Day 169: Thunderstorms

This was basically Day 3 of us beginning to reintroduce some school routines. I got up, let the chickens out, made coffee, Towhee got up, ate, headed outside for chicken time.

Late summer means a lot of afternoon thunderstorms.

BlueJ got up, got dressed, and did some reading as she usually does. The text in the Illustrated History of Japan is minimal; most of the story is in the pictures. There is so much. She has read the book before but this time she is really focused; she was probably looking at it this morning for an hour. Meanwhile her brother made pancakes and I was busy with online stuff.

Morning reading time: reading An Illustrated History of Japan. It’s one of the coolest books we own.
Readings for Japan and the Japanese

Once Towhee was done with the chickens, like we said, he came in to make pancakes for second breakfast around 10am.

After we’d all eaten, he sat down to do his own book work: Math, Spanish, Grammar. He said the last chapter of AoPS Pre-Algebra is general problem solving skills, something he loves. So today’s exercises were looking for patterns in order to come up with easier solutions to problems. I’m hoping he can finish this last chapter quickly so he can start Algebra 1 in a couple of weeks.

Towhee’s morning book work

After pancakes, BlueJ disappeared in her room for a long time. Among other things, she said she did her multiplication facts. She went outside to clean out the birdbaths before the rain started and spent some time out there in the wind.

At the moment, this comprises BlueJ’s entire curriculum. She took it into her room to practice this afternoon.

And then, finally, after Towhee had finished all of his homework for both online history classes, both kids hung out in the living room while I was (still) online. They were making up some imaginary world, something they do a lot, with characters and backstory, and lands with a map. I’m not ever directly involved with this stuff, but I will hear them talking or see the things they leave around, and I often see evidence of whatever they have been learning and thinking about in the imaginative mix. I’ve long felt like play is how kids process the information they are getting about the world, and I still see that happening at 13 and 10.

Then finally while Towhee watched his Ottoman Empire Great Course lecture for today, BlueJ just watched the rain pouring off the roof and waited for her dad to get home.

She was patient until about 3:30 and then she just started staring out the window waiting for her dad to come home.

Day 168: Where we are now

All homeschoolers are getting asked about homeschooling these days, by friends and strangers alike. Without further ado, I am reviving the 365 day project, in the hopes that showing is more helpful than telling. Because truly, friends, if I can do this, you can do this.

Katydid in a glass jar

So….these days my kids are 13 and 10. Entering 8th and 5th grades. They’ve chosen their own “codenames” this time around. My 13 year-old son we’ll call Towhee; my 10 year-old daughter we’ll call BlueJ. (Those are birds we have in our yard, and if you know my kids, they want you to notice that their codenames contain their initials.)

Like most people we know, we’ve spent the last five months mostly at home (Almost Unschooling: The Pandemic Edition), and, like many, we incorporated additional pets in that time. BlueJ adopted two female rats: Chia and Tailey, and Towhee acquired three chickens: Sassafras (Sassy), Honeysuckle (Honey), and Ivy. We still have our dog, Lucy. My husband has just gotten home after 20 months away, and the kids have had nearly a two month break with no schoolwork at all (except for one excellent online class). In this post I will try to give a quick overview of what the kids are up to and planning these days, and then give you a snapshot of what the day looked like.

Towhee’s days as an early riser are mostly in the rearview mirror, being a young teen. When I’m the first one up, like today and most days, I go out to let the chickens out of their coop and into the small run, and bring out their food and water. When Towhee got up, he ate a piece of toast, made his bed, got dressed, and headed out to spend time with his chickens. This is his every day routine now. While he’s out there, he does whatever coop cleanup he needs to do, and then just hangs out with them while they free range in the fenced back yard. We can’t let them do that unaccompanied because of a family of juvenile Cooper’s hawks currently learning to hunt. Sometime he’s out there for several hours, reading or doing whatever, but today he came in after an hour or so.

Towhee has agreed it’s time to start back with schoolwork, so he’s back where he left off in the spring: Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra (just started the final chapter, though!), some Spanish, and Analytical Grammar. As is often the case, when I write out what he’s doing, it doesn’t seem almost like unschooling at all, given the textbooks. Maybe Child Directed Education (CDE) is the better descriptor, here. Because it’s all things he wants to do. And his textbook work rarely takes very long; he’s entirely self-paced. He’s about half-way through the 42 Electronics Robotics/Electronics/Programming curriculum. He’s currently enrolled in two Outschool history classes: Zinn People’s History and Black History from a Decolonized Perspective; those run through the end of September. And on September 8, the official start to our school year, he’ll begin the Derek Owens Physical Science online class, and start with AoPS Algebra 1.

