Archive for the 'Unschooling' Category

Veggie Tales

Here it is…our raised vegetable garden! Planted in the barren soil are lettuce, radish & zucchini seeds. At the left four bamboo posts are sugar snap peas and runner beans. To the left of the runner beans is an eggplant. The three large plants are tomatoes. In front of the tomatoes are three strawberry plants. The two plants behind the tomatoes are pumpkins. And the three plants on the far right are peppers. Marigolds are interspersed amongst the tomatoes.

Last night we fertilized with fish emulsion and bone meal which is in addition to the many bags of manure already mixed in to the soil. After fertilizing, we gathered for a prayer over the garden and blessed it with holy water. St. Isadore, pray for us!


Snow Activities

Here are some science activities we are planning on doing that correlate with our Winter Reading.

Snowflake Imprints

This project is done outdoors during a snowstorm. We plan on doing this several times during the winter, recording the weather conditions and their effect on the type of snowflakes. We will be recording: temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, each time we make imprints.

Materials: Shoebox with lid, Acetate (Grafix Clear Film) cut to fit inside shoebox, Krylon plastic spray (we choose blue), cardboard cut to the same size of acetate, wooden spring clothespins (two per project)

Important: Keep all materials in the freezer for atleast 1 hour before doing the project.

  1. Place acetate on the cardboard and secure with clothespins.
  2. Spray acetate with Krylon. Work Quickly!
  3. Allow a few snowflakes to land on the acetate.
  4. Place acetate in the shoebox and cover with a lid so no more snow falls on the acetate.
  5. Leave outside for atleast 1 hour to allow the Krylon to dry.
  6. When dry, a replica of the snowflakes will be left on the acetate.
  7. Observe replica snowflakes with a hand lens or a microscope.
  8. You may want to classify the snowflakes using Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes.
  9. If you keep a nature journal you might want to draw a picture of your snowflake with a ruler and protractor.

Some questions to ponder: What type of crystals formed? Is there more than one type? How big are the crystals? Are any alike?

Borax Snowflakes

We found this activity at Home Science Tools. They are a wonderful supplier of science equipment for homeschooling families.

Make real crystal snowflakes to decorate your home using borax. This activity takes about 30 minutes of active preparation and then overnight to set.


  • Wide mouth jars – one for each snowflake (can reuse to make more snowflakes)
  • Pipe cleaners (Depending on the size of the jar, you may be able to cut one piece into three smaller pieces. Use the diameter of the jar’s mouth to measure how long the pipe cleaners need to be. Use white pipe cleaners to make traditional snowflakes, or use colored pipe cleaners and food coloring for more colorful snowflakes.)
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Pencils – one for each snowflake (have as many pencils as you have jars)
  • Water
  • One-cup measuring cup
  • Borax such as 20 Mule Team Borax Laundry Booster
  • Food coloring – don’t need this if making traditional white snowflakes


  1. For each snowflake, twist together three pipe cleaners in the center so that you make a 6-pointed star. Use scissors to trim down the ends of the pipe cleaners so they are all approximately the same length and can fit in the jar.
  2. Take a piece of string and tie it to one end of the star. Connect the string to the next point by twisting the string around the pipe cleaner. Continue around until you connect all the points together with the string, making a snowflake shape.
  3. Attach one of the pipe cleaner points with string to the shaft of the pencil. You should use just enough string so that when the pencil is resting on the mouth of the jar, the snowflake can be lowered into the jar and hang suspended without touching the mouth or the sides of the jar. Place the snowflake in the jar to make sure that it will fit and will hang suspended inside the jar. Take the snowflake out of the jar.
  4. Use a teakettle or microwave to boil enough water to fill each of the jars. When adding the water to the jars, measure out how many cups of water are needed to fill the jar. For every cup of water placed in the jar, mix in three tablespoons of borax. This will make a super saturated borax solution. (If using the optional methods below, add the food coloring in with this step.) Stir the borax solution with a spoon until dissolved.
  5. Hang your snowflakes in the jars so that they are completely suspended in the solution. Let your snowflakes sit overnight. Gently remove your now crystal covered snowflakes.

Optional: Try these methods to make your snowflakes even more unique!

