What does unschooling really look like? How does a homeschooling family run smoothly without schedules, learning structures and curriculum? Join our family — for just one day.

Introduction

For the past couple of years, I’ve documented the details of a whole day in the life of our family as part of a homeschooling link-up. A couple years on, I find it fascinating to look back at a typical day at home in our house in 2010 and on the road in New Zealand in 2011 to see how things have changed for us!

Although married to David, I am currently a single parent. I have four daughters and unschool quite deliberately. Aisha is 7 and a half. Brioni turned 6 on the weekend. Calista is 4 and a half. Delaney will be 3 at the end of the year.

At this time last year, I was six months pregnant with our son Elijah. He drowned in June and my husband is in a mental health facility, charged with Elijah’s murder.

My girls and I are living a nomadic lifestyle and are currently fitting out a new bus so we can continue our travels in Australia. We’re living temporarily out of our shed home in Brisbane, Australia.

8ish

I wake first, finding myself tightly sandwiched between Delaney and Brioni. Aisha and Calista are sharing the double bed below us, and I crawl out quietly to have some time to myself (and online friends) before everyone gets up.

By 8.30, everyone has emerged from our little bedroom in our trailer, and I’m serving up breakfast according to requests. Calista wants raisin toast, Brioni asks for porridge and Delaney wants cereal. Later, Brioni decides she doesn’t want her porridge, but Aisha gratefully accepts it.

Two of the girls come up and have showers with me. We talk a lot in the bathroom, and after expressing that I was feeling stressed by the things I was thinking about, Brioni simply says: “Well, just stop thinking about it!” She’s right, of course, and I need this gentle reminder to come back to the present moment and appreciate the experiences in front of me.

I have chores to do, including washing up and cleaning out the bus. When I start vacuuming, Delaney comes alongside me and asks for a turn. The girls get dressed at their own pace, in between various games — including a vigorous one of jumping off the furniture.

9.30ish

We’re all seated in The Gifted Gypsy, and I’m driving us down to a cabinet-maker’s house on the Gold Coast. Until the cupboards are built into the bus, we can’t really travel far from Brisbane. For the 45-minute trip, the girls play on their kipis — Aisha is listening to the Chronicles of Narnia’s Boy and His Horse and Brioni and Delaney are sharing a kipi that is showing The Wizard of Oz.

KIPIS — A SIDE NOTE: Earlier this year, we invested in two iPads — bought cheaply from Apple’s direct site as refurbished models. Soon after, Brioni coined the name “kipi” for the tablets. After three months with just two kipis, we bought two more so our girls could pursue different interests. We made a deliberate decision to let the girls play with their kipis without restrictions. On their kipis, the girls learn reading and writing, math skills, tech navigation, art and design and science concepts. I’ve deliberately chosen apps and movies that I consider to be have particular value, and whenever I feel like the girls are spending too much time in front of their screens, I am motivated to make real-life more exciting through activities and outings!

Calista on her kipi, August 2012
Calista alternates between watching The Wizard of Oz and playing a robot game.

At the cabinet-maker’s house, his wife serves up scones with jam and cream for our girls. They’re happy to sit and continue playing with their kipis while I discuss the details of the joinery with Michael. After our business is completed, Amy drives us to the nearby station so we can catch the train back home. At the train station, a train is waiting for us to board, even though it’s not leaving for fifteen minutes.

Brioni reading her watch, August 2012
Brioni is intent on reading her new watch throughout the day and happily notifies us of the time approximately every half hour.

Sign at Varsity Lakes Train Station, August 2012
The train station staff have put up this beautiful picture of a double rainbow taken from the train station. Every reference to a rainbow reminds me of my son.

We look at a lot of signs and can speculate what the Braille words say because the English equivalent is written above them. On the train, Aisha continues listening to The Boy and His Horse, and Brioni watches The Wizard of Oz.

Delaney and Calista on the train, August 2012
I keep Calista and Delaney amused by discussing the scenery that flows past our window.

Calista counting on her fingers, August 2012
Calista likes to demonstrate random sums on her fingers.

11.30ish

When we arrive at our station, we walk the short distance to a shopping centre and start going through the supermarket. Most of our shopping is fruit and vegetables, but the girls have crackers that they like and they ask for some juice as well. Our diet is vegetarian with Brioni a strict vegan, so we shop together for the things we like.

Delaney in the shopping trolley, August 2012
Dell still loves to sit in the trolley but tends to want to hoard her food choices on her lap.

