Unschooling: Our November 2017 adventures

Happy December. If you celebrate Christmas, it is now only days away. What?! Whoa. We’ll be spending Christmas day at home as a family, then the next day, Kaitlyn, Ashar and I leave to drive to Arizona to visit his parents and brother. I’m also hoping to catch up with some friends while we’re out there. But before that, we have some cool stuff planned for the next couple of weeks, and I didn’t want to forget to show off our November unschooling fun too!

(And as always, if you want a more frequent peek at what we do, you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m specifically trying to share more on Facebook, both from our lives and from other homeschooling blogs I’m reading, so make sure you’re following along there!)

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

If you’re new to seeing our days recapped in this format, check out our archive of previous wrapups here for some more info on why we take this approach and some other highlights of our adventures. And if you haven’t checked out our unschooling “curriculum plan” for Ashar’s 12th-grade year, I definitely encourage you to take a look at that too!

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: This was Ashar presiding over her last meeting as 4-H Alpaca Club president.

This was Ashar presiding over her last meeting as 4-H Alpaca Club president.


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!
So here’s a fun fact about November: I think Ashar read from maybe one or two books all month.

This isn’t a huge deal by any means – we did a TON of other cool stuff, and books are just one of many ways we explore new things.

But I wanted to lead with this section, because among the questions I get most often about unschooling is, “OK, we’re trying unschooling, when will my kids stop doing computer stuff or playing video games and start reading books?”

And my answer? “Why do you have the expectation that they should?”

If I started my post with a section that said “Ashar played maybe one or two hours of video games all month” or “Ashar didn’t make any new paintings this month,” would you think that was weird or disgraceful?

Video games are just a medium. Books are just a medium. Paint is just a medium.

Now, if I said to you, “Ashar wasn’t interested in anything this month.” “Ashar didn’t explore anything new this month.” “Ashar didn’t do anything creative this month.” … would those statements worry you?

They might worry me at first, but at this point, my gut reaction would be to peel them apart and ask, “Hmm, is that really true, or is it that she didn’t explore anything new this month in the way I was hoping?” The “anythings” are usually a good indicator that it’s time for us to do that as unschooling parents.

The thing I see happen a lot is that people take a statement like “My child didn’t use X medium this month” and turn it into “My child isn’t learning.” Those things are not in any way related. Ashar learned a ton this month. It happened to be without a lot of books, but it would be OK if it had been from all books. It happened to involve a lot of movies, but it would be OK if it involved no movies.

The medium is not the answer.

Weirded out by that? Stick with me a little bit, through the end of this post. See the kinds of learning that happen to us through a huge variety of other media, and see if it can help you think differently about whether books are the be-all-end-all of “education!” (And, of course, feel free to ask sincere questions about the unschooling process in the comments. I am always glad to help people who are finding their way along this thought path, because it IS very different!)

Oh – and Ashar did read me her favorite story from A Book of Dwarfs by Ruth Manning-Sanders, which was super-nice.

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: Doesn't everyone put candles in a birthday pie crust?

Doesn’t everyone put candles in a birthday pie crust?

The Amazing Sentient Beings Project

So, one day in the car, Ashar and I were listening to the song I am Not Your Broom by They Might Be Giants, which we have loved for years. We started talking about what would happen if our everyday “stuff” somehow came to life – and we started talking about what it means to be a “sentient being.”

This led into all sorts of questions about the implications of that, including sentient rights, and Ashar decided if we had a sentient broom, his name would be Issac. So she came home, watched a “How to Draw a Broom” tutorial, and came up with Isaac, as well as a short anecdote about him, after deciding that’s how she wanted to tell the story of her beings – with drawings and anecdotes. Then came another broom named Zach, and then she asked the rest of the family to draw a sentient being. (Hint: You know what makes a drawing sentient? Googly eyes.)

It turned into such an amazing effort that I will be writing a separate post about it in a few weeks, so keep your eyes out for more of the story of our sentient beings, including a great one about Chazz, the little chainsaw who became the best thing since sliced bread.

To give you an idea, here’s the original Issac story:

Issac was so happy that he got a name. It made him feel special and loved, and like part of the family – that these people who he calls his family care about him and want Issac to feel like he is one of them.

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: A collage of drawings from a family Sentient Beings writing and art project

The stories are the best part of the sentient beings project, but you’ll have to wait to read all of those – for now, here’s a look at our drawings!

