Having a Frugal Homeschooling Adventure

 photo 20141207_112643_zps67f315a6.jpgYesterday morning, right after waking up, I turned to my 5 year old, Ike, and asked him "If you could do anything at all, what would you want to do today?" His answer? "I want to go exploring in the jungle."
Unfortunately, we don't have a jungle near our house, but we do have a small forest, and I presented that option to him. "Want to go exploring in the forest together today?" "Yea!" Lee and Anneliese were also excited about the idea of the expedition, and I decided to use it to turn it into a fun learning experience.

Because we're back at homeschooling this year (yes, I will be writing a blog post, hopefully soon, about why we're back at homeschooling), I am leaning more towards unschooling. (I wouldn't call myself unschooling 100%, but definitely my "teaching method" is inspired by the unschooling perspective.) I want life to be full of learning opportunities, but with these learning opportunities more "hidden" so the kids feel more the fun and don't realize how much they're learning. By keeping the learning fun, it'll hopefully help my kids retain their love of learning and not turn it into a battle of wills, and their eventual starting to hate learning as happens with many kids throughout their schooling career.

I didn't tell my kids: Ok, today we're going to be learning about map skills, safety, history, nature, photography. But I did open the door to these opportunities so that they would learn these skills and have a great time while doing it.

So the kids and I discussed our upcoming expedition. Vocabulary lesson there- we used the dictionary to look up the word when they said they didn't know what it meant. Dictionary definition:
"a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, scientific research, or war." I asked the kids what the purpose of their expedition would be- exploration, scientific research, or war. One kid said exploration, another said scientific research.

I put the preparations for the expedition in their hands, asking them what types of things they thought we should bring on our expedition, prompting them to think about the what and why. (Trying to foresee certain possible eventualities, and planning for the these are an important life skills- as well as learning to deal with the consequences of our actions/decisions should things go not as planned.)

Once the kids planned the packing list (they gathered, prepared, and packed everything themselves), we did some research together online to see what experts recommended as packing lists for expeditions, and then revised our packing list accordingly. (Our packing list- gluten free pitas, hard boiled eggs for the kids, sardines for me, carrot sticks, a fork, water bottles, a telescope, cameras for each of the kids, band aids, hats, a tent, and bags to carry back any treasures we'd find. They opted out of bringing notebooks.)

During the preparations, we took a fun break and listened to the book "Going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen (literature/music and learning about onomatopoeia). The kids loved it, and wanted me to play it a second time. (They've been singing it/reciting it many times since hearing it; it's that great and catchy.)

We then looked on Google Maps at a satellite image of our area to find the nearest forest, then switched to map view and printed up maps of the area, drawing a compass rose on the maps. The kids then were given the mission to chart our course to the forest (which, I'll admit, was somewhat maze-like considering all the dead end streets in our area) after which they figured out how to apply what the map showed to real life, trying to navigate the way there following their charted course.

The kids each had a camera (our old camera phones) with which they could take pictures of anything that they found interesting or cool. (Photography skills.)

While we were walking there, we discussed previous famous explorers who went on expeditions, like Christopher Columbus and Lewis and Clark (I gave them a brief overview on each one), and tried to decide which explorers we were most like. (History lessons there.)

Right before we got to the forest, we came across a playground, and Anneliese really wanted to stop there and play. The boys wanted to go to the forest, but she wanted to play in the playground, so they negotiated and compromised so that both were happy- first a short time in the playground and then after that to the forest. The boys thought the playground itself was boring, so they occupied themselves by making "sand bombs" (like snowballs, only made out of moist sand), and then some imaginative play, pretending to be pirates looking for buried treasure.

Right next to the playground there was a bunch of black nightshade growing, so Lee picked a bunch, and we discussed the nightshade family, edible and poisonous members, etc... (Botany, food safety.)

When the kids finished in the playground, we went to the edge of the woods and I let the kids problem solve and figure out where the safest place to enter would be, which path had the most secure footing, etc... (Safety, problem solving.)

 photo 20141207_103819_zps586405a0.jpg

While in the forest, we found some mushrooms, and observed to see whether or not they had all the markings necessary to confirm that they were the edible mushroom suillus granulatus- they were! so we picked them. We also discussed various fungi and their characteristics, as well as the difference between fungi and plants. (Biology lesson there.)

We also found and observed various habitats of different animals, such as holes in rocks- my kids guessed lizards lived there, but it turns out that it was just snails living there- and also observed ant colonies. (More biology.)

We got to a flat area and the kids decided to pitch the tent. While doing so, we discussed nomads and other people currently and throughout history that lived in tents instead of permanent housing. The kids put the tent together mostly on their own (problem solving) and then we had our picnic inside the tent.
The kids wanted to know why it was soooo hot inside the tent, so we ended up googling together (smartphones with mobile internet for the win) to find out the answer, learned about breathable fabrics vs non breathable ones, and compared our tent to igloos, and discussed what makes these structures warm (science).

After a long and fun outing, it was time to come home... after which we cooked up the mushrooms, black nightshade, and some other greens we foraged along the way into a rice pilaf which we ate for supper.

Total cost of the outing? Free.

Homeschooling material costs? Free.

Official homeschooling textbooks used? None.

Official lessons taught? None.

But nonetheless, it was a great learning experience for the kids, a great way to spend time as a family, a super frugal trip, and just an all around perfect example of how I like to "homeschool" my kids.

Learning via experiences. And frugally.

If you're homeschoolers, especially unschoolers, do you have any homeschooling days that you consider to be especially noteworthy, in terms of what you did or information you covered? 

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. What a fantastic day! Your kids will remember it forever.

    My favorite homeschooling memory happened when my daughter was learning history. Her experience with it in public school was a series of facts, then same with Calvert (what we used when homeschooling was only sorta legal in Pennsylvania). The facts were going in one ear and then out the mouth, not stopping at the brain in between. I wanted to show the interconnectedness of history, how things that happened, say, in America happened as they did because of other things happening elsewhere.

    So we made a huge timeline, starting with the big bang and ending with 2001 (which we hadn't reached yet in actual living but seemed like a good stopping point.) A massive timeline, once you got to human history, with contiguous events laid out. The thing took up the living room and the dining room and the outer space stuff wound up the staircase and down the upstairs hallway and into a bedroom since there wasn't room on the first floor. We cut out pictures of different events, or drew them, and placed them at appropriate spots. It was awesome, and messy.

    And she got it. I saw her eyes light up. Amazing.

    At which point one of the cats ate Napoleon.

  2. I personally am not really for the unschooling method (like I wish my parents forced me to learn my native language and keep up with piano even if I had to be dragged kicking and screaming) but I think what you did for your kids was wonderful! It sounds like a lot of fun and it will be a beautiful memory for them.

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