living together, with one person (me) engaged to someone else, who I’m living with despite not being married? Teenage girl who presents visually as a teenage boy in clothes/hair? We sort of stand out in a crowd, is what I’m saying. But the “radical” stuff really isn’t about those appearances. We think we practice radical kindness, saying yes any time we can help. We think our unschooling lifestyle is pretty radical. We’ve gone out on a limb, started a nonprofit and given away more than 500 stuffed penguins. That’s the kind of radical we are.
    • What elements have been historically missing from coming-of-age stories? One of the reasons these anthologies were so powerful to me is that they featured characters who are young women coming of age. Kaitlyn mentioned that the “classic” coming-of-age novels – Johnny Tremain, Catcher in the Rye and the like – are all strongly white heterosexual male. More books have started to include females, but what about women of color? What about gay or trans women of color? Those stories are just starting to be shared, and these books are a huge step in the right direction.
    • What types of women from these stories or from real life do you consider inspiring? Ashar says Danai Gurira, who we mentioned above, but she also gave big shout-outs to Ellen Degeneres and Michelle Obama. She also mentioned Walking Dead actress Alanna Masterson, who had a great post recently on body positivity.

    It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

    This amazingly-told story follows Mike, a high school freshman who moves to a new state with his family, including his domineering father. Dad wants Mike to stop being into art, to attend church regularly, to get into sports… and definitely (spoiler alert) NOT to be gay. But when Mike meets and falls for Sean, he realizes that being different in his suburban community can become pretty dangerous, eventually leading to him getting sent to a camp that attempts to convince him that being gay is wrong. (This reminded us of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called The Outcast, where a character is sent for “re-conditioning” because of gender preference.)

    Some of the many things we talked about from this book:

    • What happens when your parents have different ideas about what’s acceptable than you do? “Compromise?” Ashar (who has never had parents tell her she can’t be anything except who she is) suggests.
    • What’s the role of religion in your life? Does following some particular religion shape who you are so much that it can change your views on things like gender preference, or can those things coexist peacefully?
    • The million-dollar question: Is it OK to be gay? No matter how you as a parent feel about that, make sure you ask your kids. They may feel differently – or you may find you agree. In either case, you’ll have a great discussion. (And while I stay away from all things divisive for the most part, let me go on the record and say: Ashar and I are very open and affirming to the LGBTQ community, and we would love to use this space to make sure you know that.)

    Dolls of Hope by Shirley Parenteau

    This fictional story is based on the real-life friendship doll project, a program designed to ease cultural tensions between Japan and the U.S. in the late 1920s, following World War I. U.S. schoolkids sent 12,000 dolls to Japan, and this book explores the story of one young Japanese girl, Chiyo Tamura, who is chosen to be a protector of one of those dolls, and to help craft one of the 58 dolls Japan would go on to send back to the United States. It’s an incredible elementary or middle-grade read that gives a lot of background into the Japanese culture.

    Some of the things we talked about from this book:

    • Can being peaceful be rebellious? At a time when these two cultures were pretty tense, one of the biggest acts of “rebellion” was to accept the goodwill gesture of the dolls for what it was, and to offer dolls in return. We don’t usually think of peace as an act of rebellion.
    • What is the value of honor? The book begins with Chiyo dishonoring her family by being caught spying on the man her sister is to marry. That’s considered dishonorable and she is sent away on a journey that will eventually lead her to the dolls. But is it really “dishonorable” to have tried to protect her sister? What does it mean to be honorable?

    Get Your Own Great Books About Rebels

    If you order these or any other books from Candlewick Press online, use discount code CANDLEWICK at checkout for 25% off!

    Also, Candlewick Press is giving 30 winners a paperback copy of Judy Moody #1. You must be a U.S. or Canadian resident to enter, and the giveaway closes at 11 p.m. April 18!

    Find out more by following Candlewick on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

    Unschooling: Our March 2018 adventures

    Unschool Rules: Meet the Conciliottoman family

    Hey, it’s all of us!

    So… it’s been a while since I did an “official” wrapup, though I did share the biggest highlight of Ashar’s December and January, her cross-country trip with Kaitlyn to Arizona.

    I had mentioned at the end of December that I was looking for a new format for this wrapup, because it really takes me a long time to put together, but those of you who commented told me how much you like it. The downside is that when things get busy, like they did at the end of January and again at the end of February, I just can’t finish a big post!

    So this will mostly be a roundup of March, but I’m going to try to pop in some highlights from the end of January and February as well in order to get caught up. Then, who knows? MAYBE I’ll do something crazy like post once a week in April so it’s not so overwhelming. (Don’t hold me to that!)

    (As always, if you want a more frequent peek at what we do, you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook. You can also check out our archive of previous wrapups here.)

    Unschooling in Central Pennsylvania on Unschool Rules: A month in the life of radical unschoolers.


    By far the biggest new discovery for our family last month was Outschool. It’s a platform for independent online K-12 classes taught by all sorts of people – from certified teachers to hobbyists to trade professionals – and it’s amazing.

    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!
    We’ve been doing mostly single-session classes, which range in price from about $10 to $20 an hour, but a couple of weeks ago Ashar joined a six-session Shakespeare roundtable for teenagers, which is $75 for the full course. There are even some semester-long courses, but that’s more than we wanted to bite off for now. You can search by course length, day and time, age level and topic.

    So far, Ashar has taken:

    … and of course, the aforementioned Shakespeare Roundtable is underway.

