Tag Archives: homeschool

homeschool day – from Caribou to Coffee


We spent Monday with a group of energetic and enthusiastic Yukon Homeschool kids on two learning outings. It was a great way to start the week and luckily the weather was in our favour – big blue skies and only -8c when we started off.

YWP sign

Our morning was spent at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve where the kids participated in either the grade 7 program on Caribou or the grade 2 program on Surviving in the Winter.  I had the pleasure of being the parent support for the grade 7 program (a relative guidepost for homeschool kids – we had a range from Grade 5 to Grade 8) and it was fun to watch the learning in action.

After sharing a First Nation story about the spirit of Caribou, we all went off to the field and learned how to use atlatl’s, which were primitive spears used during group hunts. They definitely are not the tool you want for solo hunting as they aren’t that precise and the concept is to barrage the animal, knock them down and then finish them off with a knife or other sharp tool. We spent at least half an hour doing this and the kids could have gone on for hours…

caribou boots

Next on the program was learning to track Caribou. For this we got to go right into the Caribou enclosure, which was quite a treat. Everyone had to boot up to ensure that we weren’t bringing in any foreign substances on the bottom of our boots. Fortunately or unfortunately, a chunk of the Caribou herd happened to be up near the fence, which meant we didn’t really have to do any tracking so there was less learning in that area. The plus side was that we were within 100 feet of a number of Caribou and got to see some rack banging and herd management behaviour by the male Caribou.

We spent 45 minutes walking around in the Caribou enclosure, observing the animals from a distance, looking for signs of antler shedding, discussing traffic patterns and learning about animal poop…

learning in the enclosure

It was interesting how the animals were curious about us but certainly didn’t come close enough to make us feel uncomfortable. We were observing them and they were observing us. Overall we spent 2.5 hours learning about Caribou and probably could have kept going for at least another hour. The kids were engaged and curious – the benefits of a small group.

We took advantage of being at the Wildlife Preserve to check out some of the other animals. We got lucky and the Lynx family had just been fed so we spotted all 4 of them sitting out – most of the time they are tucked back into their rock enclosure or hiding under some logs. The Mountain Goats were also out enjoying some sunshine.

coffee bags

After a quick bite to eat our next stop was at Bean North, a small Fair Trade coffee roaster that is just down the road from the Wildlife Preserve. Michael, one of the owners, gave us an educational overview of where coffee is grown, the economics of it, why they support the concepts of Fair Trade and how important coffee is to the farmers that they work with. Geography, Food Science & Economics all rolled into one!

We were excited to learn that they grow coffee beans in both Mexico and Ecuador – places we are headed this winter. Maybe we’ll be able to check out a coffee farm on our travels and see how labour intensive it is ourselves. Michael shared that normally 8 hands touch a coffee bean before the bean makes it to him. We also learned that Kona, Jamaican and Costa Rican coffee isn’t necessarily better – it’s just more expensive because of the cost of labour in those markets and the marketing people have done a great job positioning it as a premium product to maintain profit margins.

coffee sealingOur last stop was the roasting area where we saw the roasting machines, the grinders and the sealers. Hunter was very excited to get to use the sealing machine and be part of the process.

When ever we get out and about to do learning in action it re-enforces for me all the benefits we experienced road schooling last year. It is so much more effective than sitting at home at a desk doing a workbook or reading a text book. I was thrilled to see Hunter asking questions and really curious about different components of the day. I’m excited about our travels to come this winter! We kicked off our Ecuador country study work today so we will be well informed and very curious when we get there in late December.

Ottawa – a homeschool playground


Hunter and I extended our usual Ontario trip by 5 days and headed eastwards to Ottawa to kick off the school year and immerse ourselves in all things Canadian History and Government related.

IMG_2627We talked Grandma Lynne into joining us for the week and kicked things off by venturing four hours east down the rails with ViaRail in business class. At Grandma’s suggestion, we also based ourselves out of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, which is right in the heart of Ottawa and was a thrill for Hunter on so many fronts.

We spent our first afternoon and evening at Parliament Hill. We caught the last tour at Parliament Hill and learned all about the House and the Senate as well as some of the history behind the building itself. We were also lucky to experience one of the last nights of the Canadian History lights show called Mosaika. It was 20 minutes long and walked you through the history of Canada using stories, lights and visual displays using the Parliament Buildings as the back screen. You parked yourself on the front lawn and it felt like a big summer party with a thousand of your friends…

Day two was spent split between the Supreme Court of Canada and the National History Museum. Our tour of the Supreme Court was really well done. We had to book ahead of time and it was a small group of 8 people which made it easy to engage and inquire about both the physical location and the processes. I think that Grandma Lynne and I got more out of this tour than Hunter as we learned many new things about the mechanics of what brings a case to the Supreme Court.