Towhee had been doing wooden boat-building program for the last two years, and had been looking forward to continuing with that, going to sailing camp, and maybe finally trying swim team. But all of that is off the table until the pandemic resolves. With his dad home, he is starting some physical training and they will probably do some running and maybe tennis, if the city parks are open. That’s Towhee’s year in a nutshell. He’s also got some wood (some nice, some scrap) and he wants to try to build an outdoor worktable, and some kind of a structure for him and his sister. We’ll see what happens with that. These days he helps around the house a lot. He does everyone’s laundry (and folds it and puts it away or puts in on our beds), cleans the toilet and the tub, vacuums the back room (his bedroom) and the entry way, mows the front lawn, brings in the mail, takes out the trash and recycling.

BlueJ, on the other hand, has expressed an interest in starting a multi-year study of geography (like we did when she was very small and can barely remember, going country by country through the Americas, Australia/Oceania, Asia, and Africa). She wants to study Asia this year, Japan first. She currently has several books to read about Japan and Japanese Americans. I told her when she is done with those books to let me know if she wants more, or wants to move on. She has agreed that she should learn multiplication facts by heart before we move on with math study, so I got her some nice cards, and she has agreed to work on that 10 minutes a day. She also will be starting a section of the Outschool class Black History from a Decolonized Perspective; her class starts on Friday. She is also studying Spanish with an app her dad set her up with and…lots of other things. More on BlueJ’s various online endeavors another day. She wants to study architecture and chemistry this year, and we have resources on hand for that, but we’ll see if we get to any of it this month. That’s about it for BlueJ, for now. She draws and writes and does little projects all the time. Her chores include vacuuming the rest of the house, washing the kitchen floor, cleaning the bathroom sink and vanity and floor, and refilling the three birdbaths in the back every day. And the rat laundry which is…pretty substantial and pretty gross.

BlueJ draws all the time these days.

When BlueJ got up this morning, she ate toast, did NOT get dressed, read one of her Japan books and drew for a good long time, then made us all pancakes.

The thing Towhee was most excited about today was this: He worked for a few hours yesterday making a rat palace out of cardboard boxes and tubes for his sister’s rats. A ‘ratitat’ ( = rat habitat) he is calling it. He was SO EXCITED for them to try it out today, so he set it up in the kitchen and then fussed with it for a while. The rats were pretty groggy by that time (being nocturnal and all) but they explored and played long enough for me to get the rat cage cleaned out. Wednesday is rat cage cleaning day. Not my favorite. l let them keep the rat palace set up, so we can get them in there nice and early tomorrow.

Rat Palace!

In the afternoon, Towhee worked on homework for his Zinn class, then watched a Great Course episode in the History of the Ottoman Empire (he is still a lover of all things history), took all the trash out, then played Minecraft with friends until dinner. BlueJ played outside and did her birdbaths, did the rat laundry, called her cousin and talked to him for a while, worked on multiplication facts, worked on Spanish with her dad, and then played online with friends.

After dinner, we watched the Van Gogh episode of Matt Smith Doctor Who (we are working our way through all the seasons a second time), my husband read them a chapter of The Stormrunner, and now everyone is in bed but me. And that, my friends, was Day 168.

Day 167: King the Crow


“King the Crow

On the roof like his throne
Flying off like getting up and out
of his throne
walking about like in his royal garden
going going like being escorted
King king
Oh what a king.

