Unschooling Made Me See The Real Reason For Mandatory Public School

Contrary to popular opinion, I wasn’t born with a silver curriculum in my mouth. My first words were not, “I’m going to grow up, have children and unschool them.” (In fact – hold the rotten tomatoes while I duck – I distinctly remember wondering what the earliest age for starting preschool would be.)

When the children were born, something changed. I have written extensively about that elsewhere, so I won’t go into it now. Suffice it to say that by degrees I became a staunch homeschooler.

I was still a homeschooler, however. My ideas of how children learn best were still heavily bound up in curricula, sitting around the table with me giving information to them.

I thought homeschooling would look a lot like school at home. Nowhere in my mind was the idea that unschooling, let alone classical unschooling as a model would be the one that would best work for us.

It was unschooling – when I finally embraced it – that made me see the real reason mandatory public school exists.

Here’s how.

Without school, the children are noisy & unruly

Children are loud. Period. Mine are no exception. They don’t hold back their thoughts in fear that they might hurt the person in front of them. A lot of them tell it like it is, so to speak. Biting one’s tongue comes with wisdom and wisdom comes with age and experience.

Children can be mean, noisy, rude, unruly and generally obnoxious to be around. Yes, mine are no exception here either.

Being around them all day long can get exhausting.

Correcting them, guiding them, teaching them to see things they don’t in their brash, veni, vidi, vici way can get very tiring.

It is infinitely easier to give them something – anything – to do, require them to do it and punish them for disobedience.

This is as true for homeschools as it is for government schools – how many times have we heard the term “keeping kids off the streets?” How often has that been directly linked to mandatory public schools?

But then again, giving them something to do shouldn’t come at the price of true living. Zak Slayback, in The End of School writes,

Education and work shouldn’t be easily divisible. Creating and enforcing an artificial barrier between the two just distances education from its application to our lives and makes us view work as a mere necessity. Both education and work are necessary and both have major impacts on how we structure our lives.   Balancing work with education makes it harder to compartmentalize both, allowing for applications from one to travel to the other. Studying Bertrand Russell’s philosophy of work can be great when you aren’t working, but it can have life-altering impacts when you are working. Getting a good grasp of economics can appear valuable in the abstract, but it can mean the difference between staying in your current job and launching your startup when you are working.

Yes, the children did need (and want!) to be occupied, but rather than give them busy work, why couldn’t they do meaningful work? Why was my idea of them doing something immediately go to being chained to the desk-and-dining-table? Because even as a homeschooler, I associated education with sit down schooling.

Without school, we are co-learners

Without a curriculum – heck, even with one, I get asked a lot of questions. I say, “I don’t know” a hundred times a day. I look things up.

My children pester me to ask Google how presidents make laws, how to spell an infinite amount of words, Minecraft rules and tricks, and if there are purple trees (not technically, but there are underwater life forms at the bottom of the ocean that are purple and tree-like.)

I don’t get to be the authority, only a guide.

Could anyone successfully replicate this in a mandatory public school setting? Ever?

Why bother with something as paltry as listen to children’s questions anyway? Why not hand them a solid curriculum that gives them all the answers and tests them on if they can remember them? That’ll do the trick.

But then how much is really retained?

I have mentioned that we memorize much of what we call our school work for want of a better word. We do this because we do like memorizing and also because I truly believe that memorizing is important, especially in this era of everything at our fingertips.

But although memorization is something, it is not everything. Memorizing gives us a basis for dialogue, which we take very seriously. This occurs at random times during the day. Recently, we were talking about Egyptian pyramids. It occurred to me that even though we had read about Egypt in various books and memorized the timeline, my children learned more after they had begun to wonder how pyramids were built and their general structure, and not before.

The questions and the dialogue is what made learning occur, not a preplanned, force fed curriculum.

(By the way, if you’re looking for a fantastic book about pyramids, check out David Macaulay’s Pyramid.)

Without school, we are forced to create meaning in our days

My children recently decided that they would take care of the formal part of their learning at night, before bed. That would leave them all day to play.

Perfect, I said. That leaves me with all day to play as well.

If they were in a mandatory public school, this problem would never arise. They would be given a script, a role and the best they could ever hope to achieve with that is the perfect grade.

Well, what’s the fun in that?