Brioni has brought her money along and is looking for opportunities to spend it. However, she doesn’t want to spend it in a boring place like the supermarket — she wants to use a vending machine for the fun of it. Today, we don’t find one for her to use, and I’m relieved because it shortens our time at the shops — I don’t enjoy shopping centres, I find them impersonal and greedy.

When we leave the shopping centre, it’s only after visiting one more store. Brioni wants a new cover for her kipi, and we discuss the merits of the covers that are available in the electronics store. None are exactly right, and Bri is happy to wait until she finds one that she really, dearly loves. We have discovered that in modelling wise purchasing decisions and not outright denying our children’s desires, we rarely are forced into a situation where we either have to purchase something we think is poor value or bitterly disappoint our children. We don’t give pocket money to our children, we fill their purses with money whenever they ask. In showing generosity to our children, we give them the freedom to share their purchases with their sisters and others around them without feeling restricted to a budget that may impinge on their natural inclinations to generosity.

Today, we use a taxi to get us and our groceries home. Learning the procedure is new for us, and we’re allocated a number of which Brioni takes charge. In the taxi-ride, we discuss the last time we rode in taxis. Brioni’s memory is of this time last year, when I was denied boarding on a plane in New Zealand because I was considered too pregnant and David flew back to Australia by himself with the four girls.

Brioni in the taxi, August 2012
This day is certainly memorable for the different modes of transport we have experienced!

2ish

At home, we snack on our new purchases and I start to catch up on more of the chores. The girls do some drawing, and Brioni starts to construct a ball-run. Aisha calls me over to ask for some spelling help.

Aisha typing on the kipi, August 2012
Aisha has taken to using the search function on her kipi to find whatever she wants to watch/play/listen, and it's naturally improved her spelling and typing skills.

Secret Seven written on paper, August 2012
Aisha tells me she has written down "Secret Seven" so she can remember it properly.

Brioni creates a little cubby house from found materials and invites Delaney to join her inside. Calista is quite tired and puts herself to bed for a while. I read some stories aloud to those who are interested — chapters of Curious Tales and a Fancy Nancy book that Brioni was given as a birthday present. We discuss words like gargle and planetarium and notice how the illustrations don’t always match the stories’ details. (Although the kipis are certainly attractive, they cannot compete with a book that is being read aloud!)

Later, I tackle more chores and soon find myself distracted by the girls’ games. I jump with Aisha on the trampoline and soon we’re joined by her sisters for a raucous bout of roly-poly. Since David’s departure, I find myself playing the boisterous games of tackle and tickle that use up so much physical energy but replenish my spirit.

5.30ish

Brioni creates a picnic dinner for us all. She’s laid out food and drink on an orange blanket and invites us all to join her. She’s carefully thought about everything and has made sure there’s a favourite on offer for everyone.

After we eat and drink, the girls split up again. Aisha and Brioni play outside with friends, Calista plays with her kipi again — taking time away from it to show me dancing moves — and Delaney finds toys to play with as her kipi charges.

Our girls playing with Ivy and Heidi, August 2012
The girls play pirates together in the back yard until it gets dark.

When we’re in the shed, the girls have access to a great many toys — Duplo blocks, Lego, Playmobil people and many, many other things. When we’re on the road, we carry very few toys with us. The variety of both these lifestyles teach our girls to be creative when necessary and appreciate toys when they have them.

As we wind down for the evening, the girls take turns using the phone to speak to relatives, and I start writing these notes on the computer without connecting online. Delaney helps herself to some blueberries — sharing them with me and her sisters — and later watches part of a Playschool episode on her kipi. Calista announces she is tired and changes into her pyjamas early before finishing The Wizard of Oz.

7ish

The girls are all watching movies on their individual kipis — new episodes from Avatar — The Last Airbender. Sometimes they help themselves to a snack — toast, fruit, berries, a drink — and often they serve each other food too. This is the wind-down time before bed, and it’s also my opportunity to get online. The other time that I try to blog is early in the morning before anyone else is up, but I didn’t get that opportunity today.

10.30ish

The girls don’t have bed-times. They usually go to bed when I go to bed, or they retire early if they’re tired. Tonight, 2yo Delaney has fallen asleep where she is, and I carry her from the chair into bed. Calista has particularly asked me to sleep with her tonight, so I’ll climb onto the bottom bed between her and Aisha, and Brioni and Delaney will share the top bed.

This is it for us today, we haven’t spoken about what we’ll do tomorrow, but there are great possibilities open to us — sparkling adventures waiting to happen. We just need to go out there and find them!