Play Ideas for The Dogs Days of Summer

Here are some good play ideas for keeping preschoolers to teens busy, whether they are unschooling or heading back in a few weeks. Retreived from August 2014.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The “Back to School” Schedule When You Unschool


By Judy Arnall

  1. Early August: Schedule the “Not Going Back to School” picnic for the first day the neighborhood school kids go back, so you and all your unschooling friends get the park all to yourself.
  2. Relax
  3. Relax
  4. Middle August: Schedule in plans to visit the parks, pools, museums, zoos in the month of September while it is nice weather and the schools don’t have field trips scheduled yet.
  5. Relax
  6. Relax
  7. Late August: Go shopping during back-to-school sales in late August and buy nothing but LEGO kits.
  8. Relax
  9. Relax
  10. Early September: Plan your family’s mid-Fall and mid-Winter holiday.
  11. Relax
  12. Relax…………..


Posted in Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Handling a Bad Report Card


When unschooling, our children have the benefit of not being marked or evaluated by someone other than his own self-evaluation.  But what happens if unschooled children decide to take a course because they have an interest or wish to enter a post-secondary stream? Perhaps their first exposure to exams, or essay delivery, yields a less than stellar mark?  How can we support them moving forward to their goals?

First, we need to encourage him.  A first effort in evaluation is always a learning experience, almost as much as the course itself.  Learning to write tests and essays is a skill that gets better with practice.  Acknowledge the child’s effort in tackling the challenge.

It’s good to keep in mind that a report card is only one “view” of your child. It’s a picture to report to parents what the child is like in school. However, he is a multifaceted learner with strengths and room for improvement in all areas of his life, just as anybody is.  Think of your child’s performance like a three legged stool.  All three legs are required for the stool to function and all perspectives can give an accurate assessment of the child as a learner.

One leg of the stool is from the teacher who is gives an academic skills report. This report should include information on how the child is doing learning subject matter in the four cores of math, language arts, science, social studies, and options. Schools like to report on character and other things that are not academic, but they only see the child participating in an institutional setting with many peers. The teacher does not see the child at home, or “outside of school” social situations.

The other leg is the parent who also gives a report card on two of the most important learning’s: life skills and people skills. The parent can present the report card to the child at any given time. Life skills include chores, money management, organization skills, problem-solving, initiative, responsibilities, health and wellbeing maintenance, and volunteer commitment.  In other words – all the skills that parents witness at home. People skills include sharing, sibling conflict resolution, attitude, listening, assertiveness, and politeness, emotional intelligence at home and out in social situations. Most people with academic and technical brilliance lose their jobs not because of inefficiency in that area, but because of lack of people and life skills.  These are the some of the most important skills to develop.  These skills can be learned and practiced by all children.  Not all children can get an “A” in math, but all children can learn to be polite and organized.

The final leg of the three legged stool is the child. He can self-evaluate and give himself a report card on all three components – Academic skills, life skills and people skills.  This is the most important evaluation and parents and teachers can ask how they can support growth and success for the child in all these areas.

Finally, the parent, teacher and child should discuss where the strengths are and room-for-improvement and come to an agreement on how to go about setting improvement in place.

Education is a journey, and is not a race. The letter or number grade does not indicate learning or self- awareness.  In fact, when children only chase a grade, they can be more prone to cheating and learn nothing.  We learn the best when we fail or make mistakes which over insight and reflection, give us ideas for change. When children make mistakes, ask them, “what did you learn from this?”  The ability to self-evaluate, and find motivation to start again is the real learning and the upmost key to success. The Winklevoss twins learned more about life and resilience in their court battle with Facebook, than all those academic years at Harvard.

Parents, de-emphasize the numbers. As a society, we tend to treasure what we measure, but learning can’t be denigrated to a number.  Most of what we do in life that really counts; love, help, volunteering, life learning, and kindness can’t be evaluated by a number, but can be observed, noticed and appreciated.

No one is perfect and we all have room for improvement. Your job as parents is to figure out with your child, how can you pick him up, dust him off and support him moving forward?

