Our Homeschooling Goals for Grade Five

Well, it’s mid-September, which means we unschooly types are starting to trickle back into what we think of as our school/unschool year. Of course I’m not technically unschooling as Neko is in a blended program, and also given that we do some schooly stuff most days, but we still fit the personality profile (you know — sleeping in, avoiding bookwork, having not the most academic goals in general).

Neko started back to her blended program last week and we had our facilitator meeting last Monday, so it seemed like a good week for us to start back at our homeschooling as well. We’ve been doing a tiny bit of review since late August but we have mostly been lazy and sleepy.

I have, however, been thinking a lot about what I’d like to focus on this year. The major factors in this planning have been the fact that we are putting Neko into a public arts school next year, so I need to make sure she is up to speed on her core subjects; and also that I want to make sure I’ve done as much as I can during my intensive time with her to instill the core values that matter to us as a family: gratitude, service, self-sufficiency, appreciation of art and connection to nature, specifically.

Neko having some fun at the Telus Spark Science Centre last spring.

Neko having some fun at the Telus Spark Science Centre last spring.


That makes two separate categories of goals for our homeschooling year. First, Public School Prep; and second, Family Values.

1) Public School Prep


Neko has decided that she does not love math. This makes me sad. I LOVE math. I find it fun. So the fact that the kid I’ve been trying to teach math now hates it makes me feel like I have totally let her down. Anyway, enough about me and my insecurities and guilt. My goal for math for this year is to help Neko to feel confident in her ability to grasp new concepts, and use concepts up to her grade level. She is mostly at grade level so it’s not like we have a ton of catching up to do, however she really doubts her abilities. I’d like to use a variety of different methods of learning (I’m especially hopeful about using art and kinaesthetic learning) to help her grasp concepts like division, fractions, decimals and early algebra so that she doesn’t go into public school assuming she is way behind everyone.

Language arts:

I’m really excited to have some “team writing” time this year where we spend an hour together working on similar compositions (ex. both of us work on short stories at the same time, or poems, or research projects). The main skills I would like her to take from this are planning and revising skills. Right now she is happy to sit down and start a story from scratch, but I’d like her to understand the options for different types of compositions and styles of writing and have the ability to sit down and plan her composition before she starts writing. She also needs to know about story arc and the crucial elements of each type of composition, as well as how to go back and revise and edit. On a more basic level, we will be working on legibility, capitalization and punctuation to iron out any remaining kinks.


This year my main objective is to familiarize her with the scientific method and the proper process of conducting an experiment.

2) Family Values


I’m sure it’s the age (9.5), but I feel like Neko has been fairly ungrateful lately. She wants everything all the other kids have and I know that gratitude for the things you have is extremely important to longterm happiness. I have planned a variety of methods and activities to instill and discuss gratitude over the course of the year. I hope this will be good for me, too.


This ties directly into gratitude. I’m not sure yet whether we will do a few different volunteer tasks or the same one repeated monthly. For our first commitment we’ll be serving lunch at a large homeless shelter and outreach centre downtown. I would also love to create small, beautiful public pieces of art to drop around the city, as this would tie in to service, connection to nature, appreciation of art and also gratitude.


Neko is currently really interested in making and handling her own money, and she’s motivated to work to earn cash. We are exploring options like working as a mother’s helper, weeding and watering neighbours’ gardens, and selling her artwork online to figure out what makes the most sense for her. I would also like her to learn to cook more dishes this year and become more comfortable with basic kitchen skills, as we haven’t covered this as much in the past as I had hoped to. Every Monday night she and I will be cooking dinner together. Lastly, I’ve signed her up for Girl Guides in our community, and the meetings are a few blocks from our house. I’m hoping she’ll meet other girls who live nearby and also that she can ride her bike to the meetings and later to her new friends’ houses.

Appreciation of art:

We’ll be visiting art galleries one day each month, exploring the new exhibitions from local artists as well as the more iconic pieces featured at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. I hope that we can follow up our outings with some home learning, either through library books or online, and then maybe try out some similar techniques ourselves.

Connection to nature:

This is so key in my opinion. I believe that nature should be home base for everyone. We should have the desire to go into nature when we need to ground ourselves, and feel comfortable doing so. This has been really key to our homeschooling journey all along but this year I’d like to finally do something I have always wanted to with Neko. We are going to choose one spot in a local park (not like a public greenspace, but an actually wilderness area) and visit it once every week or two. We will go on the scheduled day regardless of the weather and be in the that space for a period of time, and record what we see. What is the weather today? Are there animals around and if so, which ones and what are they doing? Are there plants growing? Is there water running? What else can we observe about how this spot changes through the seasons? My hope is that by visiting the same spot throughout the year, we will gain a level of intimacy with that spot and some insight into the cycles of that exact spot.

Neko in the wild.

Neko in the wild.

Of course I recognize that at the beginning of every school year, we homeschooler have pretty lofty goals and a renewed vigour, which usually wanes by January and by spring we have again become super lazy and extra unschooly. But what would happen if we didn’t set these lofty goals?! A person can dream.