By [Jellyfish] Made in April 3. [Jellyfish] made this poem when she was 7″

This is a pretty good representation of where Jellyfish is in regards to writing independently, more than half way through first grade. Her (conventional) spelling is getting better in leaps and bounds. A year ago she could spell exactly two words: ‘on’ and ‘off.’  I should note here for those interested in unschooling that she has had no formal spelling instruction. Everything we have done with her has been informal, and oral. Think: hanging out in the kitchen while I wash dishes talking about how to spell stuff. And she has a poster of 100 words for first grade that she likes to look at. Informal though our instruction may be, you can see that she has in her spelling ‘toolbox’ a lot of the letter combinations used in English even if she frequently misapplies them. But I am most proud of her for her more recent willingness to go out on a limb with ‘special’ spelling–sounding things out and writing what she hears.  She was really reluctant to do that for a while, asking us to spell everything for her, which was tiresome, and limited her creativity. We don’t give her any writing ‘assignments,’ but writing is something she does voluntarily on a daily basis, and often as a part of creative play. My expectation is that her knowledge of conventional spellings will increase as we continue to talk about spelling strategies and how to spell individual words, and as she gets lots (and lots and lots) of practice putting her lovely, nutty, clever thoughts on paper.


I’ve decided to revive this blog. I quit abruptly not even half way through a post-a-day-for-a-year project (two years ago tomorrow, as it so happens!) mostly because a post-a-day project is really a terrible idea. It was exhausting! Also because my kid was having a hard time, and I didn’t want to write about that. It felt invasive. So now I’m going to start writing again in the haphazard fashion that much better suits my person and habits. Especially because in a couple of months we are dialing back significantly on our commitments and we’ll be able to behave a little bit more like the unschoolers I claim that we are, which I am looking forward to. I will still post days of unschooling, but they will not be even close to consecutive, and I’ll keep doing that until I get to 365 of them. I’m super slow. That’s how you end up having babies when you’re 40. This right here. I might also start some additional categories of posts. Branch out a little. But anyway: HELLO! Oh, and: I don’t like the names ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ anymore. That actually seems creepy to me now. So, hell, I don’t know, let’s go with: Octopus and Jellyfish? That matches their initials, anyway. Will that work?

Day 166: Ballet pictures

Today is a Saturday at the end of March, and it was cold and raw, and we had to go to ballet school for a photo shoot. Pictures to update the website and brochures, presumably. I struggled to make a ‘professional’ ballet bun for Girl (how can I be so bad at it??) and get their dance clothes smooth looking (‘refresh’ cycle on dryer useless, could not find iron for quite some time, found at last minute, burned finger), and then left them there for two hours, hoping that they did not make otherwise good photos unusable with the dour/weird/anxious/extreme faces they tend to make for photos these days. Both Boy and Girl are attractive and likable children, so no one would suspect a priori what weirdness will unfold when one points a camera in their direction. Girl takes lovely smiley pictures just so long as one does not tell her to smile. If one does…I cannot really do her picture smile justice, but it is the kind of face that will make a photographer say something along the lines of: “Oh. Okay. Wow…can you…how about let’s relax a little bit?”  The photo shoot was invite only, and, when I came to get them and got to witness a final group shot taken on the sweeping curved staircase in the lobby, I wondered idly to myself if we would get invited back next year.

After that, though, we got to go to a birthday party, and that was great.

Day 165: Books, more books, rain

Friday morning the kids had their semi-annual dentist checkup and cleaning (all good). It was a very cold and rainy day, and I had errands, so I left the kids at home with their (sick) Papa, and went to our local kids’ store for birthday presents and Easter stuff, to the grocery store, to the library. When I got home Papa told me the kids had been really good, playing make-believe almost the whole time I was gone. I showed the kids the snacks I’d gotten them from the store (coconut date rolls, dried prunes, snap pea crisps), took care of Papa, then made them some dinner. Then bed time. Today Boy read all the books about WWI and II he’d gotten from the library, plus most of a Magic Tree House book and a book about the Bahamas. He’s been reading books to beat the band, two or three a day.

Day 164: Early spring garden

This morning Papa made french toast from baguette, and then everyone got dressed and went outside to play, and the kids rode their bikes around the back yard. Girl put shin guards over her leggings, wore her bike helmet and some mittens, for extra exciting action appeal. Papa and Boy also shot some hoops.

Then we went out front to look at the garden the kids started in the fall–the early spring bulbs they planted are coming up.

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After that it was time for my dentist appointment, but I brought Boy with me so he could read in the waiting room while I got my teeth cleaned. He likes doing that. And I didn’t want to leave Papa with both kids, because they’d been kind of fighting, and Papa isn’t feeling very well.

When we got home we had lunch, and then Papa took the kids to our brand new very fancy main library. They explored the building, chose books, and played video games. Girl got to be Hulk as an avatar, and I don’t know what the goal of the game was supposed to be, but she told me with bright eyes that she smashed everything. Boy wanted a book about WWI, so he approached a children’s librarian with a very respectful, “Excuse me, ma’am…” and she helped him choose three books. Papa said they were talking for a while. While Boy read, Girl played in the play area, setting up her own store.