By Judy Arnall

Posted in Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ways to Learn Math Without a Workbook

My son finished his very first online math class at age 14. We started at a grade 8 (Alberta) level which seems to bridge elementary and high school math concepts nicely. He learned integers, fractions, decimals, prisms, pythag, variables, relations, graphs, etc. He did very well in understanding how to do math on paper, but he needs much more practice in learning which operation to apply to which problem. That is going to take life practice…to meld the paper math with the mental math. But my other kids did it.  He will too.  Now he is going to take another year off and fully unschool (play video games) again and then take

DSCN4413First online classgrade 10 math for a high school diploma. I think that math grade 8 is a good start for more formal math foundations if your child is heading to a career in STEM. My other 5 children also began their formal, on-paper, math studies at either grade 7, or 8, depending on how willing they were to start, although they had been using mental math from the time they were toddlers, applying math concepts to real life problems.

Here are some handy ways children can learn mental math without a workbook:

Adding and subtracting – Play board games such as monopoly, etc. Selling items and making change at a garage sale or lemonade stand. Paying for items in stores and noticing change.

Multiplying and dividing – Cooking, baking, sewing, workshop projects, and art projects. Sharing food and items among friends.

Greatest Common Multiples – Skip counting jumps on the trampoline.

Fractions – Baking and cooking from recipes. Dividing up food with siblings. Deciding how much quantity of food to buy per person for hosting dinners.

Decimals – Shopping. Splitting restaurant cheques.

Percents – Calculating tips, taxes and sale prices while shopping.

Estimation – Shopping. Tracking travel miles.

Perimeter – Measuring for baseboards.

Area – Measuring for carpet, paint or floor coverings. Sewing.

Volume – Measuring parcels for the post office.

Least Common Factors – Lego pieces are named 2×2’s or 2×8’s so figuring out how many pieces needed to build a model.

Integers – Monitoring temperature changes. Counting money. Counting zero pairs with lego pieces.

Algebra – Computer games such as Graal, Minecraft etc. Shopping for packaged food items for a certain number of people. Figuring out problems.

Variables – Figuring out symbols that stand in for concepts.

Place value – Sorting and grouping toys and items. Measuring liquids, distances, and weight using the metric system that is based on 10. Counting money in games such as Monopoly. Writing out cheques. Cooking.

Coordinates and Ordered Pairs – Play Battleship.

Rounding – Figuring out how much allowance one has to pay for things. Estimating price total when grocery shopping.

Angles properties – Making a sundial. Studying astronomy. Visiting historical sites where people made ancient contraptions to measure time and seasons.

Degrees – Formatting photos and learning about astronomy. Questioning why the Xbox is a 360! Playing Hide and Seek

Temperature – Bake and cook. Monitoring the weather.

Time – Figuring out the clocks at hospitals and airports help children learn the 24 hour clock.

Roman numerals – Read “Asterix and Obelisk” books.

Reading graphs, pie charts, and figures – Reading magazines such as The Economist and MacLeans. Checking out newspaper articles to see how units on graphs can be manipulated to one’s advantage.

Even and Odd numbers – Reading maps and house numbers on a street.

Properties of geometric solids – Playing with blocks and nets.

Slides, turns, rolls and flips – Formatting photos on the computer. Playing with blocks.

Symmetry – Playing with mirrors, objects and prisms.

Perfect squares – Examine a multiplication table and visually see the patterns. Making paper squares for cutting snowflakes and other paper projects. Seeing how squares fit into other squares.


This is a model of  X^2 + 4X + 3, and the best part is that you can eat it after!

Excerpted from “From Unschooling to University” by Judy Arnall, to be released Spring 2016. Copyright 2014.

Posted in Elementary Children Ages 5-12, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, What is Unschooling? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Socialization: It’s More Than Having Friends


When families homeschool, parents are often asked the question, “What about socialization?” Many people are fine with the academic achievement of homeschooling but worry that children who do not go to school to interact with the same aged peers daily, lack necessary social skills to grow into a well-rounded citizen.

Children are socialized by four agents in society – parents, school, communities and media, however, most people think that school is the only one. Yet, when pressed, most people admit that a playground of 200 children and one teacher or supervisor is not the ideal arrangement to teach children the proper way to get along with other humans. Recess, bus time, and lunch time is when children are free to socialize in school, and anyone who has ever been a bus monitor, or lunchroom lady will know, that the socialization consists mostly of teasing, bragging, one-up-man ship and bullying. Not much conversation, listening, and caring comments goes on with a room of school-aged children and little to no adults.