We’ll see whether I manage to meet any of these!


Highly Recommended: Surfwise (The Amazing True Odyssey of the Paskowitz Family)

I don’t feel like it’s hyperbolic to say that Doc Paskowitz, the main subject of the documentary Surfwise, is a nearly perfect representation of what this blog aims to impart.

Paskowitz was living the American dream, a successful (by all modern definitions) doctor in Hawaii, when he basically made the decision to drop out of society and, after a sabbatical to Israel where he apparently single-handedly started the Tel Aviv surfing scene, took his life on the road with his new wife Juliette.

What followed embodies almost all the ideals I hold highest and would love to see more people buy into, albeit lived out in very different ways than I will ever be able to (read: I can’t surf and don’t want “berries and sticks” for breakfast each day).

Doc and Juliette began their love affair living in a car on the beach, but soon they were pregnant and moved up into an RV. It was the early 60s and they were so countercultural that it’s almost hard to envision where their ideas came from. This was “before Jack Kerouac went on the road,” as the trailer points out.

Living in a 24-foot motorhome, they proceeded to have nine children (all of whom were breastfed for at least two years, because, as Doc implored Juliette, “No child of mine will have any less than a gorilla.”). No, they never did move into a bigger RV, let alone a house. They travelled all around the US and Mexico, surfing every day, eating simply and wholesomely (except for those times when they went hungry for lack of cash), and never receiving a lick of conventional education.

It’s not the specifics that I aspire to. It’s Doc’s realization that we don’t have to adopt any convention thrust upon us by our culture. Though some of his thinking was likely flawed and some of his methods may have backfired (though this is arguable as his family is at least as, if not more, successful and happy as your average North American family), his convictions to keep his children close; raise them to appreciate the beauty of the earth and to have personal discipline; put his family before all else; and to be successful in his marriage (via good sex — his thoughts on this are amusing to witness) are inspiring.

This is my favourite documentary, and I’ve seen a lot of really amazing documentaries. If you homeschool or unschool your children; come from or have created a large family; live on the road or wish to; or dream of divesting from modern society, it will appeal to your imagination.

It’s hard to find, but is available on American Netflix, as well as American iTunes and Amazon (.com and .ca). You can also check your local library!

On Never Being Taught to Read

Once upon a time, I was the mother of a four-year-old child who showed pretty much zero interest in learning to read. My brain, as it is wont to do, split into two opposing camps. Camp one was freaking out perpetually that I ought to be doing more, that this was my first big chance to FAIL as a homeschooler, that this crazy experiment called unschooling wouldn’t work at all. Camp two, meanwhile, was resting easy in countless studies and articles that reassured me of the importance of pre-literacy skills and the benefit of letting kids learn to read on their own time and those Scandinavians who don’t teach academics until age seven. Camp two was also trying to believe the librarians who assured me that Neko was right on track with her pre-literacy to be a strong reader, and believing whole-heartedly my unschooly friends who related that their child had not read until 6, 7, 8, even 9 and within a year was reading at or above grade level.

This is my brain on a daily basis, with all things. Yeah, I’m used to it, but it doesn’t stop the camps from debating.

So then, time passed. My mom, a kindergarten teacher, supportively lent us tons of little phonics readers, and I tried to get Neko to try them out. She staunchly resisted. I decided it wasn’t worth a fight.

When she was about five and a half, we signed up for Reading Eggs online. She used this sometimes, and it was a bit helpful.

Neko looking at a book on the hammock.

Neko looking at a book on the hammock.

But when it came down to it, she learned to read when she was ready, which turned out to be around six and a half to seven. What did we do? We provided her with tools and resources – Reading Eggs, lots of books, reading aloud to her daily, several trips to the library each week, watching Electric Company, and letting her see us read. We never did sit down and “teach” her, and I did my best to quiet the voice in my head that was freaking out about her learning to read later than some other kids. I also did my best to reassure my mother and father, who would sometimes comment that children younger than Neko, in my mom’s kindergarten class, were further ahead in their reading.

Of course, it helped to read on Facebook about the kindergarten and grade one homework my friends’ kids were being sent home with. I never wanted reading to be a chore, so it was reassuring to know that we were avoiding setting up that dynamic.

If you’ve read this far and you happen to be able to closely identify with the me-of-the-past I’m describing, specifically because you have a preschooler or primary kid who is “late” learning to read – here’s the whole point. Let me tell you about where we are today, at 8.

Though she couldn't read, she loved looking at books.

Though she couldn’t read, she loved looking at books.

Neko ended up really taking an interest in reading when she was almost 7. At that point we started to do a bit of work at home, such as BrainQuest workbook activities, more Reading Eggs, and writing projects – journals, stories, letters (though not much. Really – not much at all.).  She was interested in learning to read, so we didn’t find working on it to be a chore. Still, we spent very little time working on reading with her. We mostly answered questions as she posed them and continued to make resources and tools available.

