Falling Off My High Unschooling Horse

Even before I was even pregnant with my first, Medina, I found out that a family member homeschooled and started asking questions at a party. “So what curriculum do you use and how do you plan your days?” her response was “We unschool, so we mostly just follow his lead” I was confused. UN-school? Never heard of it. Sounds stupid. As open minded as I was (sarcasm, folks) the conversation didn’t last very long. I didn’t think much of it afterwards since the thought of homeschooling wasn’t even on my radar at the time and she lived out of state so I didn’t see them often.

Fast forward a few years and life lessons later, Medina was turning 5 and I was going to have to sign her up for kindergarten but…It didn’t feel right. She didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to send her. It wasn’t just because I didn’t want to let go. It really didn’t feel like the right thing to do and I didn’t know why. We had moved to a neighborhood with a great elementary school. I took the time, toured the school and even liked it. But it still didn’t feel right. They had to have key cards to get into the school building then also for every room inside, including the gym. When I went, there were teachers standing in front of the locked cafeteria where I assume the kids were eating. The school was clean, quiet, and well decorated. The teachers had smiles on their faces but…something still didn’t feel right. So began my research. I stayed up late into the night reading google results for “should I homeschool my kids?”. Then, In the weeks that followed, homeschoolers suddenly seemed to be everywhere! A friend of mine decided to pull her son out of public school to homeschool and, completely by chance, I met a homeschooling family in my neighborhood…who then introduced me to their amazing homeschooling friends. Amidst all of that, It became clear to me that it was worth giving a shot. I thought Medina was still young and, if it didn’t work out, I could always send her to public school the following year.

My husband, Sameer, is always super supportive of my many endeavors. He will sometimes need a moment for it to sink in and to be able to adjust but he didn’t even need that this time. He asked me if I had thought about the commitment it would need from me and how that would effect our day to day lives- which I had- so he was fully on board with the idea. Then we put a movie on….and I couldn’t tell you which one because I didn’t watch a single moment of it. Instead, I spent the entire time researching curriculums and supplemental programs.

We began homeschooling the following Monday!

This is the thing, though, I had made a rigid schedule for all of us. There was little room for error. It worked ok at first but life happens, and it happened HARD when baby Lana started keeping me up all night and wanting to be attached to me all day. The house suffered, schooling suffered (so I thought at the time), our meals suffered, and – most of all- my sanity suffered. I felt like I was failing everybody and everything.

I had a meltdown…or two…or more…..until I realized that I just had to restructure our days. I started with what was important to me and what I wanted to accomplish with home based schooling:

  1. Help them develop a true love for learning
  2. A well rounded curriculum including life skills
  3. Encourage a love and appreciation for nature and all living things
  4. Nurture independent thought, creativity, and self awareness/confidence
  5. Encourage natural curiosity, open mindedness, kindness, and acceptance
  6. Travel. Placing value in people and experiences over things
  7. Autonomy. Guiding them into keeping control of their bodies, thoughts, and experiences

Once I had these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I went back and narrowed down the “homeschooling styles” that might suit me. Turns out it’s Unschooling! I just didn’t understand what it was before. You hear “child-led learning” and you think ” unstructured play”. When that’s not the case at all! I mean, play is included but here is what a real life unschooling unit looks like-

Medina on Sunday: “Who was Martin Luther King?”

Monday: Go to the library and get all the books we can find on MLK. Read about MLK. Print out a lesson on what it means to be a good citizen and draw pictures of what being a good citizen looks like. Color a picture of MLK and write his name.

Tuesday: Watch a movie on MLK’s life while painting a picture of a bus and talk about what a boycott means and why they are important. The kids cook their own meals on Tuesdays, fold their own clothes.

Wednesday: map out all of the locations for MLK’s major protests and speeches and discuss each one. Visit MLK’s birth home. While we are out, we discuss what his significance is and how the world would be different without him. At the home, they are encouraged to talk to the adults in charge and ask questions and explore independently (within reason).

Thursday: Read aloud together. Color pictures and put together presentation board.

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Friday: Rehearse presentation on MLK to teach the family. (Presentation is then rehearsed daily until they feel ready to present to a small group)

They work on their math, reading, and science books every day on their own time. They have access to my phone or computer for educational games and videos for an hour a day and they have full access to all their art supplies. They are always enrolled in 1-3 classes/sports outside of the home with other children. We go outside every day. They help with chores around the house every day. They help me budget and understand, at a reasonable level, what it means for money to be earned and spent. We live life together everyday and I make sure to make the time to explain everything as we go.