When people ask, “What about socialization?” what they don’t mean is, “How will my child learn how to be a decent, compassionate, communicative adult with healthy relationships?” What they mean is “How will my child find friends?”

This is a valid concern. First, friends do not always come from school. Children thrown together because of age do not necessarily get along with each other due to different temperaments, cultures, and gender role expectations. Friends are everywhere in a child’s life, not just at school.  Clubs, sports teams, church, interest-based classes and neighborhoods are a great way to meet a variety of multi-aged friends.

Second, children are more in need of adults than peers. The smaller the child-to-adult ratio, the better. Children learn proper behavior toward each other by the presence of aware adults, who teach positive social skills. Adults are nurturing, not peers.

Third, there is a myth, not supported by research, that children exposed to negative socialization like bullies, sarcastic comments, teasing, etc., learns how to handle it better later in life. Research proves the opposite; that a child who has had minimal bullying and teasing, tends to have better long term self-esteem and self-confidence in adulthood. Early exposure to nasty socialization leaves lifelong scars. The best way to avoid this is to have a lot of adults around to monitor negative socialization and gently correct it, as well as model assertiveness skills, confrontation skills, kindness, manners, and conflict resolution skills to children.

Bullying is also minimal in the presence of adults. Since homeschooling provides quite a high adult-child ratio in many social gatherings, this may be one of the best reasons to consider this education alternative.

Whether a child is home educated or in a physical or online school, here is a checklist for all children, on determining if their social skills are up to par. In fact, many adults could use a brush-up on these basics too.

Social Skills Checklist

A person with good social skills…

  • greets people with a “Hello,” and a handshake. Asks how people are and listens to the response.
  • can start a conversation by noticing a detail.
  • maintains eye contact.
  • smiles and nods while listening.
  • respects other people’s personal space. In North America, it’s a peripheral of about 18 inches around a person.
  • ask questions, listens and responds after listening.
  • gives opinions that are generally positive and upbeat. Doesn’t criticize excessively and never criticizes other people.
  • doesn’t talk about other people negatively. Discusses ideas, opinions and own anecdotes rather than other people.
  • talks for 15 seconds and then listens while the other person takes a turn to talk for about 15 seconds.
  • doesn’t talk too much about themselves. Doesn’t share too little about themselves so the other person in the conversation has nothing to ask them about. Visibly shows an interest in the other person.
  • is not distracted from a conversation by cellphone, or electronic devices or other people walking by.
  • doesn’t interrupt conversations. Can wait and determine the proper moment to interject into the conversation with own insights.
  • can interpret visual and auditory clues to people’s moods, such as expressions, voice tone, and gestures. If exceptionally skilled, can articulate the other’s people’s feelings with empathy to encourage the other person to share.
  • gives encouragement and empathy when others talk about their woes.
  • can exit a conversation by saying “Thank-you, it was nice to speak with you,” and “Goodbye.”
  • uses “Please, May I, and Thank-you as well as “I’m very sorry.”
  • asks permission to use other’s belongings. Articulates when not sure about a situation to seek other people’s guidance.
  • knows what constitutes private behaviour and public behaviour such as swearing, picking noses, and letting out gas.
  • knows when it is appropriate to not speak.
  • politely and respectfully uses I-statements beginning with “I think.., I feel…, I would like…, I am disappointed…,” to assert ones’ needs.
  • initiates and co-operates with problem-solving for win-win solutions when there is a difference of opinion or plans.
  • knows their own limitations and is comfortable saying “No, thank-you,” to requests.
  • shares, take turns, and offers help to people in need.
  • knows the different levels of conversation and which is appropriate for different audiences and situations. For example, level one is making small talk for strangers, level two is sharing facts with acquaintances, level three is sharing beliefs and opinions with friends and lastly, level four, is sharing feelings with family and intimate friends.
  • is not feeling lonely in solitude. Knows when they want to be alone and when they want to be with other people.
  • queues in public line-ups and does not let joining friends into their space in line.
  • can find common ground for conversation with people of different ages, cultures, religions, uniforms, genders and social status (bosses, police etc).

