What We’ve Learned Lately: Compound Words, Regrouping, Harvest, Dewey Decimal

Compound Words

This week, one of Neko’s favourite games has been Compound Words. We’ve been having a lot of fun playing it in the car. I don’t remember how it started – for some reason, I explained to her what a compound word is, and before you knew it, she was brainstorming compound words. We chucked around compound words for days! Some were confusing – they seemed like compound words, but were actually two words. Some were only one word, but didn’t actually contain two words within. Others, I was unsure of and had to look up. It was actually fun to see how many we could come up with, and we congratulated each other regularly on our brainstorming. Compound words – check!


Neko also had a really good time with a worksheet on regrouping numbers in subtraction – what you do when you try to subtract 18 from 23, for instance (steal a one from the 20 place, creating a 13 from which you can subtract the 8…). She was confused at first but soon she was really pleased with herself and did the whole page. Regrouping – check!

Harvesting Root Vegetables and Winter Keepers

We were lucky to attend a free harvest at a local CSA. Neko and some of her friends spent a couple of hours digging potatoes, pulling greens, plucking carrots, playing hide and seek in the dill, and more. They had more fun that we expected, and we came home with so many pounds of produce! We’ve been eating them all week. I consider this a very important part of her education – knowing where our food comes from, what grows here, how to store it, and how to prepare it.

Dewey Decimal

At the library on Monday, I gave Neko an introduction to the dewey decimal system and the electronic catalog. I know she doesn’t get it yet, but she knows the basics of searching by subject, and a general idea of how to use the dewey decimal system to search for books on the topic she’s interested in. She’ll need help with it for a long time to come, but it’s nice to have introduced it!

Kitten Care

And lastly, our other ongoing project is kitten care. We adopted an 8-week-old kitten named Olive from my parents’ ranch last week, and Neko has claimed her as her own. She is a very sweet little kitten, but of course keeps us busy. Neko has seen her vaccinated and has seen deworming medicine administered, she has been attempting to litter train her, she has fed and watered and snuggled her, and learned how sharp those claws and teeth are. She has also learned a lot about kitten proofing, and facilitating a friendly relationship between a kitten and an older, very grumpy male cat.


What This Blog Is Now

I wish this were an update, fully documenting what we’ve been up to, or how awesome homeschooling has been going (for the record – it has!). However, I’m just writing a quick post for now to update and say that this will be one of my primary forms of record-keeping for Neko’s Grade Three homeschooling year.

She has begun a blended program that is half public school, half unschooling – she will be in a school setting one day a week, with a second day every other week, and some Friday sport days and field trips as well. The rest of the time, she is unschooling as she has been so far.

Neko's first day of Grade Three. So thrilled!

Neko’s first day of Grade Three. So thrilled!

While not a full update, I’m happy to report that her reading and writing are up to grade level, and I would say that her math is close (more importantly to me, she finds it fun and we don’t fight about it. She has no context for math as punishment nor difficulty. And that is my longterm goal.). Science and social studies are not a concern, as they never have been. Phys ed, music, art and all the rest are going great (how could they not be? So fun!!).

Our learning plan for the year is complete, though I freely admit that I’m not beholden to even my own plans, and these are nothing but loose goals. That said, we’re aiming for the following this year:

Math: units of measure, charts and graphs, describing quantities to 1000 using different methods, multiply to 5×5, beginning division concepts

Language arts: proper spelling (moving away from just phonics), learning to access reference materials (dictionaries, encyclopedias), punctuation, capitalization, alphabetical order, story-telling (describing characters and setting), using electronic library catalog, typing skills

Science: build and test structures, describe and classify rocks and minerals, explore the nature of sound, plant growth and changes, waste and our world, magnets

Social studies: nothing specific aside from Hawaiian culture (we’re going to Maui this winter) – we generally wing it with social studies.

Physical education: improving swimming skills, winter sports – downhill skiing or snowboarding, gymnastics, hiking

Fine arts: guitar basics, appreciate different styles and media in visual art, experience the performing arts, create art using different media and techniques, understand and appreciate rhythm, explore a variety of folk dances

We’ll be tracking Neko’s progress through this blog, her personal student journal, a portfolio, and of course parental observation and even the odd worksheet.

Sometimes I Worry… But Then I Remember…

Sometimes I worry about unschooling (I know… all us unschoolers do!). I worry that because we don’t do any (or at least not much) formal instruction, and no worksheets, and no sit-down time where I walk Neko through equations and participles and such things, that she might fall behind her peers. When she shows an interest in learning to read or write, or figuring out math, we follow that interest. We have a Reading Eggs subscription that she uses a couple of times a week, and there are tons of workbooks and math games and reading primers available within the house. We read together every day, and even loosely follow the Jolly Phonics program. The opportunities are there.

