Unschooling a Perfectionist

First things first! The perfectionist in this family is me, not Jay. Previously, I wrote about tracking progress and why I do it, but if it hadn’t been the perfectionist in me to start tracking progress at an absurdly young age, I would not have found the benefits of it nor would I be able to say that it was quite ridiculous in hindsight.

I first started tracking Jay’s progress at the age of 3. I had forms that they use in ABA to determine mastery of skills and progress, etc. I’m not an ABA therapist, BCBA or anything like that, but the form helped me to achieve the results I wanted by tracking his progress. At the end of each “session” I did the calculations, marked the date, the percentages and my observations. Silly, I know.

Why is it silly? Well, for starters, Jay was only three. At the end of the day, I don’t truly believe in measuring success by a series of calculations and numbers. I also don’t believe that good, bad or mediocre numbers equate to successful people, failures or average people. From that little bit of background, you can imagine how difficult it has been to wrap my mind around unschooling and how to do it.  Hence, I have used the word “journey” a lot, and will continue to do so because this is as much of a journey for me (if not more), than it is for Jay. He is already a care-free, little guy; I, on the other hand, am not.

How can I unschool myself? That’s a question I’ve been pondering and praying over for months. I’ve done a lot of research, and many of the unschoolers are so cool and chill. They really help you to understand that it is hard to let go while still making sure your child is learning. At the core of unschooling is education. It may sound as if it’s a whole lot of nothing going on, but actually it’s a whole lot of doing without really thinking about it. For example, have you ever been asked something along the lines of, “Hey, where’d you learn to do that?” And you say, “I don’t know. I just do it. It’s what we did growing up.” My family gets that a lot when it comes to cooking. And when those are your answers, guess what, you were unschooled. I have a friend who was raised in Peru until she was about 10 years old, and she can wash all of her clothes by hand really well. She actually started learning when she was around five years old. I asked her how she learned to do that because she had a lot of knowledge about it. Her answer: It’s just what we did. We didn’t have washing machines or dryers, so you have to learn how to wash your clothes.

So now, imagine, that is how you go about learning everything. There aren’t tests about it, you aren’t graded on it, you don’t have homework for it; you just do it. There is no time limit on how long you can learn about this concept, explore this idea, etc. And the things you learn become part of you, and they stick with you. Can you even imagine that? I have hard time imagining it, yet I’m expecting it to be my reality very soon! But,  back to answering the question: how can I unschool myself? Here’s my plan:

  1. Pray for patience;
  2. Remember what I’m doing and why;
  3. Don’t expect perfection from myself or from Jay;
  4. Take it easy;
  5. Have fun;
  6. Keep it light;
  7. Let him use his creativity;
  8. Don’t be rigid;
  9. Be patient, and;
  10. BE PATIENT!!!

I’ve decided to officially start our 2017 – 2018 school year on June 19th. Our last day of 1st grade is June 14th, so you may be asking, “Why so soon?”

  1. Unschooling is not the same as traditional school. It’s not going to be hardcore and intense, filled with homework, worksheets and tests. Oh, and guess what; we don’t have to start school at 8:00 am! We can sleep in!
  2. I need as much time and practice as I can get with this method!

To add to point #2, I truly believe that unschooling is really a way of life. The biggest and toughest aspect for me to get over is my own mentality, so the sooner I can make those mental shifts and changes, the  better off we’ll both be. I have been trying to train myself a little bit, but it’s really difficult when we have school things to do, like homework and PTA. Once school is out, we’ll have more time and be able to utilize more of each day and weekends better. I don’t believe that education happens Monday – Friday between the hours of 8:00 am and 3:00 pm, nor do I believe it is a laborious and burdensome chore. Rather, I see it as a series of wondrous, curious moments that can shape our appreciation of the world and people around us. It truly is a beautiful thing!

And that’s how I plan on unschooling this perfectionst.




New Math Template and Why I Track Progress

I loved math facts and being timed in elementary school. It was always a race against myself, and I could not wait to see how much I improved each week. I loved them so much, that my fifth grade teacher was so kind as to supply me with a regular and generous (by generous I mean hundreds) supply of math facts well into my teenage years! I had been looking for a worksheet like those math facts, but wasn’t satisfied with what I was finding, so I created a simple worksheet via excel: Addition Math Facts ‘A’. This worksheet can also be found under the “Templates” tab.