It’s important to remember that most of these skills are learned in the school-aged, teen and emerging adult years. It takes a lot of practice but will come with time. Children don’t need a whole plethora of friends to learn socialization. All a child needs for healthy development is at least one good friend, one attachment adult and a lot of supportive people in their lives.

Posted in Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Time is Precious

And deduct that final 51 minutes per day for unschooling, because, we are learning all the time.

Monkey Mum

How much time in school, is actually spent learning?

I’ve been in the education system, one way or another, for 30 of my 35 years: first as a school pupil, then as a University student, and then as a teacher. Since we made the decision to home educate our children, I started thinking about the typical school day. And how many of the hours that a child spends in school, are actually spent “learning”.

So here is my take on it.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that I am basing my calculations on my own experience of the UK primary schools I have taught in. The day length, the timetable, the efficiency (or lack of it) in and between lessons is based purely on my own teaching experience. However, the schools I have taught in have been pretty average, middle of the road, state mainstream, Ofsted-rated Good schools, so it’s…

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The $120 Swim Lesson: Should you push children to go to lessons they hate or let them drop them?



The $120 Swim Lesson

This was the summer my son was going to learn how to swim! He was seven years old and old enough to agree to the lessons when I asked him in March. I signed him up and paid the $120.00 Come July, he was feeling more anxious about it and resisted going the first day. Once again, I’m faced with the age-old parenting question: “Should I make him go, or let him stay home?”


As a parent, we want to provide our children with a taste of the many wonderful experiences that life can offer. We flip through pages of booklets of the many offerings of classes, daycamps, preschools and envision our child loving the sports, art, music, science lessons, camps and activities. We take time to sign him up, write checks, arrange transportation, and prepare him for the first day. The first day arrives and he doesn’t want to go. What to do now? Should we drag him to the activity kicking and screaming, or give in and let him miss? If we don’t hold our ground now, will they ever learn about commitment and perseverance?


It depends on your child and your goals for the activity. Does your child usually complain until he gets there and then loves it? Or does your child complain loudly the whole time he is there and all the way home? Did you sign up your child to acquire skills, socialize a bit more, or for a little down time for you?


I would suggest the “Nudge, but don’t Force” approach. Encourage him to go the first day and try it out. One day, that’s it. This is giving the child informed consent. He needs to experience what he is going to, in order to make a decision about it, and if he goes the first day and hates it, then let him drop the activity. Most venues will give you the majority of your fees back, if you drop it immediately after the first day. If he loves it, then he will be glad you nudged him. Like getting kids to try new foods, one bite is enough to know if it will work for them or not at that time. If you can’t get a refund, don’t worry about wasting the money. It’s better to build trust with your child, in that he will try new things if you don’t force him to attend the whole way through, in the name of “committing to the agenda.”


Many adults get second chances and can drop out of things they don’t like. As children get older, you can teach the importance of commitment with chores, friends and video gaming teams, rather than with activities. If you force them to attend the activity the whole course, you risk teaching them to hate the very activity you were hoping they would love. If it’s skills, socialization or time to yourself that is the goal, is there another way to achieve it? Is it the right time to work on that now?


If you have a quiet, shy or anxious child, promise to stay with him and leave in baby steps as per his comfort level. Again, building trust is important. Ignore complaints from staff that will recite their “No Parents Allowed” policy. You know your child best and need to act in his best interests.

Research supports a gradual leaving of your child and building trust in your relationship that you will fulfill your promises of staying until he no longer needs you. Child program professionals should understand that the importance of your child’s comfort level and it should supercede any perceived concerns that “it will show favoritism to one child” if their parents are allowed to stay.


If the venue or staff will not let you stay, consider a more parent-friendly program or venue and also consider if your child is really ready. Sometimes a few months or weeks of further emotional or social development is all your child needs to push his independence further.


In the end, my son didn’t go back after the first day of swimming lessons. However, he trusts that if he tries something new, he has the power to trust his instincts about whether the choice is right for him or not and have those instincts respected by his parents. And that is worth more than $120.00

By Judy Arnall, Canada’s non-punitive parenting and education expert.


Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment