Unschooling: Our July 2014 adventures

Me, my Uncle John, and Sarah

Me, my Uncle John, and Sarah

Well. It’s been a crazy, crazy half a year in our family. Job changes, new roommate, death of a cat and a hamster and a handful of hermit crabs, health problems, new car, and more that I won’t get into.

Through it all, we’ve had our homeschooling ups and downs – days when our unschooling is a hot mess and days when it’s amazing and everything in between.

In official news, we’ve gotten Ashar’s eighth-grade-ish portfolio approved by our school district and have officially begun what would be her ninth-grade year if she were still in public school! In semi-related news, I’ve finished writing a chapter on video-game learning for, editing, and then re-editing when my changes didn’t save AT ALL, a massive guide called The Big Book of Homeschooling, which I hope you’ll check out. (That’s an affiliate link – so if you’re interested in purchasing it and do so from my link, we’ll make a few dollars that we’ll immediately spend on the bookstore trip we’re planning next weekend. Shameless plug.)

Er... back-to-school photo? Sort of? Bedroom-style?

Er… back-to-school photo? Sort of? Bedroom-style?

I have grand blog plans – including a post coming Monday about our plans for ninth grade, a wrapup somewhere about how eighth grade turned out, “school pictures” for the coming year and a ton more – but I’ve decided to try something different to balance out the big stuff.

Through the month, I’ve been making a quick list of stuff we do and talk about. I’m going to share that here, with some photos, and try to do it regularly as we go through the year, mostly to log for myself all the amazing stuff that’s going on as we learn in our everyday lives, but also to give you a peek at some of the fun in our day-to-day routines. There may be sporadic affiliate links to books and movies we’re loving, but I can’t even guarantee that level of detail-oriented-ness!

I hope you’ll let me know what you think of this approach!


This is Mitts. He's ridiculous. And yes, that's our kitchen table.

This is Mitts. He’s ridiculous. And yes, that’s our kitchen table.

Movies and TV

Meet Jupiter, this year's 4-H project alpaca!

Meet Jupiter, this year’s 4-H project alpaca!

Video games

I’ve mentioned this when I talked about video-game learning in depth, but just to be super-clear as I talk about movies and TV and video games here: I realize our media choices are not for everyone. Many people believe some of these are inappropriate for anyone; others think they’re fine for adults but not high-schoolers. In our family, these are not “go off and play by yourself” deals. We game as a family, and more importantly, we use the situations in our games to discuss big issues, everything from language to racism to assault on women to crime to the Revolutionary War to online privacy and security. I’m not suggesting – and have never suggested – you turn your 7-year-old loose online or sit him in front of Grand Theft Auto for 8 hours unattended. And that’s all I have to say about that. 😉


AKA: Sometimes we spend a lot of time on YouTube, especially where cute animals and parkour are concerned.

Places and projects

  • We made a terrarium as one of our projects in the 4-H Wildlife Watchers Club.
Ashar works on her desert terrarium at a Wildlife Watchers 4-H Club meeting.

Ashar works on her desert terrarium at a Wildlife Watchers 4-H Club meeting.