When she started at the blended homeschool program in the fall of 2013, a young member of the grade three class, she was reading at grade level. That’s nine months of reading to catch up on two school years of instruction. Now, halfway through grade three? She’s been named one of the more advanced readers in her class and given a part in the radio play that has tons of lines. She’s also reading Wildwood, which is labelled as an age 8-12 reading level but is, I have to agree with this writer, far above that. At any rate, I’m proud of my kid who has the perseverance to keep picking up this 541-page hardcover and getting through it two pages at a time. And then coming to tell us about plot developments – yay reading comprehension!

So take heart. Try not to worry. And keep the end goal in sight. Do you want to boast that your pre-schooler can read*? Or is it more important to you to raise an adult who loves reading and does it well?

Neko learning about feminism early thanks to Bust.

Neko learning about feminism early thanks to Bust.

(*Please note: yes, I know there are plenty of pre-schoolers who learn how to read of their own accord, and love it. Just don’t sweat it if your kid is not one of them.)

Two Days in the Life

What might a day in the life of an unschooled only child look like, on a day when her mother is working? Well, like one of these, perhaps.

Currently, on Mondays I need to be at my store at least 3-5 hours. Ideally this will be 12-3, but it’s flexible. Yesterday I had a chiropractor’s appointment in the morning in the same building as my store, and we had the opportunity to join some friends on a nature walk in the afternoon, so our day looked like this:

7:45 am Mom gets up, meditates, does yoga, makes tea, eats breakfast.

8:30 am Neko wakes up, eats breakfast.

9:30 am Mom leaves for the chiropractor and to work at the store for a bit. Neko and dad stay home, Neko watches a bit of TV.

10:45 am Mom comes home, picks up Neko and dad, and we all go to the Weaselhead, a beautiful park here in Calgary that follows the Elbow River into the Glenmore Resevoir and is made up of some really nice woods.

11:00 am – 2 pm We spend a couple of hours roaming the woods in the Weaselhead. We look for deer prints, point out chickadees, see ducks in the river and check out the field where the wild strawberries will grow in the summer. Neko hides in the bushes and we find her every time, which makes her mad. An old friend of Neko’s comes along and the two of them spend the walk beside each other talking quietly – later she tells me they mostly talked about Narnia.

The kids playing on a log down by the river. Sorry about the creepy ghost faces on the kids besides mine.

2:15 pm Dad and Neko drop mom off at the store to work some more. Then they go to the library to pick up some books we had on hold; to Toys R Us so Neko can spend her $20 gift certificate from Nana (she chooses a stuffed cat that meows, purrs and walks); and home for some crackers and cheese.

4:00 pm Neko and dad pick up mom from the store. We get home and Neko runs off to play with the twins from down the street, who are nine (and frankly, not very nice to the six-year-old – cue conversation about how we let others treat us, and how to stand up for ourselves). She plays in the park with them for about an hour. Then we eat delicious Pumpkin Dal over brown rice. She then plays with them for about another hour.

7:00 pm Neko watches a bit more TV.

8:00 pm Neko has a bath, then dad reads a chapter of Prince Caspian to her while mom goes for a run. At 9:00 her eyes are closed before her head hits the pillow.

Today, Tuesday, I had to work all day, so it went more like this:

8:45 am We all wake up. Justan and I didn’t sleep at ALL (weird mutual insomnia) so we are beat. We all stay in bed until 9:15 and snuggle.

9:30 am They drop me off at the store for the day. They come home and eat breakfast. Neko watches The Cat Returns (a Studio Ghibli movie).

12:30 After lunch, they pay a visit to a cool playground near my store. Next, they have to meet up with someone Justan works with.

2:30 A visit to the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary, taking in the exhibits and making masterpieces in the art room with watercolour pencils.

4:30 pm Home again. Neko plays with the girls down the street again for about an hour.

5:45 They pick me up from the store. We come home and eat pizza (bought frozen from our favourite local pizzeria). While the pizza cooks, Neko practices typing words in Pages on my laptop.

6:45 pm We go to the park down the street with Neko because she wants to show us the big pine tree she can climb. She can climb really high! We play in the playground for a bit.

7:30 pm We come home and practice writing. I say word combos out loud and Neko writes them, then makes them out of pipecleaners. She gets bored with this and plays on Reading Eggs for a bit.

8:15 pm I read a chapter of Prince Caspian to Neko, she eats some almonds as a bedtime snack, we snuggle and she’s off to sleep.

So there it is. A bit too much TV sometimes (though she watches more on days Justan mainly has her), usually lots of time outside, plenty of socialization, no worksheets, no real structure (she’s a kid who does fine without a routine), and I spend my days wavering between feeling guilty for not giving her more math and literacy work, and confident knowing that she’ll pick it all up when she is ready – maybe in the fall. Maybe when she turns seven. Right now we have lots of time. And she’ll have these sunny days with her friends, and her mom, and her dad, to look back on, always.