    She’s also signed up for “The Butterfly Effect” – Vincent Van Gogh; Meet People Who Have Changed The World on Thursday, April 5.

    I cannot speak highly enough about Outschool, which has been super-fun for us. In fact, Kaitlyn and I have even talked about signing up to teach classes ourselves! Many thanks to my local unschooling friend Nikki for mentioning this to us.

    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Chris made a snow bird feeder.

    Chris made a snow bird feeder. When it snowed. 18 inches. On the first day of spring. Grr.

    Shakespeare and other theater

    So of course you saw the multiple Outschool Shakespeare classes.

    In addition to that, in the realm of theater in the past month or so, Ashar has also:

    • Watched a movie version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson
    • Worked heavily on the set crew for a production of Bridge to Terabithia at Dreamwrights
    • Seen a production of Beauty and the Beast at our local high school
    • Discussed how Shakespeare uses folklore, assisted by a phenomenal antiquarian book Chris owns called – you guessed it – Folklore of Shakespeare

    We also watched some cool videos about Shakespeare’s use of meter:

    And this cool mini-biography of Shakespeare:

    On the topic of other performing arts, then there’s this gem:

    And finally, Ashar also shared this with me: A collection of celebrities reciting Poe’s “The Raven” as part of a benefit:

    As you can tell, theater was pretty much our big focus!

    What comes next?

    On the Unschool Rules Facebook page, I asked what everyone wants to read more about once Ashar finishes her compulsory school years – more stuff about unschooling philosophy and ideas, or more stuff about our day-to-day lives post-“school.”

    You’re all incredibly unhelpful, because pretty much everyone said both. Yeah, I said it. Unhelpful. I was hoping for “clear direction” and I got “keep writing whatever you happen to think of,” which … well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    Anyway, there were a lot of people who want to know what’s next for Ashar, and you MIGHT have noticed it’s something I don’t talk too much about. Sure, part of it is because we’re sort of live-for-the-moment types, but part of it is…

    … because we just don’t know.

    First of all, let me be clear that Ashar is her own person. Whatever she chooses to do – this summer, next year, five years from now – is going to be what she wants, not what Chris or Kaitlyn or I decide for her. We feel super-strongly about that. But it means that unlike a lot of kids, who are told “You have to go to college,” or “You have to get a job,” Ashar has to do the hard work of choosing. And honestly, she just isn’t quite ready to decide yet.

    But that doesn’t mean we are hands-off. Our role is to talk with Ashar about responsibility, options and goals, and to put resources in front of her that might help. We’ve looked at a program called Transitions, part of The Janus School, which caters to students with learning differences. We’re not sure yet if that’s in the future, but we spent a day last month visiting with Ashar and trying to find out if it’d be a good fit as she tries to figure out adult life on the autism spectrum.

    All I can say is, when Ashar knows, you’ll know 🙂 Until then, I hope you’ll be happy hearing about the day-to-day, because we really feel like that’s where our focus should be right now, and it’s where all the coolest stuff is happening!

    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Family fun day

    Ashar and Chris making funny faces together, and Ashar and I twinning in our shirts from the David Byrne concert.


    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Ashar Otto with Pa. Sen. Mike Regan at 4-H Capital Days

    Ashar had a great time meeting our state senator, Mike Regan, at 4-H Capital Days.

    Movies and TV

    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Chris made this amazing drawing of Pepe Le Pew and his cat friend.

    Chris made this amazing drawing of Pepe Le Pew and his cat friend for Sarah!


    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Mother-daughter ouroboros tattoos

    Ashar’s and my ouroboros tattoos – this was her 18th birthday present from Kaitlyn and me. (Before you ask, yes, it’s the Fullmetal Alchemist symbol, but we didn’t know that; it was on a necklace Ashar got at the Renaissance Faire and that’s what we based it on, having no idea of its provenance.)

    Recent rabbit trails

    I mentioned in September’s post on our unschooling planner system that our “rabbit trails” are the most fun we have in unschooling.

    Here are just a few we touched on in the past few months:

    • The New Deal, voting and other rights for people with disabilities, FDR and Kennedy, thanks to a cool history tool we got to review.
    • Gay actors playing straight characters and vice versa.
    • Based on some videos from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, river otters and sea turtles and how they breed and why they might need to be rescued.
    • Thanks to a local Greek food fest, we got into a winding discussion about Greek orthodoxy and the Greek langague.
    • Viral and bacterial illnesses, when a young friend of hers got very sick and needed to be hospitalized, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. In great news, her friend is now home and recuperating.
    • After attending an AMAZING concert by my favorite singer, David Byrne (formerly of the Talking Heads), we talked a lot on the way home about the violent deaths of many people of color, thanks to his last encore song, a cover of Janelle Monae’s protest song Hell You Talmbout (worth a listen here).
    • European history, Pol Pot, the Dark Ages, and famous death scene photos.
    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Selfies after finishing a jigsaw puzzle

    Mom and I selfie-ing after finishing her 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of classic candy wrappers; you can see Ashar’s World of Warcraft game in the background.