The reason I felt the need to create this is because Jay is at the end of the 1st grade and is struggling with single digit addition.  Very simple addition requires him to count on his fingers. I’m not sure if this is normal or not, but I do want him to become very comfortable and familiar with basic addition. So here’s how I am using the worksheet:

  1. Time him once a week. I let him go as long as he needs to and I turn the timer off once he is done.
  2. Count all the correct answers (privately, so he doesn’t see what he got wrong);
  3. Record the date, his time, number of problems correct, the percentage of correct and completed problems, and the next date of the timed worksheet.

Some unschoolers may have a problem with worksheets, and I can understand. It seems that it goes contrary to the method, and I think I agree. I also understand that homeschooling in any method you choose should be flexible and suitable to your family, personal preferences, and educational choices. One thing I do enjoy about a worksheet, is that I am quickly able to identify thinking patterns on the sheet of paper. It helps me identify the underlying problem very quickly so I can better help him.

Why am I tracking? A few reasons:

  1. For myself. I enjoy seeing where someone has started, where they are and where they are heading. Tracking allows me to stay on top of things, personally, and helps me quickly identify learning patterns, problem areas, thinking processes and progress. It teaches me more about my son’s learning style, habits, and behaviors in different situations. For example, when he was three years old, I was trying to teach him how to identify each letter in the alphabet, and I was tracking his progress (ridiculous, I know! That’s a whole other post about what not to do). I quickly learned that when a new or hardly shown letter was added into the mix of letters he knew very well, he would shut down and start saying any letter, even when it came to letters he knew. I could see immediately that it was a major, instant source of frustration to learn something new. When that happened, I would always fall back on the letters he knew very well to build his confidence to keep working with the new letter. I also learned how he correlated letters according to their shape and characteristics. For example, he would call a “w” “m” or sometimes an “upside down ‘m'”, mistake c for e, ‘d’ would be called a “backwards ‘b'” and so on.  It was very helpful to track and see how he reacted to learning something new (highly unfavorably), and how he viewed and thought about the letters he was learning.
  2. For him. Every week I plan on showing him how he has improved. I am hoping this will be a motivator for him and show him that time, practice and concentrated effort pay off!
  3. School records in case I ever get audited. But mostly for me. It’s just how I function!

Anyway, these are the things I am doing now. I don’t know that they are things I will keep with me on this journey, or if I will drop them as we go along. I’m unsure right now, and that’s the beauty of it; we can switch up our plans and ideas at any time to something that may work better!

Unschooling: Why?

My reason for unschooling is simple (to me): I want to provide my child with the best education possible. Every single person learns differently, and it should be embraced; not forced to conform or fit into a tiny, pretty (or not so pretty) box. There are things that I want my child to learn that a traditional school system does not provide. On the other end of the spectrum, schools or government, feel they have the right to teach my child about things that I feel are my responsibility; my domain. Overall, I want my son to grow up to be a well-rounded, well-balanced, and well-adjusted adult.

I chose unschooling because a traditional school set up is not working for us. Bringing that spirit into my home is not what I want for either of us. It would be painful, and I might as well keep him in public school! If you have a high-spirited, challenging child, I’m sure you can see clearly why that wouldn’t work. After a few years of research, and a really bad year in first grade (can this school year be over yet?),  I prayed exhaustively on the matter. Finally, I came across this method called unschooling. From what I understand of unschooling, it is the exact opposite of everything I know about school. Unschooling will allow me to provide the kind of education and educational experience that I want for Jay. One that fosters curiosity, moves at his pace,  allows him to express himself creatively and freely, to explore the possibilities or impossibilities, and allows him to learn in a way that is natural to him! I cannot think of a more organic or natural way of learning.

I am totally looking forward to the learning experience myself, and all of the bonding we will be doing. I am excited, nervous and anxious to unschool because it is basically the opposite of everything that I know about school. I feel that I will be learning just as much as my son throughout the process.
Let the journey begin!