I don’t want to separate work and play. I want my children to get a deep satisfaction from their work as well as play. The idea that work is separate from play is redundant. (Refer quote above.) I want my children to achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” in their daily lives. “Flow” is impossible without personal effort, it is not passive, it is essentially existential but it is also hedonist. And it is beautiful.

Classical unschooling made me see the real reason for mandatory public school and we rejected it.

Is it more work this way? Yes. Does it require more of me? Again, yes. But does it make life worth living? Does it make me come alive? Does it seek goodness and truth and beauty in my daily existence and find it, even momentarily, every single day?

You already know the answer to that.

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Self Directed Education Means Never Having to Ask for Permission

One of the nice things about having homeschooling multiple children is that I get to see – firsthand – their budding personalities emerge. I get to experience how different they are from each other. Sometimes when I get compliments on their behavior I have to remind myself that it’s not my mothering – these traits were present all along. (Sometimes, in their worst moments, while correcting them, I have to remind myself of the same thing.)

And yes, of course, they each learn differently, with their own learning style.

No such thing as learning styles? Hogwash. I don’t care how many “experts” they can gather to swear that, I teach each of my children differently. I have watched them thrive (and fail), each in their own distinctive way.

When it comes to self directed education, the kind we are working toward, the most important thing I want them to learn is that self directed education means not having to ask for permission.

I’m not talking about raising your hand before speaking (although that’s a factor). I’m also not referring to needing permission to use the restroom in the middle of desk work (although, again, that’s an aspect of it.) I’m talking about being endlessly interested in something enough to not wait for someone to ask if you want to learn more about it. I am referring to wanting to do something so badly that you get ahead of your teacher.

I’m talking about being frustrated with being spoonfed and donning the apron yourself and turning on the oven to do something about it.

The problem is that, for some temperaments, this kind of self-directed education can be a hard sell.

For instance, I have one child who will do things without needing to ask permission. I appreciate that about her. I depend on her without having to remind her. And, yes, occasionally, when she gets into things she should not, I have to stop her.

On the other hand, I have another child who waits. A little more cautious, he prefers to wait for direction. To make matters worse, sometimes correcting child #1 can have unintended consequences on child #2 by causing him to shrink a little more.

What’s a mom to do?

I have, as all of us at some point, made a list of general rules for myself to get my children to take control of their own learning. As a classical unschooler, my goal in homeschooling has always been to encourage self directed education while giving them a strong base.

Here’s my list of five practical things you can do to keep your homeschool focused on self directed education.

Deschool yourself

One of the most important reminders I need is to deschool myself. I can’t tell you the number of times I have begun our homeschooling day energized and excited only to fall back into remembered patterns of classrooms and how things “should be.”

Learning almost never looks as it “should.” I have to remind myself of that.

I learn in snippets, in places I didn’t think I would, in random situations and from people whose names I can’t remember. There are only short periods of memorization or recall – and blessed aha! moments – when things come together, but for the most part self directed education does not look like a school classroom, nor should it.

Don’t scold initiative

When either of my aforementioned children do something of their own accord that leads to an accident, I have to often bite my tongue. Yes, I want a clean, tidy home. Yes, I encourage them to clean up after themselves, especially in the kitchen. But I don’t scold initiative.

This does not mean, of course, that I don’t correct them at all. It just means that I don’t punish the desire to try something new.

I will absolutely scold my son for the carelessness and inattention that led to spilled milk, and I will always ask them to clean up after themselves, but I do not try to do it for them. And I definitely do not discourage them from doing something because it might make a mess.

Have rules

Some of my unschooling friends are surprised when I mention that we have rules. Aren’t you an unschooler? is usually what I hear. But as I have written in my book, I do not shirk from rules. The old story about children playing in the middle of a field without a fence is true. It is just as true as cars that will drive toward the middle of a mountainous road if there aren’t guard rails at the edge.

Rules are just guideposts to keep my children from slipping off the edge. Guideposts are there for direction and they grow with the children, but never disappear completely. Without direction, we wouldn’t know where we were going.

Our family rules are a general map of the terrain, they are not a guidance system to a destination. We are free to trace out our own journey with their use.

Schedule/ have expectations

do have expectations of my children just as they have certain expectations of me. I do expect certain work to be done by a certain time and I expect that they will do it. Our homeschool schedule helps immensely with such expectations and how we get our work done smoothly.

