Scholastic Book Club: Available to Homeschoolers!

Who else used to loooooove when the Scholastic Book Club flyers made their way through the class room?  I loved it as a student, and I loved it (briefly) as a parent when we participated in a co-op preschool with Silas.  I thought my days of poring over brightly colored pages and receiving a magic package of discounted books were over when we became homeschoolers.

But no!  You, too, can participate in Scholastic Book Club (now called Scholastic Reading Club – don’t ask me why), even as homeschoolers!

It’s not the most straightforward thing on earth, but it’s easy enough to do.

Step 1: Head over to the page and create a TEACHER account (don’t do a parent account).

Step 2: Now, believe me, I know this is painful, but is HAS to be done; pick up your phone and dial 1-800-497-8291 to speak to one of Scholastic’s verification agents, so that they can verify you and your homeschool are actually real.  I really, really, really hate talking on the phone, and I cringed BIG time when I realized it was required.  But!  It took me 5 minutes, tops, and the agent was VERY nice. BONUS: You get to make up a name for your “school.”  You’ve been warned, so make it count!

That’s it! Now you have access to all the discounted Scholastic Books!  You can view their flyers online or order print fliers to be mailed to you (or if you don’t love the nostalgia of the fliers like I do, you can just search for books like you would at Amazon.  You can also browse by grade level or reading level).

Do your friends and family like to give books as gifts to your kids? You can send an email invitation, which includes your magic Class Activation Code, to anyone to join your class. I emailed my mom and grandmother invitations, because they love to buy books for the boys.  Even better, you can create wishlists for your class, too, which streamlines the whole “What do they like/do you need?” question.

Happy Reading!

Do you participate in any discount programs as homeschoolers? What do you recommend?

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A lovely, unscheduled day

In the past few months we’ve gotten into the groove of having something scheduled almost every day of the week. Some days it’s just a playdate with friend, some days it’s outdoor “school”, some days it’s our day at the community center for homeschool classes, sometimes it’s a park day. I’ve never been so attached to my calendar! And it’s really brought home the funny notion that I used to boggle over when my kids were younger, “Why is it called ‘homeschooling’ if we are never home?” I understand that sentiment now.

One of the things I used to worry about when Silas was a toddler and we were contemplating homeschooling was being bored. Not having enough to do. Because, really, I think we were bored a little when he was that age. We had just moved to Seattle when he was two, and no matter how proactive one is, it still takes time to build community and make those connections.

The point is: we aren’t bored much now.

But it was so lovely to have this day appear yesterday where we had NOTHING planned (except gymnastics in the late afternoon, but I’m not even counting it!). No playdates, parks, or classes. Free to do as we pleased.

After a semi-disastrous trip to the YMCA where the kids got to play in the gym and I go to dance (there was some disagreement about leaving and deals were struck and broken, and well, you know how that goes), we got to come home and figure out what to do with ourselves.
It started with a snack picnic in the backyard. And some books were read, too.

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Then we tried our hands at writing our names in hieroglyphs, inspired by Pepi and the Secret Names.

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And after that, a dance party was in order!

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Which evolved into some awesome free box play. Empty boxes FTW!

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And then we decided it was time to head to the beach. I am SO incredibly grateful to live 3 minutes from the beach. I love it.

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There were *three* driftwood shelters! Silas designated each for a special thing (sleeping, cooking, slaughtering animals [??!!])

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A dead crab to study

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And just take a deep breath. Exhale. Life is good.

FM Victory!

I just had to pop in here and share this victorious photo. Silas and his friend H. like to make things with Snap Circuits when they play sometimes. If you haven’t heard of or played with snap circuits, you are in for a TREAT. They have lots of smaller, affordable kits to check them out and see if you like them, and then they have the big kahuna kits which have LOTS of pieces and LOTS of projects to try. We have the really big one, the 750 piece one (I couldn’t find a link to the exact one, ours came with a great hard plastic carrying case that organizes all the pieces, too).

So the boys have been interested in building an FM Radio for a while. They tried it a couple of weeks ago, and somehow it didn’t work (though a really cool solar-powered fan did!). They decided to give it another try yesterday.

I should mention: these kids are just starting to read. They relied on the photos in the project booklet to build the radio themselves. I checked it over at the very end and found one tiny piece that needed to be added, but other than that they did the whole thing themselves.

And it worked. We danced to Kesha in celebration!

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DPP Day 12: Playing School

I was asked to be on a panel representing homeschooling for parents that have kids that will be entering Kindergarten in the fall of 2013 at the groovy preschool that Silas attending for a year (age 4-5). The other folks on the panel were all schooling parents in some form, representing different schools and different ways of doing kindy (half-day, etc).

Whoa.

Sometimes I forget how amazing homeschooling is. Just listening to all of the ins and outs of navigating public school, the way that “the man” will come after you with scary letters if you miss more than three days of school, the way that the kids are just beyond exhausted for the first three months…I started to get so overwhelmed with how many concessions people make in order to make school work. Don’t get me wrong – these parents all by and large loved their schools and were there representing them in a positive light.

But still I sat there thinking, man we won the prize though. My husband agreed. He attended for moral support (and because our kids wanted to come and play in the school in the childcare while we were occupied) and he agreed – it was bewildering to hear about “the real world.” How very little control you have, how much you give up of your freedom, of your child’s freedom, in order to make school work.

Some useful things that came out of it for me, though. Several parents and one of the kindergarten teachers talked about how some kids really thrive on the predictability of structure, and it made me wonder about how fluid our days are and if that’s a good thing or not. I like it, but it’s making me examine if it works well for Silas or not. It might! But it might be interesting to explore other ways of being, too. In a cooperative way, of course.