  • Use colored pipe cleaners and food coloring to make different colored snowflakes. Use three pink pipe cleaners and one drop of red food coloring to make pink snowflakes, or green pipe cleaners and several drops of green food coloring – you get the idea. You may also want to try using yellow pipe cleaners and blue food coloring to make a greenish tinted snowflake or use different colors of pipe cleaners. Have fun making several different color combinations.
  • Make different designs or patterns with the string and the pipe cleaners. Make two circles to connect the pipe cleaners or try zigzagging between the points. Use thread or thin string for more intricate patterns.

Melt Snow

  • Weigh a quart size jar. Record weight.
  • Fill jar with clean snow. Weigh jar. Record weight.
  • Predict and mark where the melted snow water will come to on the jar. Measure with a ruler and record prediction.
  • Cover containers.
  • Predict how long it will take for the snow to melt.
  • Check on containers periodically until all the snow has melted. Record time.
  • Record weight and water levels of the melted snow in thier containers.
  • Discuss the results.
  • Now test the melted snow for purity. Pour the melted snow through a clean coffee filter.
  • Pour distilled water through a clean coffee filter.
  • Discuss results.

Snow Imprints and Snow Melt were adapted from Project Seasons.

No Snow? No worries. How about a Blizzard in a Bucket? Not up for a Blizzard? Try this, Instant Snow in a Test Tube.

I Don’t Wanna be an Unschooler! (But maybe I am?)

Hmm. I’ve been pondering this question lately and it seems to have come up here on the 4 Real Learning forums, although the question posed there is, “Are you radical unschoolers?”. It was an interesting thread. What I found most interesting was that many families posting on that board choose to describe their educational philosophy using terms other than unschooler.

I found this interesting because I always seem to have a strong negative reaction to the term, unschooler, when I think about applying it to ourselves. I think this is because 1) “unschooler” just seems so in your face. It seems to be a term which puts “schoolers” on the defensive and 2) I’m not really sure what constitutes a “real” unschooler. The definition of the term, if there is one, seems ambiguous to me.

For instance, if I require my children to do some reading everyday and limit their television viewing can I be considered an unschooler? What if I let one child choose our read aloud and insist that all the children are in hearing distance, even if they would prefer to read their own book upstairs? And what if I require them to do some sort of math work everyday but allow them to choose the materials they use? Or what if I insist that around age 9 they start formal lessons for math & english using traditional curricula, but the rest of the day, after chores, the children are free to do what they like with it? This is what our “schooling” looks likes; a few have to’s, lots of want to’s, with lots of unstructured time.

Would it be right to call myself an unschooler? I’m not sure. Maybe. Maybe not.

But then there is still just the “in your face” rebellion from the status quo that the word unschooler invokes that I’m just not comfortable with. When I was younger, I reveled in being confrontational with my ideals, proclaiming them to the world on the bumper and back window of my car. I even proclaimed them with my body, through tattoos and piercings, and fashioned myself with Renegade Annie t-shirts. My ideals were quite different back then. And very confrontational and in your face.

As the Lord has opened my eyes to Truth, I no longer have high ideals but rather deep convictions. Convictions so personal, and dear to me that I don’t want anyone to be put off by them but instead want others to revel in their beauty; to see the quiet mystery of my joy and contentment in my vocation as a wife and mother who educates her children in our home, within our family.

I don’t want to be a homeschooling mom who is always stressed, uptight and complaining about never having anytime to enjoy myself because there is so much school work to get done. I never again want to think I have to make a choice between homeschooling and welcoming another child into our family. (Been there. Done that. It only lead to burn out.)  I want to always be able to say “yes” to both, enthusiastically and freely!  That’s why I’ve fully embraced a a relaxed home learning environment.

Leonie at Living Without School shares this quote by John Holt who had this to say about unschooling:

Any child who can spend an hour or two a day, or more if he wants, with adults that he likes, who are interested in the world and like to talk about it, will on most days learn far more from their talk than he would learn in a week of school. ~John Holt

I agree with Mr. Holt whole heartily. Doesn’t it sound so positive? So relational? So natural?

This is what our learning is:

  • Positive
  • Relational
  • Discovery Oriented
  • God Inspired
  • Faith-filled
  • Family Centered
  • Wonder-filled
  • Abundant
  • Grace-filled
  • Living

But that is quite the mouth full, so perhaps we will call ourselves–

Natural Learners.

Isn’t that what we were created to be?

Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educator’s Conference

June 21-23, 2007

The Glory of God is man fully alive! -St. Irenaus

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