    Other fun stuff

    • We all colored maps showing what states we’ve been to (Ashar is winning).
    • Ashar continued to work on creating fan video edits for her Norman Reedus fan Instagram account.
    • We tasted Universal Yums from Greece, France and Poland, and with the Poland ones we also did a cheese-tasting party based on some many cheeses we had recently acquired.
    • As part of Ashar’s We Rock class, she learned a bit about how to play a three-string guitar, or riff machine.
    • We found, for $1.50 on clearance at our local Staples, a zombie coloring book, and Ashar colored us some amazingly detailed undead friends.
    • Ashar continues to enjoy sorting her stamp collection, which has led to conversations about the Republic of South Maluku, which I had definitely never heard of, flags, and a bunch of other great stuff.
    • We’ve been talking about dogs a lot since our Goldendoodle, Coby, passed away in October. Then we found out that there are a bunch of new Doodle breeds – like Bernedoodles (Bernese Mountain Dog plus Standard Poodle) and Sheepadoodles (Sheepdog plus Standard Poodle). I subsequently lost my stuff, because they’re phenomenal.
    • For the third year, Ashar took part in 4-H Capital Days, where she went to Harrisburg, debated a bill on the Senate floor, and met our senator, Mike Regan, who told her a cool story of how he helped a young boy and his family get a diabetes monitor after an insurance denial so that his parents could stop staying up all night to check his sugar.
    • We had some birthdays – Ashar turned 18, my mom turned 83. We enjoyed restaurant dinners out for both of them, and Ashar got a tattoo as a gift from Kaitlyn and me, an amazing Chromebook as a gift from Chris, and a very sweet video from a longtime friend/extended family member named Jerry. (And back in January, Kaitlyn celebrated his 31st birthday!)
    • Ashar, who loves penpals and letters, wrote to a fellow Walking Dead fan and artist in Japan named Ai, and to her longer-time penpal Christina in Taiwan.
    • We had our big 4-H Auction, the main fundraiser that keeps our county 4-H Center building running all year. Chris successfully won a gardening-themed basket from Ashar’s alpaca club, but generously put it up for rebid to help raise more money, and Kaitlyn and I successfully won a cheese basket for an exorbitant (but certainly charitable) sum. That’s where the cheese for our Cheese Tasting came from. We also managed to donate $20 for four hot dogs because of a lack of change and a general feeling of generosity.
    Unschool Rules unschooling in March 2018: Celebrating Mom's 83rd birthday

    Me and Mom on her birthday after I gave her an air fryer (not pictured).

    Updates from around the family

    Since our “curriculum plan” for this year featured not just Ashar but the other house adults, I figure I should give monthly updates on our progress too. So here’s a look at what’s new with the rest of us.

    An update from the me, Joan

    I’m still trucking along with two grad classes this semester, carrying a high A in both right now.

    I managed to read six books in January, 10 in February and 10 in March. Tops among them were The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe (which will make you cry exactly as much as you might guess a book with Auschwitz in the title would make you cry) and The Speckled Monster by Jennifer Lee Carrell, a great look at smallpox variolation in Britain and Boston in the 1700s.

    If you’d prefer a fiction read instead, I’d say go for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or Caleb and Kit by award-winning YA author (and friend of mine!) Beth Vrabel.

    I mentioned in the last update that I started new medications for my bipolar, and they continue to be amazing, though I had to call an audible and request a dosage reduction because I was veering way too far into “comatose” for my liking. I’m more alert/awake/functional now.

    I also got to go on my annual scrapbooking weekend with my best friend, Nina, and we have something like four or five scrapbooking days planned in the next two months. With all of those, I should be able to get 2017’s album done by the end of May, then I can spend the rest of the year working on my current backlog project, a book of everything between when I was born in 1982 and when Ashar was born in 2000.

    What’s new with Kaitlyn

    Kaitlyn says:

    “In January, I spent a bunch of time catching up on work and freelancing post-Arizona trip. I hit a bit of a lull in reading books, and mostly worked through longer internet articles. The few books I did read were mostly disappointing, with exceptions in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine [which Joan mentions above] and Almost Midnight by Rainbow Rowell. I also finally managed to watch Get Out, which was a great psychological horror movie.”

    Updates from Chris

    Chris and Ashar have been doing a whole bunch of stuff lately, and he wrote me a pretty detailed update.

    “One of the things Ashar and I did was focus on art, storytelling and creativity. We enjoy watching old Looney Tunes cartoons (especially Road Runner and Tweety & Sylvester), so we researched some images of cartoon characters and I did my best job of imitating the sketches, describing the process to Ashar as I made the art. It took a lot of patience, slow-going, and trial and error. But we were pleased with the final products, which included Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird, Pepe Le Pew and, switching to Hanna-Barbera, Shaggy holding a frightened Scooby Doo in his arms. So now we have some more art for our walls… We also like to do silly sketches and let our imaginations roam, which is how we ended up with a PG sketch of young Vincent Price with a tattoo on his bare buttocks.”

    Yup, Vincent Price’s butt. #unschooling, friends.

    “Another part of our creative efforts was co-authoring stories together. We use old postcards, chosen by Ashar, as our launching pad for whatever fictional stories strike our imagination. Back in December, we co-wrote a comic-romance piece about Napoleon – and then we completely changed gears in early March and wrote a ghost story. These are truly co-authored efforts. She comes up with the characters and settings and basic plot, and then I work to gently steer the whole thing into a viable short-story structure, asking her many leading questions and having her create much of the dialogue and other key moments. Then, when we’re done, we create a ‘book cover’ for our story, using the original postcard as the starting-off point. Ashar brings a great sense of art direction and cool typographical ideas to the table.”

    More from Chris: “On my ephemera and history blog, Papergreat, some of the things I researched and wrote about in January and February included Lancaster humorist Jakey Budderschnip, the Great Blizzard of 1888 and old bookplates.”