My children have lately decided that they want to spend their day time playing. So they have taken to getting their school work done before bed at night. They work independently in their rooms before going to sleep. (nightschooling, yeah!)  If they have problems, I help them in the morning, right before we do our readaloud or Science or Bible reading together.

Our schedule keeps us on track and leaves plenty of room for them to pursue whatever else it is they want in their free time, which, owing to their current inclination to work at night, is almost all day. Boredom alone sometimes propels them into self-directed learning.

Strew & Encourage

If you haven’t read my post about how to use strewing in classical education, you should go read it now. I love strewing and I use it as a way to introduce new passions and subjects. Once these interests are awakened, I do everything in my power to keep them alive. Like planets? Let’s go find books about it, let’s watch a movie about it!

With all this however, I also remember to back off a little. It’s easy to slip back into my “should-ing” ways and take over the education. That is perhaps the hardest part of all.

If self-directed education shouldn’t require asking for permission, it also shouldn’t require my constant prodding. It’s a difficult balance because sometimes it requires waiting and doing nothing.

Encouraging self directed education is sometimes an education in itself.

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How to Schedule An Effective Homeschooling Day (Part 1 of 3)

Last week, I mentioned on my Facebook page that I had been taken with the bug of how to schedule a good homeschooling day. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (and/or have picked up my book The Classical Unschooleryou know that I tend to find myself smack dab in the middle of classical education and unschooling. As such, planning an effective school day can be a bit of a challenge.

What do I mean by an effective school day? I mean a day where we

1. are not overwhelmed by pacing ourselves after an institution or peers

This is important to me, especially in the younger years. There seems to be a certain push to learn earlier and earlier lately, to push children into an institutionalized way of thinking. And don’t get me started on the back to school posts that are no doubt ubiquitous on my Facebook feed at this time of year. (Yours, too? This might make you feel better. Read it.)

But all that aside, I still don’t like the idea that children have to learn reading one year, that some curricula ties writing with reading, that they have to learn multiplication and division in third grade and that somehow time is running out. I detest that way of thinking in my bones.

And so anytime I hear someone say that children should do something in a specific year, my answer is No. They will do it when they’re ready for it. Sure, I’ll check often for readiness, but I’m not going to make them do something just because they’re seven or eight. And I certainly won’t suffer overwhelment because of it.

2. have an overall structure that helps maximize what we’ve set out to learn

I know, I know… I’m an unschooler with classical leanings. What a weird character! I’ve always sought to bring together extremes. So in my world, I don’t think it’s crazy at all to give the children free rein to learn whatever it is they want but having a schedule to cover the basics that they will need to help them get to the thing that they will enjoy.

What do I mean by that? Well, my daughter loves stories, for example. And teaching her to read was important so that she could get her hours of entertainment by reading. Also, my son loves video games and math and has a mind with the ability to remember details – lots of them. I can help him learn that about himself and ways to use those skills to enhance his enjoyment of what he will undertake in the future.

The way I see it – I am a guide, and what does a guide do but impose a structure on and make sense out of what would otherwise be confusing wilderness?

3. keep a consistent eye toward self-directed, interest-led learning

All that said, I have to add that the focus of our day while we are learning to read, write and do math is to encourage self-directed learning. I tend to model this as well. A quick example might help illustrate this. We’re currently studying The Middle Ages. So we’ve been listening to Beowulf in the car. We’ve been memorizing the Middle Ages timeline. My reading is centered in the same time period (that’s my reading on my own, not for my children) and when we pick family movies, we favor the Medieval times.

This does not always work.

Their interests are varied. They collect rocks and try and identify them. They want to read widely, play in the water, do things that children do – build tents in the living room, annoy each other, squabble over toys and who gets to sit where, but my push is toward self-direction when it comes to learning.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, next time I’ll write about how I’m bringing this all together. Yes, it’s possible!

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The Myth of the Uninvolved Unschooler

I’ve had it. I’ve really, really just had it.

Every time I’m at a social event, someone who genuinely wants to know will ask me, “So how’s school going?”

And someone else will pipe up, “Pssh! School? She’s an unschooler!” Laughter.

As if that means something. As if being an unschooler means I have completely abandoned all parental responsibility as well.

As if being an unschooler means I am uninvolved, unconcerned, unplanned, uncaring about my children’s education, or worse, completely lazy.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not.

And, yes, your ten seconds of guffaws reveal your ignorance.