A few times over the past couple months, I’ve become aware that Silas and various friends would play school. Some of these kids attend school, some don’t. But today, I got inspired to ask him if he wanted to play school with me. He did, enthusiastically! So I printed out some fun-looking worksheets and experiments from Pinterest, and away we went.

He really does know so much, and I so take it for granted. His reading is really improving (not that we’re in a hurry, but he has been working on it and it shows) and I’m thrilled that he knows how to add quarters because of playing Plants vs. Zombies (each quarter is worth 1 sun!) You can learn things from video games. Duh.

We had a lot of fun playing school, and I even made him a “hot lunch” like his school friend is always so happy about (chicken nuggets and homemade french fries, apples and a cut up cheese stick).
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And then we played video games together. And had dance parties. And all was good.

What Our Unschooling Looks Like

So what does our particular flavor of unschooling look like? Where are we on this journey? Here’s some info to help orient yourselves to our situation.

We are nerdy parents who did well academically in school. All school. Elementary through graduate school. Philosophizing Husband Dad has a PhD in Philosophy (imagine that!) and I have a Master’s Degree in Information Science. We know how to play the game, and play it well.

Why the hell are we homeschooling our children?!

For soooo many reasons. So many, in fact, that I’m saving that topic for another day. I just want you to know that we, as the parents, are still deschooling. A LOT. All the damn time.

The bottom line is that our kids learn, without school. Silas is learning all the time. He asks so many questions, has so many hypotheses, wonders out loud…it’s amazing to watch, really. It’s like walking, or breathing. He just does it.

We like to be busy – Silas is the type of kid to wake up everyday and say “What are we doing today?” By which he means, where are we going? So we work hard to strike a balance between being home and being out and about.

Our Deal with the Devil…

One thing I need to tell you right away – mostly because I’m kind of conflicted about it – is that we’re enrolled in an online public school, called Columbia Virtual Academy (CVA). We decided to enroll after talking to other local parents who were trying it, and had good enough things to report. Basically, Silas does his thing, learning like he does, and I take that, encapsulate it into educationese, and email his “teacher” once a week. And for that we get free-ish money to spend on books, online game subscriptions (with traditional educational angles – more on this later), access to field trips, and we can get up to one PE type class (think swimming, martial arts, gymnastics) AND one fine arts type class (think choir, music lessons, art classes) paid for at a time. To be clear, they don’t send us a check or anything. I never touch this money. It goes straight from CVA to the vendor or teacher.

It’s a deal with the devil, basically, but we wanted to give it a go to give our wallets a break. Because Silas is one seriously social kid who wants to take a LOT of classes!

We’ve been doing this now for only two weeks. It’s fine so far, but I can see how it does add an element to stress to my life that I hope not to pass on to Silas. It prolongs the deschooling process, because I’m constantly categorizing things into school-ish subjects so that I can report on it later. Silas has no idea we’re doing this, and I want to keep it that way. It’s me and philosophizing husband, emailing each other, “Hey, don’t forget to include that conversation we had about the speed of light in this week’s report!” Not onerous so far, really not. But if the cost/benefit ever starts to tip in the wrong direction, we’ll withdraw. That’s the beauty of it – we can drop out anytime and the only thing we’d have to do is return any returnable items to CVA (think non-workbook type books, stuff that’s not disposable). Easy peasy.

So Anyway…

So what’s Silas up to, other than being 5 and learning all the time just by living? Well, here’s the structured and/or schoolish stuff that he’s chosen to do so far this fall:

He’s participating in the Vashon Wilderness Program (which is an awesome one day-a-week nature program). He’s taking an art class and a Math Games class (with the fabulous Marcia Miller!) at a fantastic learning program housed in a local community center, where he also gets to run around and enjoy the bouncy house and all his buddies. He plays around with Reading Eggs, an online phonics game that he loves (and we got a SCREAMING good deal on a while ago through Homeschool Buyers Co-op)…he wants to take swimming lessons, gymnastics, karate, guitar lessons, choir…so much stuff.

We also get together with friends for park days, and we participate in a very mellow art and science co-op with five other families. This consists of the moms joyfully geeking out on Pinterest, chatting about potentially cool crafts/experiments to do on Facebook a lot, and getting together twice a month to do it. Like I said, it’s really mellow – if kids don’t want to do the activities, they really don’t have to. None of the activities take much time to prep, so there’s no feeling of “Aww, I spent all this time doing XYZ and now everything’s WASTED!” Not at all. Really, it’s just a kind of group strewing. Kids get to play, moms get to chat, and we all have a blast!

As for unstructured stuff, well, there’s just too much to really list here, but in general he loves trying new snacks, watching Scooby Doo, listening to The Magic School Bus books on tape, doing art, climbing our plum tree, helping out in the garden, riding his bike, playing in parks, playing all kinds of games (Sorry!, Wildcraft, and Go Fish are all big right now), dressing up in a million different costumes, asking a bazillion questions, trying new shows on Netflix streaming, playing Wii, dancing, playing his ukulele and drum machine…I could go on and on. And he learns from ALL of it.

Are we radical unschoolers? We’re on the path. We’re leaning into our edges. We’re saying yes more. I still stress over food (Please! For the love of god, eat some protein!), and Philosophizing Husband still stresses about TV. But we try to relax. We’re working on it. We are all finding our way on the path.

I’ll leave you with some action shots!

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Silas and Ph Dad play paper bag super heroes!

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Checking for cherry tomatoes

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Arting it up

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Taking a huge sniff of Rosemary on a neighborhood stroll!

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Feeding the chickens at a local farm tour

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Math Games class fun with Geoboards!

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Corn Maze!

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Silas found this cool spider – wrapping up another bug!

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Glowstick bath time!