Experimenting With Caterpillars!

Well, let’s just say it started out as a cool idea…

The idea behind the experiment was that we would catch caterpillars, care for them by feeding and watering them, cleaning their tank, watch them, admire them, *hopefully* catch at least one of them in the cocooning process, and find out if they turned into butterflies or moths. That was the idea. I might add, we were super stoked about the idea.

My friend, my mom and my son went to Stanford University to walk around and catch the catters (catters is my new name for caterpillars). They brought home a lot of caterpillars, a maggot, and a few cocoons. Yes, we kept the maggot for a few days, but just looking at it was grossing me out. I also did not research how to care for a maggot. To be clear, the maggot was kept separate from the catters and cocoons.

Research suggested that you keep the cocoons and caterpillars separate, keep a clean tank, give them water and have fresh food for them daily. Research also suggested that caring and raising caterpillars was easy peasy. Not! In the beginning, we had about 11 caterpillars, and three cocoons. It was so much fun! Whenever I had a moment, I would sit and watch the catters go about their business of eating leaves and drinking water. Watching a caterpillar drink water was so cool! Jay wasn’t as intrigued as I was, but I figured I’d be way more into the project than he would be!

About three days later, there was a maggot in the container with the cocoons! Remember, the maggot was never in the same tank/container as the butterflies or cocoons, so I was kind of freaked out and baffled seeing a maggot with our cocoons. I hopped back onto the computer to find out how and why there was a maggot in the container because it seemed like a miraculous appearance within a twenty minute time frame (from the last time I had checked them). Turns out, there are flies that lay their eggs on caterpillars. Hatching maggots will burrow and feed on the caterpillar, which will then obviously kill the caterpillar. So that’s what was going on in our cocoons, apparently. So I deducted that all of the cocoons that were gathered were dead and infected. I got rid of them immediately.

A few days later, we had four caterpillars die! I’m not sure if it was dehydration, but I think at least two may have been infected with Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus, aka Black Death. Why do I think this? Two of the 11 had something weird happen when I was watching them. In both cases, the caterpillar was moving, and I saw this dark fluid come out of them, kind of deflate, and start to liquefy. It was weird and gross. I was like, “Um… I’m pretty sure I just watched one of our catters die what looked like an awful death.” Sure enough, it was dead. For the second time that day, I washed the tank. I did make a mistake in that I did not disinfect the tank after washing, and only tossed out the leaf that the caterpillar had died and liquefied on. Delayed research indicates that you need to wash and disinfect immediately, and my addition to that information is provide new food. So at the end of the day, we were down to seven catters.

Slowly, each of the seven died over the course of about a week or so. They kept dropping like flies! One of them looked like it cocooned, but it never survived to be a butterfly or moth. The final four stayed on the lid of the tank and they never came down to eat or drink, slowly dying. I tried feeding them in their preferred locations, but no takers! Eventually, they dropped one by one. Dead. So sad!

Apparently, it is not uncommon to have such a low survival rate when you go out and randomly catch any caterpillar you find. I’m going to try and grow milkweed so I can hopefully get some healthy monarchs! We shall see! This experiment turned out to be much more complex than I ever imagined!

End result: failed experiment? I suppose it depends on how you define success. Success could mean:

  1. The catters lived!
  2. They successfully cocooned and emerged as dazzling butters to be released into the fresh spring air!

I think Jay would say that this was a failed experiment. He cried sitting in front of the tank when he saw that the last surviving caterpillar was dead. I, on the other hand, would say that despite the fact that we did not get the end results we were anticipating (butterflies!), we learned way more than I expected to learn about caterpillars from this experiment! I mean, really! There were so many super cool moments, and it totally sucked watching our caterpillars fade away one by one, but man! I learned so much, and I feel better equipped the next time around! Next time, I think we will have a significantly better chance of getting a butterfly!

If you have any experiences or stories with caterpillars, or have additional or more accurate information, please share in the comments!


**I am not a professional, and the information in this article is based off my personal observations, and various articles researched on the internet throughout the process. Please do not take this information as scientific facts.**