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, on the road in New Zealand in 2011 and while living out of our shed in Queensland to see how things have changed for us!

I’m an Australian single mama, living permanently on the road in a housebus with four daughters and unschooling quite deliberately. Aisha is 8 and a half. Brioni turned 7 yesterday. Calista is 5 and a half. Lana (Delaney) will be 4 at the end of the year.

Today, we are visiting friends in the very centre of Australia: Alice Springs. We first met the Edinborough family at their home in New Zealand sixteen months ago. Pip and Grant Edinborough unschool their three children too: Tom (7), Kate (6) and Meghan (3). Although it’s Monday, today feels more like a Sunday for the Edinboroughs because Grant is home all day and no activities are planned.

The Gifted Gypsy parked in Alice Springs, August 2013
We're parked in the front yard of a suburban house, living out of our little bus but spending a lot of time inside with our friends.

6:30

I get up when Brioni needs help finding a new roll of toilet paper. One of the characteristics of living in a tiny space like The Gifted Gypsy is that essentially we sleep, cook and toilet in the same room.

Brioni has been up in the night vomiting, and so her first question this morning is “Can rats vomit?” We already know that rats can’t burp — this information was gleaned when we first got the rats and read through their dietary restrictions — but I hadn’t thought about vomiting before. I reach for my phone and google the question. The answer is no.

This is the beauty of home-educating in the age of information technology. We don’t need to consult a textbook or visit a library to discover new facts, we simply look them up online. Our home-educating tools are mostly technology-based: the girls each have their own tablets (which we call kipis), and I’ve recently subscribed to a mobile internet service and set up wi-fi in our bus. The girls have unrestricted access to Skype and YouTube, but they aren’t yet using email programs or a web browser.

Three girls are sleeping with me in the bed we share. In the early morning, Calista decided she wanted to move and made a new bed for herself on the floor of the bus, underneath our suspended bed. Brioni comes back to bed, and we doze for a bit longer.

8:00

Brioni and Lana have both woken. I hand my phone to Brioni — a birthday message to her has come during the night — and she reads it while I use my laptop to bring up the other good wishes that appeared via email and on Facebook. We talk about our lovely friends Delcie and Alan and browse our blog to see where we last camped with them to which we will be returning to camp with other unschoolers next month. We like using our blog to remember our friends and reminisce over good times in the past.

At this time, Brioni asks another random question: “When is lychee season?” She loves the fruit and is looking forward to having it again. We google that, discover that Australia has a long lychee season (from October to February) and this leads to a discussion on hemispheres and opposite seasons. 3yo Lana looks at the map of Australia and asks where we are. Already she has an understanding of cartography because we refer to maps often during our travels.

Lana and her pet rat Cloud, August 2013
One of the first things the girls like to do in the morning is greet their rats and play with them for while.

8:30

I enter the house and greet the occupants. Lana has requested porridge for breakfast, and so I ask all the children if they would like some so I know how much to cook. After I set the porridge going, I move into the laundry to continue the never ending process of sorting, washing, hanging and bringing-in the clothes.

11:00

Calista is still sleeping in the bus, and Brioni has just gotten up and is playing with a rat. Late mornings aren’t entirely unusual for us, as the girls sometimes stay awake until the early hours of the morning. With Brioni being sick in the night, I wonder if Calista is feeling unwell too. Everyone else is fed, and the kids are pretty chilled, playing quietly together. Yesterday was a high-energy day with Brioni’s birthday celebrations. Lana is partially watching a movie at the same time as playing with toys. Pip is baking her youngest daughter’s birthday cupcakes, and the kids move in and out of the kitchen, helping where possible.

Calista sleeping on the floor of the bus, August 2013
Although it's almost noon, Calista is still dozing, having chosen an unusual place (and position) although she must be comfortable enough.

Reading to Brioni, August 2013
Brioni is definitely not feeling well. Although she's come in from the bus, she only wants to lay down on the couch and so I start reading stories to her, and other children gather around me to listen in.

Kate helps measure and mix the ingredients for her sister's cupcakes, August 2013
Kate particularly likes watching and mimicking Pip's work in the kitchen. The measuring, multiplication and timing of baking is one of the most ubiquitous examples of mathematics in action, and the lessons are seamlessly integrated into our children's days.

Early afternoon

By now it’s clear that we have several kids who aren’t feeling very well. Calista is up, but she’s not 100%, and even Tom is more mellow than usual. Only Kate is her usual, exuberant self, and now that the bus is not occupied, she can play in and out of it — interacting with the rats.

