Unschooling Days

In the past year Bella and I had developed a pretty good habit of snuggling down in the afternoons while the boys were napping to read several chapters from the various read alouds that we have going. (Usually we have somewhere between 3 and 6 books in rotation at any given time and we read one or two chapters from each book, depending on the chapter length, not every book gets read every day.) But in the last few months that has slid away. Bella was more than understanding when I explained to her that the first part of pregnancy makes me really tired and I wasn’t sure that we’d always have time for her “special” time. “It’s ok,” she told me before I even got to the punch, “We don’t have to have my special mommy reading time until you feel better.” She was so willing to make the sacrifice. But that doesn’t make it any easier for me to ask it of her especially because that’s all the formal school time we’ve been having. (Learning, of course, happens all the time; but I do like to have some learning that is a bit more focused and directed.)

Bella’s continent “chart” with an animal for each continent: raccoon for North America, giant anteater for South America, penguin for Antarctica, elephant for Africa, boar for Europe, giant panda for Asia, kangaroo for Australia.

So today I was thrilled when we were chatting about something or other and she announced, “I want you to make me a chart of the seven continents with a picture of an animal that lives on each continent so it will help me remember what the continents are. Like my fives chart and my alphabet chart.” So we went online and found a blank map and printed it out and she colored each of the continents a different color, using another, colored, online map as a guide. Then we decided on the animals she wanted and printed out a black and white line drawing of each one and then I made a tiny thumbnail sketch from that printout and she taped the animal pictures to the map and we taped the map to the wall. How often does your child announce that she wants to do some map work and study geography?


Part of the inspiration comes from the book that Dom’s been reading with her, one I found at a used book sale many years ago, called The Fantastic Flying Journey. It’s about a trio of siblings who take a trip around the world with their eccentric great uncle in a hot air balloon. Along the way they meet various animals and talk with them and learn about them. It’s a great introduction to geography even if I do wish that the author had chosen to call the mechanism by which they are able to speak to the animals magic instead of pretending it was somehow scientific. This is Bella’s third time through the book, I think. She loves the story and learning about the animals. Also, I bought a globe and we’ve been taking it down occasionally to find where various stories we’ve read occurred. Gradually she’s finding a need to learn more, a desire to remember names and places.


I’m thinking that in addition to her map maybe we’ll begin to keep a sort of geography notebook. I can print off a map of each continent and then we can print off pictures of every animal we can think of and put them into her own book about the continents. Perhaps we can do pictures of saints and literary figures and put them in their respective continent chapters as well. St Rose of Lima for South America and St Isaac Jogues and Blessed Kateri and St Juan Diego for North America, etc. (Anyone know any Australian saints?) As she gets older we can add maps of individual countries.


I love to see that learning really can be child-directed. We gave her some resources which ignited her curiosity and gave her some reasons to want to learn more and then when she discovered a problem she wanted to solve—how to remember a set of information—she plotted her own solution to the problem. It isn’t the solution I’d have found at all; but for my non-reading visual learner it is perfect. I love that she has some tools that she can already use to take charge of her own education. I am merely a partner in the endeavor.

While Bella worked on her map, Sophie and Ben did some finger painting and then worked on some puzzles. Then Sophie pulled down the story cards and told a bunch of stories.

To follow upon our awesome afternoon of learning, I noticed from a friend’s post on Facebook that today was Edgar Degas’ birthday so I went hunting for some pictures to look at with the kids. I found a great website with over a thousand of his works. Isn’t the internet great? They already are familiar with Degas from a board book we have, Dancing with Degas, so I thought they would enjoy revisiting old favorites in a new context and seeing a few new paintings and drawings as well. I was right. Bella, Sophie, and Ben all crowded around to look and Sophie especially wanted to look at quite a few paintings, pointing to the thumbnails of the pictures she wanted to see full sized.

All in all today restored my faith in my laid-back approach to homeschooling. Learning is always happening wherever children are and when I stop to participate and to be a partner in their endeavors, they can really flourish. I am still eagerly awaiting a leave taking from my nausea and exhaustion and anticipating my second trimester burst of energy; but until then today has given me a little reminder that good things, amazing things really are all around me.

Some of my amazing things:

Anthony was too tired to even eat his free cookie from the grocery store.

Bella and Sophie pretending to play checkers with a bunch of random objects on top of a picture book.

Boys playing on the mattress

Pretending to sleep

Sophie tries out Ben’s new construction gear (birthday present from my parents).

Anthony in Ben’s new hardhat.

Happy, happy Ben.

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  • Oh Melanie, how awful, awful, awful!!  I feel for you all.  The stomach bug is the worst.  Hopefully this will NEVER happen again, but if it does and if it’s prolonged, please be careful of dehydration.  My cousin’s husband had the Noro virus this past winter and he had to go to urgent care to get IV fluids and anti-nausea medication.  Vomiting is still so traumatic for me all these years later—has been ever since I was a kid—so I can totally understand Bella’s trauma.  Stay healthy!

  • Oh, I hate the stomach flu.  A few years ago, I got violently ill at work and ended up lying on my office floor, unable to drive home for several hours.  I will never again ignore early morning warning signs! But it’s worse when the kids have it.

    On the up side, so glad you’re feeling energetic now!

  • Glad to hear everyone is feeling better. Whenever something like goes through our family, Cecilia always gets the worst of it – just like how you described Bella. I’ve wondered if it, at least in part, came down to a more sensitive stomach and hence has a harder time rebounding. (I know she has the most sensitive stomach of all the girls.) We tried to give her gatorade to keep her hydrated but she liked it too much and would gulp it, which would upset her stomach, repeat and repeat. The doctor’s office suggested letting her suck on ice pops since those she would ingest only a little at a time. Maybe it was a coincidence, but it worked.

    So glad everyone is back to normal and you are feeling better!

  • Oh I know, dehydration is the worst. I had food poisoning once (on a road trip no less!) and ended up in the ER on an IV. As soon as it became clear Bella was continuing to vomit Dom ran out and got some electrolytes for her. But she hated the taste so I had to give it to her with a syringe and only a bit at a time. Anthony was easier because he’s still nursing and breastmilk is actually a perfect electrolyte fluid. I just nursed him for a minute or so every ten to fifteen minutes. It drove him crazy to be rationed but it did slow the vomiting and kept him hydrated.

  • Geek Lady, Oh yeah the bowl. Bella and Sophie were pretty good about throwing up in the bowl. Ben could not be coaxed to do so. I just spread towels all over the living room floor to try to mitigate the damage to the carpet. Fortunately, he only threw up once and then his bug moved to diarrhea. Anthony of course just threw up everywhere but after the first two times he was mainly throwing up breast milk, which is much less nasty.

  • Oh, I’m so glad you’re feeling better!  David and I had some awful bug like this back in January, while Mike was out of town.  I just let him sleep in the bed with me, he was so sick, and had to change the sheets three times.
    David’s had a couple stomach bugs before, during which he got the idea stuck that the bowl meant upchucking was imminent and if he could get away from the bowl, it couldn’t happen.  But Jamuary’s illness finally did away with THAT concept.  Like everything else, apparently, upchucking requires practice.