    “Some of the books I’ve read since the beginning of 2018 include Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory [note from Joan: I recommended this!], Plutona by Jeff Lemire, Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution by David L. Craddock, Welsh Churches by H.C. Trengove and Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak. Plus a bunch of Ms. Marvel and Captain America comic books to round things out. In March I added The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander.”

    On the less-exciting front: “At work (LNP), the big event at the start of the year was the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory in the Super Bowl. While I did not get to watch the game with Ashar, it afforded me the opportunity to share information about the newsroom workflow and efforts required to put out a newspaper on a very short deadline (we only had 90 minutes after the game ended) following the Eagles’ triumph.

    I must also add that in sad news, Chris was in a car accident (not his fault) that left his car totaled. That was not an exciting end to March!

    My mom (also Joan) weighs in

    Sort of pun intended, because she says “I think all we did in March is eat.” She’s not wrong. Also we started April by eating a TON when we all got together for Easter, so…

    She and I also had a good time going to a tea with some of her friends, and she’s been participating in a Bible study with ladies from her church every week. They just finished studying Titus and will pick up with another book soon.

    Back in January, we also celebrated the end of one of my sisters’ radiation treatments for breast cancer, so that was great news!

    And Chris and Ashar got Mom a jigsaw puzzle of classic candy wrappers, and she and I worked together on that and completed it all in two nights at the end of March.

    So what’s new with your family this month? How is your 2018 starting out? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”

    This is what 18 looks like

    At 1:25 p.m. March 24, 2000, my world changed forever.

    Today, this is what 18 looks like.

    Unschool Rules: Celebrating an 18th birthday

    I want to remember these days forever… not just the big moments (like Ashar getting her new Chromebook from her dad, which she loved…)

    Unschool Rules: Celebrating an 18th birthday

    … but the little times too, like making funny faces with Kaitlyn…

    Unschool Rules: Celebrating an 18th birthday

    18 is amazing.

    Ashar’s “18 years” thoughts

    These are all directly Ashar’s words.

    Three words that best describe her: Awesome, amazing and cool

    Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese

    Best piece of advice she has ever given or gotten: Never stop being who you are. (Chris chimes in with “Work hard and make it cool,” which Ashar told him as he was leaving for work one day many years ago and which has since become a family catchphrase!)

    Favorite TV show: The Walking Dead

    Thing she is most looking forward to in the future: Getting a tattoo (that’s coming Friday, March 30!)

    Best thing about her: I’m definitely fashionable. (“You’re really kind,” my mom added.)

    Best thing about her family: They’re supportive.

    My “more than 18 years” thoughts

    As we were writing this out, my mom says, “When you’re done, you should do that for you. It’d be interesting.” So, here we go!

    Three words that best describe me: Eclectic, interested and (Ashar picks artistic, creative and kind. “And to add on to it, you’re very smart.”)

    Favorite food: Also macaroni and cheese

    Best piece of advice I have ever given or gotten: “What do you care what other people think?” (Also the title of one of the best books I’ve ever read.)

    Favorite TV show: Uh… I don’t really watch TV? I like Jeopardy a lot, I guess.

    Thing I am most looking forward to in the future: It’s really hard to narrow it down to just one thing! Right now probably launching my next writing project, a personal finance website.

    Best thing about me: I’ll do anything to help someone.

    Best thing about my family: We’re a team.

    Mom’s “turning-83” thoughts

    March 25, 2018, is my mom’s 83rd birthday! So we’re going to make her do this too.

    Unschool Rules: Celebrating an 18th birthday and an 83rd one!

    (There she is, watching while Ashar opens her gifts!)

    Three words or phrases that best describe me: Survivor, good listener (that was my suggestion, but she liked it), and likes to cook.

    (So as Mom and I were doing this, the first word that came to mind for me was chubby, and Mom came up with fat. We are not exactly kind to ourselves, are we?)

    Favorite food: Anything seafood, anything chocolate and hoagies. If she has to pick one, seafood.

    Best piece of advice she has ever given or gotten: “Don’t worry about tomorrow; it’s going to happen anyway.”

    Favorite TV show: M.A.S.H.

    Thing she is most looking forward to in the future: Living! (As long as she’s able to get around, she added.)

    Best thing about her: “I’m compassionate.”

    Best thing about her family: “We all help whoever we can, whenever we can.”

    Awesome unschooling gift ideas

    I can’t believe it, but we are celebrating the 18th birthday of our favorite unschooler in March 2018. He’s notoriously hard to buy for; while he’s got some interests and hobbies (hello yes please give him every tchotchke related to the Walking Dead and also he loves shirts so much his closet is scary), he’s never been into the traditional stuff that his in-school friends get for their birthdays and other holidays. So since the many parts of our own family are always asking, “But what does he need?” I figured there might be other unschoolers out there whose families want to find some great unschooling gift ideas.

    Unschool Rules unschooling gift ideas guide: Games, toys, subscriptions, electronics and more

    I’ve divided our list into categories, and while some of the games are specifically better for older kids or teens, and some of the toys are better for younger kids, most of the items here really span a wide variety of ages. That’s intentional – one of the best parts of unschooling is having interests that grow with your child, not things they outgrow each year!

    All of these items are things we either currently own/subscribe to, or that we had in the past, and that we recommend as gifts for other unschoolers in your life!