We took advantage of the nice summer weather and walked from the Supreme Court to the Museum over the Portage Bridge. Half way along the bridge is this really high-tech bike counter that counts the traffic in the bike lane. Hunter tried a number of times to get counted as a pedestrian but it was too smart! When we hit Gatineau (other side of the bridge), Hunter was thrilled that he was now in Quebec. Lots of discussion then quickly followed with respect to first language laws and all of the french signage.

Our primary reason for hitting the Museum of History was to attend the Imax movie about D-Day Normandy 1944, which was a big hit. One of the best educational war movies I have seen over the past few years and a great foundation for our year of studying World War I & World War II. We had some time prior to the movie so chose to explore the Children’s Museum. What an amazing resource for elementary school age kids. Through various interactive exhibits the kids travel around the world. One of our favourite stops was learning to spell our names in hieroglyphics. Travel hint – if you land at the museum around lunch time, check out the cafeteria on the ground floor which is very kid friendly compared to the fancier, more expensive restaurant on the main floor.


The Ottawa River runs between Gatineau/Hull and Ottawa and acts as a border between Ontario and Quebec, and it’s an interesting example of cross border collaboration and the area being called the “National Capital Region”. After a long day of walking we enjoyed the fun of taking the water taxi from the Museum across the River to the bottom of the Rideau River at the base of the Chateau Laurier Hotel and Parliament Buildings.

Day three was all about WAR… We spent a good chunk of the day at the Canadian War Museum and it was definitely a highlight for the trip for Hunter. The War Museum was only established 5 years ago so is a very new face in Ottawa. They have done a very good job building historical content in a number of different mediums to appeal to varying ages. I think we all learned a lot of interesting things here. The museum also has a lot of very helpful educational resources on-line on their website.

Tucked in between the Chateau Laurier Hotel and the Parliament Buildings is the Rideau Canal System, which stretches 202km between Ottawa and Kingston. We walked by the locks almost every day and were really curious about the actual mechanics of the lock system as they looked really old and very manual compared to our experience at the Bobcaygeon locks the week before. Hunter and I got lucky on our walk back from the War Museum as there was a boat going through the lock system. It truly is all hand operated and seems to take 3 staff to make it work. The signs say that it takes up to 1.5 hours to go through the last 8 locks in Ottawa as you are moving up or down 80 feet.

Byward Market was right around the corner from the hotel and I LOVE local farmers markets. I love the ambience and the air of possibilities – being surrounded by so much fresh food and so many yummy smells! We grabbed burrito’s for lunch one day from a local mexican food vendor and Hunter also had his very first Beaver Tail experience, which he deemed a full success!

Day Four was a slower day – it was our last full day in Ottawa and people were running out of steam. Our morning stop was the National Art Gallery. It was another sunny day so we enjoyed the walk over and how bright the sun made everything inside the gallery itself. Hunter is not quite at the full art appreciation level so there was some speed walking through parts of the gallery. We checked out the Group of Seven collection and did some basic compare and contrast discussions with respect to the various European styles vs the Group of Seven. We also went through the Gustave Dore special exhibit and spent some time learning to draw caricatures, which was one of Dore’s many talents. The other special exhibit was a photography exhibit on World War I – it was all in black and white and extended our ongoing discussion about War and it’s various facets and impacts. The National Art Gallery also has a small but well run and highly engaging kids area. They have many resources to help make an art gallery tour fun, as well as many ever changing hands on art activities.

Our afternoon was spent at a tour of the National Mint. Super Duper security and you must book ahead for these tours. We had a lot of fun playing with the displays outside the main building. Even more impressed with the large brick of gold that we got to pick up (it was heavy!! and heavily guarded). The actual tour itself was somewhat of a disappointment. As it was on a Sunday, the Mint was not running so there wasn’t a lot of action. Hunter’s opinion was that it “sucked sucked sucked” as at the general currency coins are made at the mint facility in Winnipeg and that was what he was hoping to see. He wasn’t impressed with the investment and collector coins that they make in Ottawa.

One of the most memorable parts of our visit to Ottawa was our Fairmont Experience. We shared a room with Grandma, which made it more affordable and chose to stay on the Fairmont Gold floor as it included breakfasts and evening cocktail hour, which well exceeded the incremental room cost. Our very first cocktail hour Hunter got a magical hot chocolate from one of the staff – it was perfectly made and in a big cafe au lait bowl cup. The next morning the same staff member was working breakfast and he recognized Hunter from the night before and proactively brought him a hot chocolate… Talk about smiles from ear to ear. Hunter was on cloud nine and the service our entire stay was memorable and the cherry on the top was the postcard that arrived for Hunter a week after we got home from this staff member wishing him safe travels. This will be hard to beat!

Our five days in Ottawa was really just a scratching of the surface. There are so many amazing learning resources and experiences that I think you could easily spend 10-14 days in the region to cover everything off. We had a great time and, as always, in person learning is so much richer than book learning. It was a great way to launch ourselves into Grade Six Social Studies. Thanks to Grandma Lynne for hanging out with us and making the adventure that much richer.