THAT is unschooling. It wasn’t easy to get here and when people ask me about what to expect when transitioning to homeschool I like to tell them that it takes a full year to really figure out, through trial and error, what will work best for their family…and things continue to evolve over time. For some people the first year is a complete wash. But there is plenty…PLENTY of time to catch up when you’re working on your own time so it’s nothing to worry about.

If you’re wondering about what happened with my homeschooling family member, I saw her again last year and we had the BEST time talking about unschooling and I was able to get some pretty awesome ideas from her and an uplifting sense of comfort meeting her kind, intelligent little ones.

Funny part is, not only was this not an option for me 4 years ago, I thought it was ridiculous. Things change. People change. Opportunities change. we just have to open up our hearts and Seize them.

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All aboard the zero waste train!

I can’t remember when it was, exactly, that I was introduced to the effects of global warming on Polar bears. It wasn’t until I learned about this that I started to care about climate change. I don’t think it had as much to do with the Polar bears, themselves, as much as it changed an abstract thought into a concrete fact. It suddenly became clear that what I do every day has an impact on the rest of the world. Because of my anxiety, I have quite literally thought about the Polar bears every single day ever since. When I leave the water running, I see the image of an emaciated bear. Same when I see trees being cut down or when we go on long car trips. It’s just who I am and how my mind works. The Polar Bear has become my symbol of change. However, through all these years I didn’t actually make any significant changes. More images of animals suffering and whales’ stomachs exploding with plastic haunted me but there was so much I needed to do that it became overwhelming and so I didn’t do anything at all. All it took was meeting some like minded friends a couple years ago and maybe one conversation to get the ball rolling and, boy, is it rolling now!

In honor of Earth day I put together a list of the first 15 zero waste changes we made that didn’t break the bank or drastically change our lifestyle but have made a significant difference to the waste we produce in our home. I’m not saying these are absolutely the first things everyone should do but it worked for us and I want to share in case someone is stuck in the same predicament and doesn’t know where to begin….

1. Reusable shopping bags

Have enough to realistically carry all your items and keep some in the car at all times for impromptu shopping.

2. Homemade liquid hand soap

Purchasing these every other week became a huge waste. Homemade is Easy, lasts a long time, works better than store bought, and cheaper. I buy Dr. Bronners pure castille bar soap with Lavender (in paper packaging). Using a cheese grater, grate 8oz- which is about a bar and a half- into a bowl. Meanwhile, bring a gallon of distilled water to a boil (The only way to get distilled water around here   is in plastic gallons so I just boil filtered water and it works fine for us but the recipe calls for distilled to be safe). Pour the boiling water onto the grated soap and mix with a whisk until there are no more chunks and the mixture is translucent. Then just let it sit for 12-15 hours mixing once or twice in the first 5 hours. It will look watery at first but suddenly at 12 hours it’s a solid jelly-like consistency. Use a hand mixer to make it smooth and break up the chunks of jelly then pour into dispensers/storage containers (we use mason jars). You’ll have to leave a little space at the top of whatever you’re storing it in so that you can shake It up again before pouring into soap dispensers as it settles back into Jelly after a few days.

3. Cloth Napkins

We purchase ours but you can make them at home if you’re a savvy needle worker!

4. Stainless Steel Straws

Love these!! The goal is to remember to carry them with us when we go out so that we can use instead of plastic when needed.

5. Stainless Steel/Glass water bottles

Single use water bottles are just the worst.

6. Homemade body wash in a glass dispenser

Super moisturizing and plenty of variety so you can find what works best for your body type. We use this with a wash cloth instead of any harsh soaps.

7. Wool dryer balls

Replaces dryer sheets without any problem. Just be sure to not overly dry your clothes as that creates more static!

8. Replace laundry detergent

This took a little getting used to because my husband really enjoys the strong smell of clean laundry and we switched to Crystal Wash reusable balls which leaves the clothes smelling faintly like essential oils. Other options are soap nuts, laundry stick, or homemade powder detergent.

9. Homemade body butter

I’ve made some for family and friends and it has been a huge hit! I use this recipe for whipped body butter but there are a TON of options online and they generally require coconut oil, almond oil (can be replaced with avocado, jojoba, or grapeseed oil), shea butter or cocoa butter- or both! This one is thick and on the greasier side but I like to put it on after a shower and let it sit for 10 minutes then pat dry with a damp towel. My skin has never been softer so it gets the job done and there’s no waste!

10. Opting for glass over plastic

Honey, vinegar, peanut butter, and yogurt all have glass contained options. They’re usually slightly more expensive (sometimes only a few cents) but I had to change my mindset. Plastic is not an option for us anymore so it’s just a matter of choosing between the glass options that are available. A few dollars more, if you can afford it, is worth it. Remember, Plastic NEVER GOES AWAY.