So put aside those prejudices for a while and let me tell you what unschoolers really do, how we do not shun sit down work and how our children are not wild and how, really, we’re not hanging out in our pajamas eating bon-bons every day. You probably won’t listen, but let me tell you anyway.

Unschoolers are almost always planning the next step

Unschoolers are usually great researchers. They revel in learning and collecting information. They have scores of lists and they are members of at least five different online groups. Based on their children’s interests, they are almost always planning the next book, the next curriculum, the next week. I have a book list that I have compiled, for example, with 500+ books on it.

You can find unschoolers poring through online sales, library sales, library catalogs, yard sales and pretty much every place you can expect to find something their children can learn. They are found at homeschooling conventions, even odd places such as their neighbors’ and relatives houses and garages because their children have expressed an interest in learning to change a tire, or sew, or learn to play a musical instrument.

With very few exceptions, unschoolers are observing their children and planning the next step almost all the time.

Unschoolers guide their children’s education with an eye to their interests.

The reason why an unschooling education doesn’t look like school to those who love to poke fun at us is because unschoolers tend to keep an eye out for the children’s interests and guide them in that specific direction.

I’ve said before that I have some non-negotiables that I absolutely focus on in our sit down work, but otherwise, our school days are very fluid and the children barely know that they are learning. Our lessons are short and, more importantly, customized to their individual personalities and interests.

As I have mentioned in my book, The Classical Unschoolerif I see the potential in a child that he does not see himself, I will push him a little toward it. As an unschooler, I am not abdicating complete responsibility as a parent. But for the most part, I work within his interests and abilities.

Unschoolers are non-institutional in their approach to education

I think this is the rub that gets most people and this, right here, is the reason unschoolers get such a bad rap. We are not afraid to flout the rules. We are not asking teachers for permission, for guidance. We want nothing to do with how it’s traditionally been taught. We don’t want their tests, their teaching material.

We don’t like classrooms. We want to do it ourselves.
Most unschoolers have a well defined philosophy of education and want to do it our way.

That’s the reason we have pulled our children from said institutions to begin with. And we work hard not to bring institutional thinking into our homes. The worst thing you can tell an unschooler is the right way to do things because we know that most of what you’re saying is just plan old convention. And convention doesn’t usually work for unschoolers without a compelling reason.

Unschoolers teach skepticism

…or discernment, if you will. Because of the way unschoolers conduct their schooling and their lives, because we do not accept any textbook, school or institutional authority as having the gospel truth without first researching and double-checking it, unschoolers teach their children a basic skepticism that I see as important.

“Don’t believe everything you hear!” goes the old mantra and yet, teachers in traditional schools spend an inordinate amount of time reading from textbooks approved by a committee, only recommending books approved by the school board, teaching and testing toward a curriculum that the school wants them to teach and then shake their heads at unschoolers who want to teach their children to think.

From all these jibes big and small, I am beginning to conclude that humor sometimes is the last weapon left in a lot of people’s arsenal. And if that fails, there’s always derision. Hence the jokes, the talking down.

Some might accuse unschoolers of being proud, but I don’t think that’s it at all. Just because we refuse to take something at face value and trust our judgment over that of a school’s doesn’t make us proud. It makes us self-governed and humble. It makes us responsible – something many have forgotten how to be and something we desperately need in the people of today and the days to come.

The Classical Unschooler: Education Without School is now on Kindle! Get your copy here.

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The Classical Unschooler – It’s Time!

Wow… would you look at the date! It’s almost May – the month I promised The Classical Unschooler: Education Without School would be out.

It’s almost time!

I’ve been driving myself crazy getting it all done – the writing, the editing, formatting. Since this is my first time going through the Kindle Direct Publishing program, I honestly did not know what to expect. But the good news is it really is relatively easy – after the writing (the hard part!) is done.

I’m very excited about this book and I hope you will enjoy it.

If you added your name to my subscriber list, I have arranged for you to get a free advance copy this weekend in your email. If you have not, don’t worry! It will be available next week on Amazon for purchase for just $2.99.

If you’ve ever wondered what classical unschooling is, how I apply it in our homeschool or my vision for my homeschooling my children with it, this book should be able to answer all your questions.

However, I’ve been careful to say (and I hope it comes across loud and clear in the book) that this is one way of home education. It is NOT for everyone. I do unequivocally believe in homeschooling and am deeply passionate about it but I believe the method and style differs for each family depending on learning styles, temperaments and, simply, the way you manage your time every day.