Another writing project: Postcard stories

Then there was a Daddy-Daughter Day where Chris and Ashar decided to find a postcard from their rather immense collection and use it as a story-starter.

Thus Napoleon’s Second Chance at Love was born, which spawned historical research, a cover-designing project and a dive back into the postcards for potential sequel material.

This is another project that’s so cool I’m going to give it a post of its own in the future, so once again, stay tuned.

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: Chris and Sarah's book cover for A Second Chance at Love, starring... Napoleon. And one of Chris' postcards. And Josephine.

Chris and Ashar’s book cover for A Second Chance at Love, starring… Napoleon. And one of Chris’ postcards. And Josephine.

Movies and TV

  • Friends – One of Ashar’s favorite shows and a frequent “rewatch” for her if she doesn’t have a current series in the works.
  • The World Series – Ashar was rooting for the Astros as we have friends who live outside Houston. She thought given the flooding, etc., it was a good time for them to have a win. Catching Game 7 as November started was pretty cool.
  • The Walking Dead – Which is, of course, immediately followed by an hour of The Talking Dead.
  • Ride – In which Norman Reedus (of The Walking Dead) rides his motorcycle in various places. Actually a SUPER interesting way to learn about various places and their culture. This month, he went to Barcelona, South Carolina, New Mexico and Hawaii. We love watching together and talking about the cool stuff he sees. Mostly I’m bummed because these are short “seasons” – six episodes each – so now we have to wait quite a while for new ones.
  • Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics – Continuing our Sunday- and Monday-night AMC dedication is this new show, which is pretty neat. So far TWD comic author Robert Kirkman has tackled issues like race in comics, how 9/11 affected comics, and more. If you have any comics fans in your family, you should check this out. (Remember how I said the medium is not what makes something educational? Case in point: This show, AND the comics themselves, often spark huge discussions and learning opportunities in our family!)
  • Star Trek: The Original Series – Ah, The Trouble with Tribbles. A classic.
  • Star Trek: Generations – Another rewatch favorite.
  • Hairspray – Kaitlyn introduced Ashar and I to this, which we could not believe we’d never seen. An amazing look at integration and social justice AND anxiety. Again with the very cool family conversations and learning.
  • Boondock Saints – Because Norman Reedus, of course.
  • The Last Action Hero – When it’s not Reedus, it’s Schwarzenegger in this house.
  • Thor: Ragnarok – Chris, Kaitlyn, Ashar and I enjoyed a Family Movie Outing to see this. Much better than I expected, and hilarious.
  • Fuller House – I have NO IDEA what prompted it, but Ashar decided to start this series and ended up watching the whole thing with my mom. And, of course, that led us to…
  • Full House – We’re on Season 2 and going strong. Ashar DIES laughing at this!
    I like catching up with it too – we watched it a lot when I was younger.
  • Jingle All the Way – Officially the first holiday movie we watched this year. And, of course, Schwarzenegger.
  • Elf – Holiday Required Viewing #2.

Oh, and of course we watched the dog show on Thanksgiving!

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: Ashar, her new stuffed bear Rivers, and our friend Nina's photography on display in a downtown storefront.

Ashar, her new stuffed bear Rivers, and our friend Nina’s photography on display in a downtown storefront.

Funny videos on YouTube

Something that happens decently often in our house is, after I finish up work, then freelance work, then grad school, evening has long since passed and I feel like a jerk who hasn’t interacted with my family nearly enough. So then I’ll emerge from my lair in the front of the house and say “Anyone want to do something together?” Usually at, you know, midnight. Or later.

So we can’t exactly start a rousing Monopoly game, you know?

One of our go-to quick sources of amusement is taking turns Chromecasting funny YouTube videos to our TV. This month’s, for your watching pleasure, are below.

My contribution came via Kaitlyn, who sent it to me to cheer me up, and is, of course, a funny cat video:

Ashar, meanwhile, went for something with a little more depth. It involves Ellen and Steve Harvey both being on their talk shows live, and Steve having to say whatever Ellen says in his earpiece. It gets WEIRD but they pull it together and make it hilarious at the end!

She also had a funny one of Kevin James doing pratfalls, which was GREAT.

This month in 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.

This month’s included a bunch of neat stuff, like:

  • How weight loss works
  • What times planes fly
  • How traffic lights work

All of these are just things that come up through our day-to-day life but lead us down a path of talking and looking stuff up and asking more questions. The sentient beings project I mentioned earlier actually started from a rabbit trail!