11. Shopping bulk food

Take your mason jars or cloth bags to your local Whole Foods, Sprout, Fresh Thyme, or wherever else has bulk items and fill them up instead of using their plastic bags. Some places allow you to weigh your own tare and write in on a sticker and at others you have to take your jars to a register before filling to get your tare weight so just check with them first. Do it once and you’re already a pro (Tare= weight of the container. When checking out, they subtract tare from total weight so that you’re not paying extra for a heavier container).

12. Reusable produce bags

I HATE plastic produce bags. If I forget my reusable ones at home I just grab what I need without a bag at all. They’re wasteful and truly unnecessary. I’ve gotten so many compliments on these reusable ones! Bonus, they have tare already on the tag!

13. Bamboo

We switched to bamboo tableware for the kids. It’s sturdy, beautiful, and fully compostable!! We also switched out our Charmin toilet paper for Who Gives Crap bamboo toilet paper because store bought paper is packaged in a ridiculous amount of plastic and detrimental to our tree population. I’m pretty picky about my toilet paper and these work great! I will say, they don’t look as pretty- without pattern and dull in color, but you literally use it to wipe your butt so….

14. MY MOST FAVORITENorwex Cloths.

OMG the Norwex cloths. They are amazing! I can go an entire month without using a single paper towel. As a matter of fact, after I purchased them I had run out of paper towels and didn’t buy a new pack for 6 weeks. So a pack of Norwex has taken the place of kitchen cleaner, bathroom cleaner (I still use toilet cleaner but there are people who keep a cloth specifically for toilets so I’m working up to that!), window cleaner/polisher, stainless steel cleaner/polisher. I use it to clean our wood tables too but will use a separate oil/conditioner to keep it looking fresh. I have 4 EnviroCloths with Baclock and 3 window cloths because I like to always have one near by but you only need 2 enviro and 1 window if you’re trying to be minimal.

15. Forgo

There are so many things that we get just to get and could easily do without. Being aware, and making intentional choices about what comes home is important. We’ve started making our own granola/protein bars, cookies, and cakes to take the place of store bought snacks that come covered in plastic (and usually preservatives). We still have ways to go in this department but we’re getting there.

Keep in mind that it’s a process. Start with good intentions. Small changes lead to big progress. It took me a full year to start remembering my bags every time I leave the house. Sometimes I would remember them leaving the house but then forget them in the car! Or when I shopped bulk, I wouldn’t bring enough jars so I filled what I had then used plastic for the rest. When it comes to less waste every little bit helps. Would you like to swim in a pool of 10,000 pieces of garbage or 100? Neither sounds great but that’s not where we are right now so we have to do what we can with what he have where we are (Theodore Roosevelt). Happy Zero-Wasting!

p.s. If you have any awesome zero waste recipes, ideas, or blogs please share them with me!

Recipe for a tired and hungry mama

Last night was a rough one, guys. My husband is out of town for work and Lana (20 months) just couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall into a deep sleep for some reason so I don’t remember falling asleep last night but I definitely remember waking up to Medina (almost 6 year old) sitting creepily next to my bed and watching me at 7am. Needless to say, I needed a good -and quick- breakfast to get through this day. So I decided to make my awesome energy packed nutty bites (still working on a name but this is better than my original “Nutty Balls”, no?) They’re a healthy, no bake, gluten free, dairy free, delicious, and filling snack- or breakfast! So I wanted to share this recipe that I created to take the place of a snack that I used to buy at an outrageous price. I love these and have refined the recipe over the last few tries. Enjoy!

 

Nutty Bites, Energy bites, nutty balls? Please find me a name for these! 

Prep time: 10-15 mins
Makes: approx 2 dozen

Ingredients:
-1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
-1/3 cup roasted/salted sunflower seeds
-2/3 cup unsalted halved or chopped walnuts (or your favorite nut)
-2 tblsp coconut oil (melted)
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp almond extract
-3/4 cup raw, organic, unfiltered honey
-2 cups almond meal
-1 cup coconut flour

Throw all the ingredients together and mix. A hands-free mixer with a wide ceramic attachment or a food processor works best, I think, but the idea is to make sure the nuts are chopped and the mixture is sticky enough to roll into a ball but not overly processed and made into a paste. Roll into 1.5-2 inch balls and cover. I don’t think it needs to be refrigerated but I do it for good measure and we enjoy them cool. You can also garnish with slivered almonds and sprinkled coconut flour if you’re sharing!