When they got home, after dinner, Papa spotted a hawk in the live oak out front. Boy could also see it, and described it to Girl, both plastered against the glass in the big front window, but Girl never could spot it. She even missed it as it flew away, prompting her to start weeping in fine Girl fashion.

Boy drew a picture of the hawk for her, flying away as the sun set in the west, and coloring the sky a beautiful orange-pink, per her request. It made her feel better.


Day 163: Olives

Today Boy had violin and ballet, and Girl could stay home with Papa.

In between those things we went to Boy’s second counseling appointment, and to the library to pick up books about Cuba, Jamaica, and The Bahamas (for Geography Club).

Before we went into the counselor’s office, we had about 15 minutes to spare. I knew Boy was hungry, and we were right by a very nice market. We went in and picked out some fancy snacks (something we don’t get very often). We picked out a box of cookies from their bakery, then went to the olive bar for me. Boy asked if he could try some olives, so we looked for a couple of kinds without pits. He picked out some big green olives stuffed with feta cheese to try. Then we got dehydrated veggie chips, and a honey bear filled with blue M&M type candies from the wall of old-fashioned candies. Then we walked across the street with our bag, and boy ate his olive outside before we went in.

Boy and I both talked to the counselor for a bit, then I went back out into the waiting room so they could have time alone. It’s hard for them to get to know each other when I’m in the room, since I tend to do most of the talking. When we left, I asked him how it was and he said fine, that he liked the counselor. He told me that she asked him why he thought his mom was taking him to see her. He told me that he answered: “Because she doesn’t want me to be unhappy and not be able to do things that should be fun.” I’m glad that’s how he feels about it, and not that we think he’s been ‘bad.’

Day 162: Fragile Glass the Boxtroll

Girl has been dressing as a box troll and going about her business for a couple of days now. Maybe you’ve seen the movie? These trolls wear boxes that are their only clothes, their shelter, their bed. They are named by what is written on their box. Girl’s says Fragile, and she asked me to write ‘Glass’ underneath. Hence: Fragile Glass the Boxtroll. Today she asked to wear her box to co-op, and how could I say no? Oh, another detail: boxtrolls are terrified and humiliated to leave their boxes. So every time Girl took her box off today, she also huddled down and yelled, “Ahhhh! I’m naked!”

She stayed in character most of the day. Since today was class picture day for Play and Learn, Fragile Glass will be featured in the yearbook.

What did people think when they saw us walking to the church in the morning, my little girl wearing a box? It’s hard to say. But Fragile studied the letter R today, painted a rocket ship, practiced counting down from 10 (in order to launch a rocket), and studied the water cycle.

Boy made an Abraham Lincoln hat, acted out the fable The Crow and the Pitcher, “ran” a mummy race (in which all participants were wrapped in toilet paper), and carefully dissected an owl pellet, brushing off innumerable rodent bones, including perfect little jawbones lined with tiny teeth, perfect little skull domes, perfect little claws. And as always, he ran and played with his friends.

Tonight Boy and I made a worry doll for Boy. Here he is, posed heroically at Boy’s request.

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Boy asked for privacy in his room before bed to tell this guy his worries, then put him under his pillow.

Day 161: Costa Rica/Panama

Geography Club was today. We studied Costa Rica and Panama.


We looked at various maps, talked about the Panama Canal, read a story about cloud forest animals, listened to the sounds of howler monkeys and three-wattled bellbirds, tried a Costa Rican folkdance that involved twirling a scarf (harder than you’d think for little kids).  The kids took books and marked pages with pictures of animals or other things of interest to them, and then took turns showing everyone. We call this ‘research’ time. We looked at pictures of Costa Rican carretas (painted oxcarts) and decorated paper versions of them.

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We brought our old canal water table, that has ‘locks’ and a pump, to let everyone try moving a toy ship through the locks. (That was a pretty big hit, of course.)

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I brought a ball of masa dough and made tortillas, and let the younger kids try to shape their own.

Then we went home for a bit before Papa took the kids to ballet. Girl started learning the routine for the end of the year recital today, and you can tell she is proud, nervous, excited.