    Unschooling Gift Ideas: Games

    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!
    OK, this is probably the easiest one for me to start with. As a family, we love games – video, card, board, whatever. We almost always get a couple of new family games for Christmas, and lots in between as well.

    I could easily list a few dozen of these, but I’m trying to limit myself to just a few favorites, and especially ones that have been interesting to us as unschoolers.


    Why we like it: It’s hilarious, and it encourages reading, story-telling and yes, even some math. Also you can totally get killed by a duck. We also like this because it has some cooperative aspects, which we often prefer to straight competitive gaming. See more here.

    Ticket to Ride

    Why we like it: It’s geography, trains, strategy, and not hard to learn. We play Ticket to Ride Europe, because Ashar likes Europe, but we’d absolutely love to get some of the other versions as well. See more here.


    Why we like it: The best way I can describe Lanterns is as a beautiful, calm way to spend your evening. It’s neat because it’s tied to another culture that we’ve gotten to talk about, and it’s super-pretty, too. See more here.


    Why we like it: There are actually a whole set of Timeline games – American history, inventions, diversity, music and cinema, and more. We have most of them, and you can mix and match. It’s super-simple – you get a card with an event name on one side and the year it happened on the other, and you try to build a timeline by guessing where it goes between other events already played. Once you guess, you flip it over and see if you were right. You can play this competitively, but we also generally do it cooperatively, which we think is more fun. See more here.


    Why we like it: This is a phenomenal game for creative people and those with a morbid sense of humor. The goal is to make your “family” of characters as miserable as possible and then kill them. Which, y’know, sounds horrible, but turns out to be hilarious. As you play modifier cards – “Was Terrified by Topiary,” for instance, you also get to tell a story about how that character came to be in such a situation. When we got it, I wasn’t sure our crew would be that into doing that, but we have all taken to it amazingly and have killed off our people in some very creative ways. See more here.

    Escape Room games

    Why we like it: We love doing in-person escape rooms, but they can get pretty expensive. When we realized you could get ones to play at home, we were hooked! They’re super-fun and a great way for everyone in the family to work together to solve a puzzle. See more here.

    Unschooling Gift Ideas: Experiences

    This is my absolute favorite kind of gift, because it doesn’t need to be stored in my house. No, seriously. I would take an experience over a physical item every day. Here are some of the ones we’ve loved most – and some of the ones we would love to give or get again!

    Museum/zoo/aquarium memberships

    Why we like it: We love museums. Museums are expensive for a family of five. Ergo, museum memberships make a good gift. We especially love reciprocal memberships, where you join at one place and get free admission to others. We did this through the North Museum of Nature and Science in Lancaster and the Lehigh Valley Zoo. We didn’t get to use them as much as we hoped, but it was still a big savings and encouraged us to go more than we would otherwise. We’d love to do this again, maybe with aquariums or history museums! They also are a family gift, so while they might be of particular interest to one person, everyone gets to enjoy.


    Why we like it: Because music and performance are awesome! We have been to tons of concerts; most recently, Ashar, Kaitlyn and I got to see my hero, David Byrne, in Hershey, PA, and last fall Mom, Ashar and I went to see Celtic Thunder, which is an annual tradition. We also try to make sure we get to a play or musical or ballet a couple of times a year, either to support friends performing or to check out a huge production, like when we went to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.


    Why we like it: If you think unschoolers can’t enjoy formal classes, you’re totally wrong. Ashar has done Lego camps, robotics camps, music classes, instrument lessons, art lessons, tae kwon do classes… and that doesn’t count all the things the rest of us do, from paint nights to my own tae kwon do practice to scrapbooking workshops to cooking classes. And if your gift is to share in a class with someone you love, that’s even better. My mom and I had a blast painting Van Gogh-inspired wine glasses one time, for instance!


    Why we like it: So, the best gift we ever gave Ashar was a ticket to Walker-Stalker Con, a convention for fans of The Walking Dead. Maybe your family is into Star Trek, or anime, or comics, or jewelry-making, or stamp-collecting, or scrapbooking, or… There are conventions for all of those things. In fact, I’ve personally BEEN to conventions for all of those things! These make great gifts. Even if you’re not into the topic of interest, it’s amazing to watch your loved one’s face light up because they’re interested.

    Unschool Rules: Unschooling gift ideas - durable sets of blocks

    Unschooling Gift Ideas: Toys

    You might think that at almost 18, Ashar would be past the “toy” phase, and in a lot of ways he obviously is. But there are some things that lasted well into his teen years and that we still enjoy (yes, we still buy LEGO!)

    High-quality blocks

    Why we like it: We bought the Melissa and Doug 60-piece wood block set when Ashar was 9, and we just finally sold it (still in great shape despite years of use) when we moved to our new house last May! Ashar loves the feel of natural wood, and we liked having some larger blocks to build big structures with. We wanted real wood, and something that was easy to store, and this was perfect. Same goes for the 150-piece Imaginarium set, which includes some bright colors, too. Super for imaginative play. See more about the larger blocks here and the smaller blocks here.

    LEGO sets

    Why we like it: Ashar has had LEGO sets since he was born, literally, since he inherited many of mine, and in turn, I’d inherited some of mine from my (8-years-older-than-me) nephew. Minifigures are probably our biggest specific LEGO love. They’ve worked out great, because we can act out almost anything. Reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ The Lightning Thief and need a Minotaur? WE HAVE A MINOTAUR. Suddenly need to replicate Godzilla’s takeover of Japan? WE HAVE GODZILLA. It’s pretty cool. And maybe just a little scary. See more here.

    Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars

    Why we like it: Cars are cool for any age. (Kaitlyn’s brother, Dave, and Ashar regularly swap favorite Matchbox and LEGO car sets as gifts). Ashar used to have “stories” made up for each of his cars, like how they’re in car school, how some like ice cream, how some are good leaders and more. And that’s not counting the fact that he knows what make and model each is for real, as well. See more here.

    Unschool Rules: Unschooling gift ideas - Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars

    Unschooling Gift Ideas: Subscriptions

    Subscriptions, like experiences, are especially great gifts in our family because they mean we don’t necessarily have to store a bunch of “stuff,” and they extend the joy from a one-time opening of a birthday gift to something special every month.

    Streaming services

    Why we like it: You can’t give a much better gift than the gift of unlimited TV- and movie-watching potential. We started out buying individual movies through Xfinity’s On Demand, then got Netflix, and now also have Amazon Prime and Hulu. (We probably won’t keep Hulu once we get through our current series, but you never know!)

    Ones to try:

    Subscription boxes

    Why we like it: Subscription boxes are one of my favorite things ever. Basically, it comes in the mail, it isn’t a bill, and I get to feel like I’m opening a present every month. How can you go wrong? (Also sometimes they contain food.)

    Ones to try:

    • Artsnacks – New art supplies. You can’t go wrong. (This is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.)
    • Universal Yums – Snacks from a different country around the world each month, with accompanying trivia and stories about the companies who make the foods.
    • Awesome Pack – New board and table games and a bunch more cool goodies.
    • Comic Bento – Comic books and graphic novels, including many that are great that would otherwise be hard to discover unless you live near a high-end comic store.
    • Any cheese of the month club – Because… cheese? (Seriously, this is the gift I keep wishing for!)

    Unschool Rules unschooling gift ideas: Subscription boxes like Universal Yums

    Unschooling Gift Ideas: Technology

    Technology powers almost all of our explorations of any subject we can dream up. Some of these are big-deal gifts – like the Chromebook Ashar will be getting as an 18th-birthday present from his dad, Chris – and others are unschooling gift ideas that are super-simple and anyone can give.


    Why we like it: Ashar is SUPER excited to get this as his 18th birthday gift. He loves to edit videos for Instagram, but he can’t post to Instagram from his computer and can’t type long captions on his phone. Enter the best of both worlds: A 2-in-1 Chromebook that can be folded and touchscreened for use like a tablet (and that runs any Google Play apps), but that can also work with a keyboard and mouse. See more here.


    Why we like it: This awesome little robot is cute and smart, and feels like part of the family. (When he says my name I kind of melt.) He’s great for a variety of ages – our friends’ 7- and 10-year-olds like him, Ashar thinks he’s great, and the rest of us adults have fun with him too. See more here.


    Why we like it: These were one of the first things Ashar got into when we started homeschooling, because he was adamant about pursuing an interest in robots and $20 was about the limit of my robot price range. They’re cute, fun, and give you a good chance to talk about how sensors work, as the different kinds have different “skills” like avoiding (or moving toward) noise or light, or avoiding table edges. See more here.


    Why we like it: Something that promotes family activity, and that we can enjoy together? That’s a big win. Right now, Kaitlyn, Ashar and I all have Fitbit Charges (Ashar the original Charge HR, and Kaitlyn and I the Charge 2). We do weekly step goal challenges and can sometimes be found walking in circles around our house, affectionately called “NASCARing,” to get steps. See more here.


    Why we like it: Seriously, if you want to give a great gift, give earbuds. We go through them like underwear in our house. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it’s close. Ashar had really good Beats wireless headphones for a while, but when those met their end, we went back to SkullCandy earbuds, which are good and a lot cheaper. See more here.

    Unschool Rules unschooling gift ideas: A Cozmo robot is fun for a bunch of ages

    Gaming time

    Why we like it: Video games are great, but many of the ones we like the most require ongoing subscriptions. Having the cost of those covered as a gift is awesome!

    Ones to try:

    • World of Warcraft (Blizzard/ – This is easily Ashar’s favorite computer-based game, but it requires a monthly subscription in addition to the software purchase. The good news is, you can let it lapse any time and pick back up where your character left off when you renew.
    • PlayStation Plus – This is what allows you to play online multiplayer games like one of Ashar’s favorites, Destiny, on PS4. This is actually what he is saving up for herself right now!
    • Steam – Not officially a subscription, but if you give credit, your gift recipient can download whatever game they like from this great PC gaming platform.
    • Club Penguin Island – Subscription fun for the slightly younger set. Ashar was a member of the earlier iterations of Club Penguin for almost nine years and loved it the whole time.

    Unschool Rules unschooling gift ideas: Fun things related to favorite TV shows (like The Walking Dead)

    Unschooling Gift Ideas: Special Interests

    This is my favorite gift idea, because it’s my favorite part of unschooling: helping my kid pursue his passions.

    If an unschooler in your life loves something specific – whether it’s, like Ashar, a TV show like The Walking Dead, or whether they’re really into science, or they love drawing… whatever it is, if you can find a gift related to that interest, you’re golden.

    It absolutely does not matter to Ashar that he has gotten three blankets featuring different Walking Dead characters, because he sleeps with all of them. He has a larger collection of Pop! vinyls than most mall stores, and it’s still growing. When you can give a gift that ties into a special interest, you’ll get a great reaction!