This month, Ashar played some FIFA 17, but mostly she renewed her interest in World of Warcraft. She’d been talking about asking for an expansion and game time for Christmas, and before people bought it for her, I wanted to make sure she really still liked it, so I got her a month of game time to see how she liked it after not playing for a while.

Turns out she still likes it. So much so, in fact, that my mom decided to get her the Legion expansion for Christmas. But we wanted to hit the Black Friday special through Blizzard, so we ended up getting it that day and it auto-loaded into her account, so she got an early present!

She and Kaitlyn decided to play together, so they’ve had a couple marathon sessions to level up his character.

She’s also eyeing up the new Assassins Creed game as a maybe Christmas thing, so she spent a bunch of time telling me about the whole series and how this game fits in.

On my birthday, Kaitlyn and Mom and Ashar and I had fun playing Fibbage.

And in physical-gaming time, we had some fun playing a game Chris actually got us last Christmas but we had yet to try, Dutch Blitz. Since we live in Pennsylvania Dutch country, it was pretty much up our alley. Though we learned that Kaitlyn is way too fast so we had to give him a handicap.

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: Ideas for a writing project about sentient beings, or objects that come to life.

Just some of Ashar’s ideas about her sentient beings project.

Special events

November was a fairly big month for us in “special occasions.”

  • My sister Carol came to visit from New Jersey, and she, Mom, Kaitlyn, me, Ashar, Ashar’s new bear Rivers, my local sister Linda and her husband Mike all went out to one of our favorite local restaurants, the White Rose, to eat. The next day, Ashar, Mom and Carol took a trip to a farm market we like about 40 minutes away for lunch and shopping.
  • For Thanksgiving, Linda, Mike, Chris, Kaitlyn, Mom, Ashar and I all went to a restaurant in southern York County, about an hour’s drive, for dinner, then came back to our house for dessert.
  • Chris’ sister, Adriane, just bought a new house and invited us all over for dinner and to see it.
  • For my birthday, Ashar made me a huge batch of cookie dough truffles, which I love but which are SUPER rich and will probably last me until my next birthday! (She’s a super-good baker.)
  • Also for my birthday, my mom made me a pie crust – that’s my birthday tradition – and a dinner of macaroni and cheese and bacon.
  • Mom, Ashar and I went to a Celtic Thunder concert in Hershey – an annual tradition.
  • Kaitlyn took Ashar and I to Chili’s for dinner because I really wanted chips and salsa.
  • We decorated for Christmas on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Well, we got all the decorations done and the trees up, BUT, the ornaments aren’t on them yet because we need a day when all five of us are available at the same time. Soon (I hope).
  • Chris took Ashar for a long jaunt through the antique stores of nearby Gettysburg and New Oxford, Adams County. Ashar said she learned a bunch of cool stuff from a woman at one story who was talking to them about history, and she saw some cool art too!
Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: Sarah's Thanksgiving dessert from New Freedom Restaurant, attempting to be stolen by Snuffles.

Ashar’s Thanksgiving dessert from New Freedom Restaurant, attempting to be stolen by Snuffles.

Unschooling places, projects and odds and ends

Guitar lessons: Ashar continues to take weekly guitar lessons from the amazing Rod Goelz.

The Walking Dead fandom: Ashar kept up her work on her Instagram fan account full of amazing photo edits of Norman Reedus (usually with accompanying song lyrics or quotes). She would love your follows if you like TWD! Photo editing is a big pastime of hers, using a huge variety of apps, and she asked me to help her do some more complicated stuff in Photoshop to make . This month, she posted her first video edits, which she’s had a great time learning how to make.

Shopping with Nana: One of Ashar’s grandmas has a tradition of taking her out to pick out some of her own Christmas presents, then wrapping them up and giving them to her later. So they had their annual shopping date, which included a bunch of new clothes and new sneakers, which is awesome because it means now I’m not on the hook for sneakers!

House photo shoot: My best friend Nina is a professional photographer, and among her many skills is taking real-estate photos, like when houses are staged for sale. But I wanted pictures of our new house as it looks with, you know, US in it, so I begged her to come take photos. They look AMAZING and are going to make for a “house tour” post in a couple of months.

Universal Yums: This month’s Universal Yums snack box came from Turkey (cue Thanksgiving puns), and some of it was pretty good, though there was a good amount that had sesame in it, to which I am allergic. But that’s OK, we still had fun trying (almost) everything!