Of course, I know that at six and a half, I have no reason to worry. I have plenty of unschooling friends with older kids, who describe to me on a regular basis how things have gone in their house – one kid picked up reading easily at age four, the other didn’t find that it really “clicked” until about eight. No matter the age they’re describing, it’s always the same story – they didn’t push any of the academics, they let it happen on their child(ren)’s own timeline, and provided materials to meet the child’s interest as well as a stimulating environment, then one day the child took interest and BOOM!, in about two weeks they were reading proficiently.

I’ve also seen plenty of evidence that basic math is better off learned naturally rather than through rote learning.

So, the logical part of my brain knows we’re fine. I have complete faith in what we’re doing.

And yet, I have more friends that are sending their kids to school. Friends from the States whose children learned to read in preschool at age four. Whose five year olds can recite the 5o states (I can’t even do that! Not all of them!). Who post on Facebook wondering if anyone else’s child is having trouble with their grade one homework of reading one chapter per night. Neko’s not even reading Hop on Pop yet!

I think about our impending homeschool facilitator visit, and what I’m going to tell her. Our board is very unschooling-friendly. It’s why I chose them (for those of you in Calgary, we are with Home Learning Connections). Our facilitator is hands-off, unless I need her – then she is available. We’re left to do our own thing, which is what I want. The last time she came, I told her about our regular activities, and our philosophy on Neko learning reading and math when she’s ready, and our facilitator was very supportive. So it’s not that there is any worry of her actually saying, “But you’re finished Grade One and your child can’t read! FAIL!” Still, I have nagging doubts in my mind that question our path.

Then I remember… I look back at all the things we’ve done this year.


Countless playdates.

Cat yodeling.

Tickle fights.

Blanket forts.

Days spent at my parents’ ranch.

Meetings to plan our little off-grid house.

Runs for fun (complete with setting up Neko’s own Daily Mile page).

Lots of neat crafts.

The girls working on their Sharpie tie dye shirts.

Sleep-in days.

Sliding, fully clothed, down a handmade mudslide along the river bank. And on and on. And I realize that given our schedule, we wouldn’t have been able to do half of these things if we had been sitting at home doing worksheets.

I understand that some homeschoolers (lots of them, probably) have time to do both. I’m not saying that just because you’re doing worksheets, you’re not having fun. (I also understand that there are plenty of kids out there who enjoy worksheets and the like and do them by choice.)

But for us, given my work schedule (one full day and two half days each week, plus stints of working from home worked into each day), and us having two extra kids in the house another day and a half each week (when I would prefer to not attempt to make Neko sit down and focus on worksheets, though I suppose I could if I needed to), I really prefer to use our time, while she’s six years old, to slide down mudslides, tromp through the woods, watch old Lindsay Lohan Disney movies while eating pizza, watch silly YouTube videos, go on playdates, do cool crafts and play at the playground.

Don’t let my face scare you. That’s just the gears going, trying to reconcile “Parent Trap” Lindsay Lohan with the current train wreck we see in the tabloids. The pizza (Coco Brooks) is delicious.

I picture myself when she is 10, or 12, or 20. This usually happens when I’m thinking back on Neko at age two or three and reminiscing about how cute and funny she was. She was also a total pain in the you-know-what and I am enjoying six so much more, but she was admittedly hilarious, and we had a lot of fun. I think a lot about how glad I am that we spent as much time together as we did, because we’ll never get to live that age together again. I’m thankful that I nursed her as long as I did; I’m thankful I didn’t need to go back to work full-time (well, really, I worked a TON of hours each week developing the store, but at least it was flexible and I still got to spend lots of time with her); I’m thankful that we went on dates and did silly things together.

I reflect on my favourite memories…

Taking a week to go camping on Summer Solstice when the rest of the kids were still in kindergarten

Having pancakes for supper in fancy dresses at a local pancake house when Justan was away for weeks and we just needed a break

Visiting a photo booth together; going for tons of playdates at our friends’ farm right outside the city; checking out new playgrounds with friends. And I realize that these will be some of Neko’s favourite memories, too.

That’s when I tell myself: It doesn’t matter that she can’t write a sentence yet, or count by twos. Like learning to walk, or talk, these are skills that will come. In the next year or two, most likely. If they don’t, then we’ll look at focusing a little more. But for the rest of our lives, we’ll have these memories to look back on. And then I feel really good about what we’re doing.

A Day in the Life#1: Unschooling (and Dressember Day #12)

I’ve decided that periodically, on our days that are especially great (what’s that? You don’t want a play-by-play of the days where we run errands?), I’m going to post day-in-the-life posts showing what we do on a day of unschooling. Over time, these posts will show a variety of types of days, a range of topics, and hopefully a good cross-section of what unschooling an only child can look like.

Today is the first of these! Neko and I had almost a full day at home, and I had some plans of what I could work on with her (yep… that’s not true unschooling), so I thought it would be a good time to start.

We’ve cut out our morning ritual of Neko watching a few (usually at least semi-educational without ads) TV shows and having a glass of chocolate almond milk, as her behaviour has been going downhill lately with more whining, worse sleep habits, and some back-talking and rudeness. I feel Justan and I are at fault, not setting clear enough boundaries and setting Neko up to fail with the morning dose of sugar and screen time. For the past few days, there has been no TV in the morning, and the first thing to pass through Neko’s lips has been protein, or at least whole grains.

8 am We bucked the trend a bit here this morning, and I let her watch Nim’s Island on Netflix, as it was recommended to us recently.

9:45 am Neko did a mosaic craft that my mom gave her for her birthday. Just a bunch of sticky dots that you place on a template, but my thought is that it was useful for… math. And art. And fine motor skills. Oh, and we had breakfast at this point.

11 am I did laundry. Neko finished up her mosaic, and we snacked a bit in anticipation of going tobogganing. Also, Neko put a blanket on the cat. No educational benefit to that, that I can discern, but it was silly and looked cute.

Blanket-on-cat. Cute.

11:45 am Tobogganing! About six blocks from our house, there is a pretty big hill with a nice slope, and now that the snow deep enough and a decent quality, we’ll be over there sliding down that hill often! Last year we got a big, wooden toboggan and two plastic “flying saucers,” and we just got two Crazy Carpets (from the treasure hunt for Neko’s birthday party). This was our physical education for the day. Plus it was just fun. And we got some vitamin D.

Lots of hill climbing… unencumbered glee… and it’s a good sign when you’re laughing hysterically after falling off at the bottom.

This was tiring. And thirsty-making. So we walked home for treats. It was, by the way, nearly impossible to get Neko off this hill.

1 pm Cold drinks! I blended some lemon juice, homemade strawberry preserves (simply strawberries, lemon juice and sugar, simmered) and made us strawberry lemonade. Which, of course, called for fancy glasses. Which, of course, makes it appear that I was filling my daughter with strawberry margaritas. I wasn’t, by the way.

Oh yeah. And water.


2 pm Things got pretty boring at this point when we cleaned out Neko’s bed. It’s a loft bed, and she has tons of books up there, and extra blankets, and random toys… anyway. It was gross. And messy. So we did that. (Also, I’m watching Louis CK as I write this and I apologize if it’s affecting my tone.) Neko then chose a selection of toys that she wants to keep on her bed which are, she says, “fake Pokemons.” She basically chose regular toys and assigned them special powers. I don’t get Pokemon. These are life skills of some sort, I’m quite sure.

3 pm As I had promised Neko earlier in the day, it was time for Just Dance 3 on the Wii. This is, for the record, also my workout for the day. That game gets your heart pumping! I also secretly (not anymore) hope it will improve my moves, you know, for the next time I’m at the club.

Hawt. We had a good time.

This, of course, was part two of phys ed for today. And the required daily pop culture lesson.

4 pm Here was my one, actually educational plan for the day: to print off a 10×10 chart so Neko could fill it in with the numbers one through 100. She’s been having trouble learning to count, and I thought a visual cue, and writing the numbers herself, would probably help her make the connection. So I made a ten column by ten row table in Pages, made the cells square, and printed the page. Then I had Neko fill in the bottom ten squares, left to right, one to ten. We then went across and did the teens. Then the twenties. Up until this point I was leading Neko through it, and she wasn’t totally understanding the pattern of the whole thing. But around 28, she saw the pattern. She started filling in the cells by herself, only asking for help once or twice per line. This was so cool to watch. Each time she figured out the name for the next ten spot, she was so very proud of herself. I honestly almost cried, watching her. I told her that once she had filled in the chart, she would be able to count to 100. She said, “I can only write to a hundred, I can’t count to a hundred mommy.” I explained that using her new chart, she’ll be able to count to 100 whenever she wants. Her eyes filled with excitement and she said, “I want to fold this up and put it in my pocket and keep it with me every day!

Definition of the term “awesomesauce.”

After that, we called my parents so she could count to 100 on the phone for them (my mom is a kindergarten teacher, so she was thrilled to listen), and Justan came home and Neko showed him her number chart, and then she went to play with the neighbours for a while.

Oh, and today was Dressember Day #12.

Dress: Majora (Value Village) // Boots: Thrift shop