    Your Unschooling Gift Ideas

    I’d love to be able to expand this list! If you have great ideas for gifts you’ve received as an unschooling family, or that you’d like to receive, please comment!

    Family Arizona field trip (via Pennsylvania, by road trip)

    Note from Joan: This post comes completely courtesy of my fiance, Kaitlyn, who embarked upon an epic Arizona field trip adventure with Ashar, made notes about the whole thing and then wrote them up for Unschool Rules. He’s a keeper.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip for homeschoolers

    Most of America’s really flat. In case you didn’t know. But some parts are nice and pointy.

    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!
    Originally, the plan was for Joan, Ashar and me (Kaitlyn) to head to Arizona to see my parents and my brother, Dave. When Joan’s mom, Ashar’s “Mommom,” fell and broke her hip in December, it meant that she needed to have some help at home, and Joan graciously volunteered to stay behind.

    So Ashar and I spent the last half of December and the first part of January driving across the country, barely beating the snow one way and getting through a light dusting coming back.

    We saw some cool things, we saw some weird things, and you’d better believe we stopped at Uranus, because everyone knows the best fudge comes from Uranus.

    Driving from Pennsylvania to Arizona

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a new stuffed wizard friend.

    That’s Rivers the bear holding Merlin.

    On the way West, we tried to keep a decent pace so it wouldn’t take us too long but weren’t rushing through by any means.

    I think we made it all the way to Friendsville, MD, before we stopped at a roadside store that sold all sorts of knickknacks, and we picked up a wizard for the journey (his name’s Merlin, obvs).

    Our very first night out we just about made it to Lexington, KY, and at the time there was a wee bit of a blizzard on the way. We just saw some snow blow across the road for about a mile, but the snapshot Joan took of the weather shows just how close we were.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a near-miss on some truly bad weather.

    In a previous post, Joan mentioned what we found in Lexington:

    In one cool story from their travels, while in Lexington, Kentucky, they found a bag of clothes and a blanket, probably left out for someone homeless. But no one was around, and the weather was bad, and they didn’t want it all to get wet. So they put it in the car, and then, when they made it to St. Louis, Missouri, they found a man asking for help on a median near a Starbucks and were able to give it all to him. So, if you’re reading this and you left such a gift in Lexington, know that it still helped, many miles away!

    We tried listening to some podcasts to break up the monotony, but we didn’t really have any that were jazzing us up all that much, so at some point we switched to listening to The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor. Ashar, of course, is a huge Walking Dead fan, so she really enjoyed the background information provided. I thought the story was interesting and really gave you something to think about, although the writing left something to be desired.

    We went out of our way find interesting things along the way, though we also kept in mind that every five minutes we spent not driving directly west was 10 more minutes we’d have to spend driving to get to Arizona. We, however, could not resist Uranus.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a stop in Uranus, Missouri.

    Welcome to Uranus.

    It’s a Route 66 stop in Missouri that’s designed to make sure everyone in the family can find something fun to do. There’s a big store with all manner of tchotchkes and gewgaws to buy, but they also have a full candy store (hard candy and fudge). They also have a bunch of neat things on the walls, from legitimate taxidermy to oddities like a two-headed goat and a “real” mermaid skeleton. A big ol’ model train ran around the top of the inside of the store to keep your eyes moving and looking at everything on display.

    Ashar was a big fan of the saloon building (the complex was made of interconnected buildings, and each was designed to look like a building in a Western — the saloon, the burlesque house, you name it), and we both liked the “funkyard,” which was a play area with cool old cars, a double-decker bus, and OH YEAH it was 15 degrees out so we didn’t do much by way of playing.

    We stopped in Kansas City long enough to go see the new Jumanji, which was pretty dang funny. In Oklahoma City, we hit up a few antique stores, both to poke around and find some late Christmas gifts for my parents.

    Arizona sights: Superstition Serpenterium

    We were pretty wiped out by the time we made it to Arizona, but we had lots of fun once we rested up. My parents know all the good spots, so we went to the Goldfield Ghost Town in Apache Junction. It’s a campy little place with “authentic” Old West buildings, but what Ashar REALLY loved was the Superstition Serpenterium (which is a fantastic name, by the way).

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a stop at the Superstition Serpenterium, owned by Calleen Dunbar.

    At the Superstition Serpenterium, Ashar got to talk with owner Calleen Dunbar about her awesome collection of snakes, spiders and more.

    The woman who runs the place, Calleen Dunbar, owns and takes care of all the animals by herself, along with her husband. She has dozens of snakes, lizards and other reptiles on displays, in addition to Ashar’s all-time favorite, the spider. Calleen was very gracious, and talked with Ashar for nearly half an hour all about different facts about spiders and hers in particular. Both Ashar and I were mindblown to find out that when the spider sheds its carapace after molting, it basically leaves most of what we consider a spider behind!

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a stop at the Superstition Serpenterium, owned by Calleen Dunbar.

    Nope. Nope nope nope. But Ashar loves spiders, so this was super-cool for her.

    So we were both super interested in the spider’s exoskeleton, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make one for humans (spoiler alert: didn’t work). So a big thanks to Calleen, and a big recommendation from us if you’re ever in the area!

    Arizona sights: Tombstone

    Another highlight of the trip was going to see Tombstone, Arizona. Tombstone has been made famous by the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and while there were lots of cool gunfight reenactments and such, the place we spent the most time at was the Birdcage Theatre. It’s the only building still standing from when Tombstone was a boomtown, having been built in the 1880s.