STEM Sisters: Stem Sisters is a program of the North Museum in Lancaster County, focused on showing teens the power of women in science, technology, engineering and math careers. We’ve participated in a few events and they’re always pretty cool. This one was at Harrisburg Area Community College’s Lancaster campus and focused on professional training opportunities that might be different than a four-year college path.

Stuffed friends rescues: So you know we love stuffed animals, right? Well, sometimes, you see a bear not once but twice at Goodwill in York and end up bringing him home. That was Rivers, a lovely and soft old white bear who became Ashar’s new friend early in November. Well, then, on the 16th, after the STEM Sisters event, we went with Kaitlyn to the Salvation Army in Lancaster. In case you’re not familiar with the area, that’s like an hour away from York. We found… THE SAME BEAR. So of course we took it as a sign and adopted him too. This one, we named Brooks, and Ashar gave him and Rivers each an armband so we can tell them apart. Oh, and we rescued two penguins, a koala and a nice polar bear while we were at it – Circuit, Spurs, Sydney and Ike, respectively.

Other odds and ends this month: Lots of 4-H, including Ashar’s last meeting as president of the Alpaca Club. For the coming year, her former VP is now president, and she’s VP, which is cool. The new president is a bit younger and may be able to commit a bit more time, and Ashar will still be there to help out as needed! Also we went to the dentist; as always, Ashar = fine, Mom = dental disaster. Fillings are scheduled. Also also, Ashar took a bike ride around our neighborhood and made her Christmas wishlists (one of books and one of other stuff).

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: Mom and I on my birthday. She gave me a beautiful penguin charm that I put on my work ID badge so I could see it every day, and a fun stuffed duck that sings "You are My Sunshine," which is our song, and makes me smile like crazy.

Mom and I on my birthday. She gave me a beautiful penguin charm that I put on my work ID badge so I could see it every day, and a fun stuffed duck that sings “You are My Sunshine,” which is our song, and makes me smile like crazy.

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 start giving monthly updates on our progress too. So here’s a look at what’s new with the rest of us!

Me, Joan: In November, I finished 11 books, but that number is kinda inflated because it included the end of three grad-school textbooks as the semester drew to a close. (As I write this, I’m preparing to take my last final.) Actual normal-people books I can recommend this month include Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too (EXCELLENT graphic novel) by Jomny Sun and From Here to Eternity by Caitlyn Doughty, a look at funeral customs around the world that was super-fascinating. I also liked Everyday Goodness, a mindfulness read by Edward Viljoen. I worked on my immense grad-school research papers, and for fun, I helped as a judge/scorekeeper at a tournament my tae kwon do school hosted.

Kaitlyn: Kaitlyn checks in with this note: “I had a pretty lazy month, reading-wise. I read a bunch of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which is a fantastic comic about squirrels AND girls (specifically one with the powers of a squirrel). I also finished a good sci-fi book about life on the moon, Artemis, by Andy Weir. Weir also wrote the The Martian, and while Artemis does suffer a bit from the over-sciencification as that novel, it’s still a good read. About the only other notable thing I did was a little bit of research about the British monarchy, summed up in this tweet.

Chris: Chris says “I made progress on a handful of books in November (hoping to finish them by Christmas), but the only ones I finished were The Verse by the Side of the Road: The Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles by Frank Rowsome Jr. and the graphic novel As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman. Ongoing comics I read in November include Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads and Hawkeye by Kelly Thompson.

My mom, also Joan, aka Mommom: Mom also read the burial traditions book at my recommendation and said she found it very interesting. She helped Ashar make my birthday truffles, and they also baked cinnamon buns together. She did mention the Fuller House to Full House marathon-watching. Other than that, she says: “Enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner out with part of family. Joan, Ashar and I loved Celtic Thunder concert. It has become a tradition with the three of us that I really love, not just great music, but an evening out with two of my favorite people. A lot more fun than Black Friday shopping. On the down side, we found out that daughter Louise has breast cancer. Doctor does think they found it early so she should be OK after lumpectomy and treatments.” She says (and I agree) that your prayers/good thoughts/etc. are appreciated.

Unschooling in November 2017 on Unschool Rules: I got to meet a grad school classmate and friend from Nigeria when he came to our college campus to give a talk. It was pretty crazy to be standing together!

I got to meet a grad school classmate and friend from Nigeria when he came to our college campus to give a talk. It was pretty crazy to be standing together!

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

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