This is just one way. This is my family’s way. And it works for us. Amazingly well.

Perhaps, it will work for you, too. Give it a look!

The Classical Unschooler: Education Without School will be available for purchase for $2.99 as an e-book on Amazon Kindle next week. I will add a link here when it is available. Check back often!

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Most Recommended Read Alouds For Fantasy Fans

If you’re like me, you’ll probably never stop reading aloud to your kids.

Now, I was never a fantasy reader. I mean never. My husband had tried – unsuccessfully – to get me to read Tolkein’s works but I would fall asleep. No, I’m not lying. But something about reading aloud to my children has given me a new interest in – well, pretty much everything. Including fantasy. I’ve started for instance trepidatiously heading over to the fantasy and sci-fi areas of bookstores and even – gasp! – picking some up to read. I’m slowly beginning to enjoy them.

So I recently asked a few hundred of my homeschooling friends what books they would recommend for those of us that love fantasy and adventure stories as read alouds. I was working on a list. Then I thought maybe you would like to see this list, too.

So I’m sharing it with you.

Roald Dahl started the read aloud adventure for us. We started readingJames and the Giant Peach and were hooked. My kids loved it.

I read a ton of Enid Blyton as a child and you couldn’t tear me away from my books. For some reason, my kids didn’t have the same attraction to these, but yours might.

The one we have enjoyed the most is The Hobbit. But doesn’t everyone?

Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic has had multiple recommendations.

If a squirrel for a hero is your (or your kids’) thing, you might like The Mistmantle Chronicles. I just can’t get Reepicheep out of my head and this one might be, well, let’s just say way down on our list.

Gregor and the Underland Chronicles have also been highly recommended and I’m actually excited to read these for myself as well as to the kids. A note of caution – both this one and the Mistmantle Chronicles apparently have some themes that might be disturbing to some children, so be sure to check them out yourself and edit, edit, edit if necessary.

The Wingfeather Saga is another one I’m quite looking forward to reading to the children. Sounds promising.

Lloyd Alexander has had numerous awards and The Chronicles of Prydainalso comes highly recommended. Just the reviews on the Amazon page makes me want to read this series.

And, of course, where would fantasy be without our beloved Harry Potter? We’re enjoying it so much!

Any that I missed that you love? Let me know!

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3 Must Visit Curriculum Hot Spots to Homeschool on a Budget

I’m feeling the pinch lately.

The children finished what we had set out to do by May in March and we’re scrambling a little to piece together a curriculum for the next stretch of our homeschool. I hate to call it a year because what I buy never lasts an entire year – apparently the learning never ends in homeschooling, even for me!

So what does a homeschooling mom do when the budget is small but her vision is grand? What do the children do when their thirst for learning and reading is growing? How do you piece together a curriculum that works for everyone but also works on a budget?

Everyone knows about the public library and how to use it. Here are some others that you may not have thought of while building your curriculum.

Your local thrift stores

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This seems like an unlikely place. But trust me on this one. I have had great luck finding not just educational games in thrift stores but also flashcards and beginning reading curriculum.

But my absolute favorite thing to buy at thrift stores is read aloud books. You won’t believe the treasures. And I do mean treasures because how wonderful is it to find a hardcover wonderfully illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz for $2? It always feels like a treasure hunt.

Another tip: To keep from getting frustrated, go often but make the time you spend there short. If you don’t find anything within the first ten minutes, leave.

Used curriculum stores

I love these. Not only do I get to peruse and take a peek inside the books (which I can never do shopping from an online catalog) I also get to compare curricula against each other.

If you don’t know if there is one in your area, ask around. And if you’re in the greater Sacramento area, you’re in luck! My favorite one is Kingdom Builder Books which, incidentally, also has various classes for different ages of students. Check them out!

The owners there also offer free consultations (with an appointment) to help you find the right curriculum for your style of homeschooling.

Google Books

Ah, my favorite. If you have a computer or a pad, this is an amazing resource for books that are now out of print – good books that have fallen out of favor with the educational system for whatever reason (that’s a whole other blog post!) and are now only available digitally. For FREE!

I have found language arts readers, history, grammar and many others. Go browse!

And there you have it! Have you used any of these free or cheap unlikely resources? Know of any others? Let me know!