    I think it’s hard for East Coast people to understand, but I still totally geek out whenever I get the chance to see something that’s been around for a hundred or more years. It seems kind of odd (since, on the East Coast, there are plenty of buildings that were around during the Revolutionary War some 200-plus years ago), but I lived on the West Coast until I was 25. On the West Coast, there really aren’t that many permanent structures still standing, since proper buildings that could stand up to the weather/earthquakes/time weren’t constructed until just shy of 100 years ago.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included sightseeing at the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona.

    At the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone.

    So I was suitably fascinated to see the booths that had the original curtains still hanging in them, as well as all of the old stuff. The Birdcage’s history is really interesting — they shut the place down and locked it up tight in 1889, expecting to come back in a few years … but it stayed closed until the 1930s, when someone else bought it. Luckily, enough time had passed that they realized the historical value of the place, so it’s been operating a museum basically since it shut down. That means there’s lots of detritus, clothes, furniture and the like from the original period.

    Ashar, Dave and I went on a “ghost tour” of the place, where they take you around for a tour at night and then you sit in the backstage area for 20 minutes with the lights off. Our tour guide was very good, but I personally didn’t hear much that sounded like anything other than timbers creaking.

    More Arizona sights

    Ashar and Dave also spent a good amount of time just driving around looking at cars. Both of them are big fans of cool cars, and certain parts of Phoenix have pretty good spots for checking out expensive/exotic cars. (My favorite car story with Dave is when Joan and I went on a cruise with him and my parents and aunts last year, we drove through Laguna Beach, which has a few blocks just packed with exotic car dealerships that sell Ferraris, Bugatis, MacLarens, Lambos, you name it. We legitimately thought Dave, who had a heart attack a few months earlier, was having another one for a minute until we realized he was just struck speechless.)

    Dave, Ashar and I also went out in the desert in my parents’ Jeep. (Ashar says going out in the “boneyard,” as it’s called, was her favorite part of the trip.) There’s a lot of off-road driving opportunities, even right next to the retirement community where they live. We even found some old bones (we assume cow) that we got to take home.

    My mom, Ashar and I also took the time to go see Kartchner Caverns in the southern part of the state (coincidentally like half an hour away from Tombstone).

    That’s another place with a really interesting backstory: Two guys were just out in the hills, looking for caves, when they stumbled upon this amazing cave system in the ’70s. They were able to keep it secret long enough to have the land owner sell to the state, so the state could step in and preserve the caverns while still giving tourists access. There are lots of rules, like not being able to bring cameras or even coats (because of the lint!), as the cave system is still “alive” and they don’t want to mess with the ecosystem.

    Arizona sights: Bearizona

    But all good things must come to an end, so eventually we had to pack up and head home. But first! Ashar and I wanted to stop just outside of Flagstaff at a place called BEARIZONA.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a stop at Bearizona in Williams, Arizona.

    As the name implies, Bearizona is a wildlife refuge. There are two parts of the park — the first (and my favorite) allows you to drive your car through areas where different types of animals live. They have wolves, bears, bison and all manner of creatures (including some of the biggest crows I’ve ever seen. I would NOT have been surprised to see one swoop down and take off with one of the wolves).

    It’s a little bit terrifying-and-awesome to see animals that large and dangerous that close. Some of the signs warned that the wolves and bears sometimes like to take souvenirs off cars (pieces of the bumper and what-not), so not to let them too close. DON’T WORRY, SIGN. We weren’t exactly planning on going for a stroll.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a stop at Bearizona in Williams, Arizona, home to some timber wolves.

    They just wanted to sniff the car…

    The second part of the park was a more traditional zoo-type experience. They had lots of animals (despite it being the middle of winter with snow on the ground) that were for the most part out and active. There also were two peacocks just roaming the grounds, doing whatever they pleased (mostly hanging out by the food court area hoping for food. Joke was on them, since it was closed).

    The coolest and probably most unexpected part of Bearizona was the PANTHER exhibit.

    Unschool Rules: Family Arizona field trip included a stop at Bearizona in Williams, Arizona, home to this amazingly large panther.

    Bearizona is also home to this amazingly large panther.

    That is a MASSIVE cat. It just looked so powerful strolling around its enclosure. Ashar and I were both surprised to see that you could actually see spots on its coat — despite looking all black, you can see slightly lighter black lines that outline its spots. You totally can’t see it in the photo of course, but it’s really neat.

    Driving from Arizona to Pennsylvania

    On the way back, we mostly just drove through, as we were in kind of a hurry to get home. We did switch off the Walking Dead (because, honestly, there was only so much murder I could stomach) and listen to Forging Haephestus, by Drew Hayes. Drew’s one of my favorite authors (mostly because of his Super-Powereds series, which just concluded).

    This story gave Ashar and I the chance to talk about what it means to be evil, or a bad guy, and how sometimes being a good guy doesn’t stop you from doing bad things, and some bad guys are bad just because of how they’re perceived rather than who they are or what they do. Lots of opportunities to explore gray areas!

    Also one of the main characters’ super power is he can summon items from video games and use them in the real world. So that’s pretty neat.

    We managed to get home a day earlier than planned (though at about 12:30 in the morning), and it was nice to sleep in our own beds again. Ashar’s summation of the trip pretty much does it for me as well: “It was a lot of fun, we saw a lot of cool things and went to a lot of cool places.”