We were planning an outing to one of the terrific national parks around Alice Springs, but can see that today is better spent at home. One of the beauties of home-educating without an agenda is that we can be flexible instead of forcing our children to fit to a schedule.

Aisha on the ipad, August 2013
Once she notices that her friend is online, Aisha starts writing a message in Skype. Since Skype was enabled on their kipis, Aisha and Brioni have been writing (typing) a lot more and asking how to spell many more words. They're motivated by the desire to write properly to their friends, using the same vocabulary with which they speak.

Lana plays pompom pushers, August 2013
We introduce Lana to pompom pushers, a game that hones fine motor skills as the child pushes small pompons into a container.

Tom at play, August 2013
The kids move into the playroom and engage in a complicated game with different "families".

I start doing some repairs on the bus which includes giving the bus an oil change. This is my big lesson for today, for this is the first time I’ve done an oil change, and I use my bus manual to make sure that I’m doing everything correctly. I open up the engine hatch inside the bus which gives the kids something to examine and discuss. While I’m inspecting the underside of the engine, Lana crawls under the bus to see what I’m doing. I’m pleased that my girls see me working on mechanical maintenance, it demonstrates that mechanics are not necessarily a masculine field.

Late afternoon

With three out of seven children not very well, we’re all in a mellow mood. The kids are playing quietly with Lego, on their kipis or in the playroom. Calista is napping in the bus again, and both Lana and Brioni have had baths. Without a daily routine, our girls are just as likely to have baths in the middle of the day as they are to have them in the evening.

Aisha tidying the playroom, August 2013
When the other kids move out of the playroom, Aisha starts tidying the toys, carefully sorting and putting each kind away together. I don't force my children to help out with the chores, instead I focus on demonstrating a cheerful attitude to my daily tasks so that they don't learn an aversion to work.

Lana on the iPad, August 2013
Minecraft is a very popular game among homeschooled children, but it's not just the older kids who like to create their own worlds. 3yo Lana often chooses to play Minecraft and loves to talk about her creations with her sisters and friends.

Mythbusters on TV, August 2013
When Mythbusters comes on TV, the kids gather around to watch the episode. Tom summarises the hypothesis and experiment for us when Pip asks what it's about. His casual oral report demonstrates that Tom understands the physics of the case and has formed his own opinion about the outcome.

Without being asked, Brioni checks the rats’ cage and tops them up with food and water. She loves to play with Shadow, and Kate loves the rats almost as much as she does! Brioni asks me to clean the cage, so I take it out and wash out the bottom tray with plain vinegar before rinsing it with water from the hose. We like to minimise our exposure to chemicals, and this means that we clean with natural products — even for rats!

Evening

It’s Meghan’s third birthday today, but she’s not inclined to celebrate it today, perhaps instinctively responding to the fact that not everyone is well. A present is left untouched on the dining table and Meghan doesn’t want her cupcakes today. It doesn’t matter — we can have a party tomorrow! But Meg has requested pizza for dinner, and so that’s what we have!

The kids all watch a movie together after tea, and then I move our girls into the bus. The Edinborough children wake early and go to bed early, and taking our children out of the house instantly makes it easier to put Tom and Kate to bed.

Lana and Calista in bed, August 2013
When the bed is made, the girls cheerful climb into their sleeping suits. We often go to bed as a family and read or watch a movie before falling asleep.

Usually I go to bed at the same time as the girls, lying alongside them in our bed, sharing their movie or using earphones to listen to an audiobook. But tonight I decide to stay up late with Pip. It’s our last planned night together (at least for a little while), and we still have lots of stories to swap!

Pip playing with wool, August 2013
With the kids tucked into bed, it's adult time, and for Pip that means a chance to play with wool! Pip received some custom-dyed skeins in the mail today and eagerly spins them into balls using a wooden swift made for her by Grant and a vintage winder bought in an op shop.

I’m using my computer at the dining table while Pip knits, and we both don’t get much done because we’re talking so much. It’s lovely to be living alongside friends — even if it’s just for a short while.

Today has been a quiet day for all the children, not necessarily typical of our more adventurous style, but the respect and freedom which we have extended to the children has been the same as every other day. I’m glad to have recorded this day, especially because it has been shared with such good friends, and I look forward to seeing where we are this time next year!