  • We had a four-hour power outage, during which we painted by candlelight, Ashar read aloud, and we had a family game of “You’ve Gotta Be Kidding” (kind of like “Would You Rather?”)
  • Following damage from thunderstorms and yardwork, we helped relocate a family of displaced catbirds from a bush on one side of our house to the other. (There were babies, not even flying yet! It was amazing.)
  • My Uncle John came to visit – this is my mom’s older brother – he told us great stories about his work on his son’s farm, and helped us with the bird rescue effort.
  • At the alpaca farm, Ashar started working with her 4-H Alpaca Club project animal for this year, a gelded male named Jupiter who is BIG. Way bigger than any of the other animals Ashar’s worked with.
  • As Ashar’s other project (besides animal-showing) to enter in the August 4-H Fair, she’s needle-felting the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and has needle-felted a minotaur. I’m pretty sure it’ll give the judges a laugh; they’re used to seeing about a dozen felted bunnies, alpacas and pumpkins.
  • ALSO in 4-H fair prep (you can see where we’re spending our time this month!) Ashar did her oral presentations on her terrarium and her felted projects during a recent club meeting. Giving this presentation earns the kids an extra 5 points on their project, and is the only way they can earn a gold ribbon at our fair.
  • In her free time, Ashar’s been writing a story about a zombie-fighting Monster Army in Britain, told in epistolary style; not coincidentally, she learned what epistolary style means!
  • Another fun 4-H thing: the Wildlife Watchers club was invited to join our local garden club on a tour of the gardens of a Master Gardener in our community, who spent a couple hours giving the kids a tour focused on raised beds and container gardening, hobby farming, organic methods of pest control and a bunch more.
  • We got our cats a cat tree. I can’t even.
  • We walked/hiked several times at the former golf course turned park-ish place near our house.
  • Forensic science camp was the absolute highlight of Ashar’s month. I’ll be talking about this in detail when I talk about our learning plans for the coming year, which feature forensics in huge ways. This was part of the Summer Academy program for gifted students in our area, and for four days, Ashar immersed herself in the world of blood types, fingerprinting, dental analysis, evidence processing, hardwriting analysis, observation skills and more. They ended their week with a skit depicting what they learned, and then Ashar came home and gave our extended family an impromptu lecture on all she learned for, like, 45 minutes straight!


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

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

Odds and ends of stuff we’ve talked about

  • Whether it’s possible that we’re living in the Matrix (and all about the philosophical questions that surround “What is reality?”)
  • Why people want to kill tomato hornworm caterpillars, which Ashar finds amazing.
  • What to do when an alpaca gets loose and runs like crazy. (Not our alpaca, thankfully, but the chase was quite an adventure.)
  • A long, rambling conversation that Ashar actually got quite tired of about optimism, innate nature, soul, belief in an infallible god, yet belief in free will, with a side note about how people are happier when their choices match up with their true self as they were created. That was one crazy 2 a.m. riff.

So what’s new with your family this month? Drop me a comment! I miss hearing from all my “blog friends,” which is a big reason why I’m so motivated to post more regularly!

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8 thoughts on “Unschooling: Our July 2014 adventures

  1. I love your wrap-up post!! Oh,what joy you guys have! I was interested in forensics way back before it was cool to…when I was younger than Sarah is now. I wanted to be a forensic entomologist, but my high school science teachers talked me out of it because my science grades weren’t high enough. Too bad I wasn’t unschooled. 🙂

    • Phyllis, I had no idea about that – what an awesome juxtaposition, as that is one of the specialties Sarah is most interested in, the entomology part! You’re going to be hearing a lot more about that this year from us; it sounds like that’s going to be 90% of our “science” and then some!

  2. Loving your end of the month wrap-up post! The Batman theme going on in your post reminded me of the Spiderman theme that I is my four year old’s whole life right now. 🙂 It’s been way too long since I visited your blog, Joan. I’m excited to have discovered it again.

    • Hey! It’s good to hear from you again! And I’m super-happy to hear about Spiderman… he’s another favorite of ours, along with, you know, every other superhero ever? 🙂

  3. I am so excited to find your site, Joan! We just started unschooling this year.

    Thinking outloud… I’m wondering how these wrap ups would work with 4. I’m thinking of documenting on our own blog, but thinking 4 recaps, whether separately or within one post, will be too much?

    Anyway — super excited to have found your site and look forward to learning and connecting through it!

    • Karla, I’m so glad you’re here! Maybe with 4… have each of them pick one or two favorites throughout the month? I actually want to prune things down a little more than I did for the August roundup myself – I’m making notes all month so I don’t miss stuff, and that’s good, but at the same time I want to really focus on a couple key things, not every odds-and-ends detail, you know?

      Plus, for both of us to remember – they’re OUR blogs. If we want to have 8,000-word monthly roundups, we can, right? 😉

      • Thanks, Joan — I’m currently dumping everything into Evernote so that I can at least have an overview there, even if I don’t do it on my blog (but I do love the idea of doing it on the blog, just because it can be such a fun way of connecting with others looking for resources etc)

        And thanks for the reminder about who owns our blogs! 😉

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