Unschool vs Homeschool vs Traditional School

hunter studying on the ferry

Our educational experience for Hunter has definitely been a journey. We attended a traditional french immersion school from kindergarten until the end of Grade Three. Concerns about classroom size, social environment and actual learning brought about the shift in Grade Four to attend the first Montessori school in the Yukon, which provided a solid learning environment coupled with personal accountability. Grade Five was our first homeschool/roadschool experience as part of our 8 months of travel and was a big success.

I have harboured a fascination about homeschooling and specifically unschooling for years. We used to live in the country and were surrounded by families that were doing this to some degree or another, while Hunter and I were busy driving the 30 minutes into town and back every day. There are many articles and arguments for how the philosophy of unschooling maximizes kids creativity and innovation by allowing them to follow their passion and curiosity. The article in this month’s Outside Magazine paints a great picture of what is possible and certainly got my mind spinning about our year this year.

This TEDx video by Logan LaPlante, a teen homeschooler/unschooler gives a great perspective on the concept of unschooling:

Based on our success last year and our ongoing desire for increased flexibility, we made the decision as a family to homeschool again this year. We are now fully hooked into the Yukon Home Educators Society and I am excited about what the year will bring with respect to the many co-curricular activities that we are working towards (introduction to trades, learning to code and build websites, environmental science & education, geography fair, year long first nations carving program etc.).

This year will be a mix of road schooling, unschooling and distance education. We are enrolled in a BC based school called Youlearn and I’m hoping that it will be the best of all worlds. They enable and support road schooling and unschooling while also providing academic support and a report card that validates it all at the end of the year. Hunter and I had our first Skype call with the Principal yesterday and it left us both feeling excited for the year. We are building an independent learning program for the year that incorporates all of the travel adventures that we  have planned and how those experience can be leveraged to achieve the curriculum outcomes needed. The science of extreme environments fits nicely into our trip to Ecuador and our 4 days in Ottawa in September will go a long ways for our social studies work.

My goal is to achieve our outcomes through as much interactive learning as possible. Hunter is a minimalist so the fewer textbooks we have to deal with the better for everyone. He truly is a hands on experiential learner and we see this over and over again. Next week we are off to the Instructables night at Yuconstruct as step one in learning about electricity, which also happens to be a Grade 6 curriculum item.

This year’s schooling is just one more adventure where I’m sure that we will learn a lot and adapt along the way!

Homeschool weekend fun

chocolate chip cookies

I am learning that homeschool doesn’t really function on a monday to friday 9-3 kind of schedule. I grab the learning opportunities when ever I can. I am also learning that if I just share something with Hunter, saying something like “check out this cool video” then he doesn’t consider it as part of his school work and we get to learn some really interesting things, with no pushback! (Tricky mom stuff…)


I came across an article about how to make the best chocolate chip cookies  and it had a scientific bent behind it with respect to experimenting with ingredients and their individual reactions to get different results. OK – this is something fun we can do…Baking is also great for math – all that measuring and combining.

Then I found this Ted-Ed video (I LOVE Ted-Ed video’s as they do such a great job of making information fun) and it went ahead and really explained the science behind baking cookies.

We had fun baking cookies this morning and doing some experimenting. We added extra flour to our standard recipe to get puffier cookies and then also tested out using parchment paper vs cooking spray and the difference between having 2 trays in the oven vs cooking one at a time. For all those that are curious – the puffiest cookies came by using cooking spray and having only one tray in the oven at a time (on the top rack) to capture that consistent heat at 350c.

The school of life – our first BIG decision


Our first big decision has come and gone with respect to what our “new normal” will look like – we have made the decision to keep going with homeschooling Hunter next year.

I have absolutely loved the experience this year while travelling – it has given us a front row seat to see what excites him, where he is passionate about something and what frustrates him from a learning perspective. It has also made all of us much more aware of the learning opportunities around us every day, and how to make the most of them.

Tim and I do our best to answer every question that is being asked or to guide him to find a solution, rather than blowing them off because we are juggling too many balls or tired.

Last night he announced that he wanted to get a TV, a DVD player and an electronic pencil sharpener and take them apart to see how they work! I am sooo excited that he is now exploring his own curiosity and we are just here to guide and support him.

Last week Hunter and I came across a bike in the ditch down the street. He decided to bring it home to see if we could fix it. He had been spending a little time with Tim working on our bikes but you’re never sure how much kids are paying attention. I put the bike up on the stand and the next thing I knew, he had all of Tim’s tools out and was engrossed in this bike. 2 hours went by and he managed to take the whole thing apart and clean it, grease it etc. It’s such a dump bike that it’s not actually fixable but the experience was invaluable. And the best part was this was in the middle of a “school day”!

I am also loving the peaceful mornings – Hunter gets up when he gets up and there is no more rush to get breakfasts into everyone, lunches made and he and I out the door. The combination of homeschooling and me doing contract work has decreased the stress level at our house ten fold. We will make less money with this approach next year but it will be a worthwhile investment in our family and our selves!