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I’m Planning Next Year’s Curriculum on Snapchat

Oh look, it happened – we’re out of things to do. Between the motivational chart and the burn out sessions and the readalouds – in the midst of life and whining and being bored, learning happened. We’re done.

We’ve exhausted all our planned, available resources. It’s happened sooner than I imagined. Not that I’m complaining.

So here I am scrambling to find more things to put on the agenda. Okay, okay, not scrambling exactly. While we’re enjoying the easy days of “just one sheet of math” and Minecraft broken in with some reading and writing, I’m beginning to start the search for next year’s (whatever that means!) curriculum. (whatever that means, right?)

In the upcoming weeks, I intend scouring the books/resources I have, checking off what I want them to learn in the upcoming months, gauging where they currently find themselves and working to engage them as much as possible in their education. As someone put it, homeschooling is of course “trying to work yourself out of a job.”

Only this time I’m doing it on Snapchat.

If you haven’t been on Snapchat, you should definitely check it out. The idea is that the content there only lasts for 24 hours. So come find me and watch the videos I put up. They can only be 10 seconds long, so I’ll try to make the most out of each snap.

I’ll provide you with a good idea of how to pull from many places depending on what you and your kids like. And you know I’m cheap, so I’ll do it frugally. If nothing else, you’ll come away from my snaps with your mind bursting full of ideas for your next curriculum planning session.

I’ll show you places I shop and what I buy and don’t buy. And also (to my great sadness) what I have bought in the past that was a complete disaster. And some curricula that looks nothing like curricula but teaches real life skills and even some – sigh – worksheets and flashcards. Because much to my disdain, I have one kid who likes them.

If I’m feeling really brave, I might even let you into the sit down work part of our day. Ten seconds at a time. Eep.

So come find me on Snapchat. Let’s have some real fun planning curriculum! Why should our kids have all the fun?

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The Master List of Graphic Novels to Include in Your Homeschool

As I write this, sitting in the midst of graphic novels, we are on the last chapter in the last book of our readaloud – The Chronicles of Narnia. It feels like the end of an era. We have been reading C.S. Lewis’ classic and have loved it (and have lived in it) for so many weeks, that we doubt anything else will fill that.

I think most homeschoolers would agree that read alouds are great for various things: they give children an imagination, they encourage narration, they give them the templates necessary for building language. Which is why we love our readalouds. But we also share a love for good graphic novels.

But wait.

Don’t graphic novels undercut all those efforts at learning good language? Don’t they create a generation of people obsessed with short attention spans?

I don’t think so.

From the time my father read the Sunday comics to me from before I could read (or understand them, really) I have come to appreciate pictures as well as words. Cartoons took me into a world much like the worlds of the Shire or Narnia. I still think fondly of Gaul, the village that held its own against the Roman empire. I followed Tintin and his dog Snowy into the Egyptian tombs.

At a time when I thought mostly in pictures, graphic novels and comics ushered me into worlds that spoke my language, gently nudging me in the direction of the adult world with its own narratives linking history, geography, mystery and the joy of finding out. It gave me just enough of a glimpse into other worlds to make a point without overwhelming me.

And that, I believe, will always remain the enduring beauty of graphic novels. This is why I include them in our homeschool and continue to read them myself.

If you haven’t checked out these treasures, this is good time to do so. What we’re experiencing today might well be the golden age of graphic novels.

Here’s a selection of my favorites, both for kids and adults alike. Be sure to preview them yourself before passing them off to your children because some have adult themes. As I have said in the past, I let my children read whatever they pick (within reason) but I do make sure to have a conversation about every book.

And so, without further ado, here is the master list:

The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds – my gateway into Greek mythology. I always wanted to read the original but was daunted. And then I found this book in the teen section of my local library. Ah! So beautiful. I fell in love with Greek drama right here. Be sure to follow this up with Mary Pope Osborne’s Stories from the Odyssey in audio format (which we loved to listen to in the car) or the books in the Odyssey series: The One Eyed Giant, The Land of the Dead Sirens and Sea MonstersThe Grey-Eyed Goddess, Return to Ithaca and The Final Battle

The Iliad by Thomas and Sepulveda – I have not read this one yet. The reviews sound good but there seems to be some concern with the print being small. When is Gareth Hinds going to work on this one?

Beowulf by Gareth Hinds – While we’re talking about heroes in mythology, I have to include this one. Another one I have not read yet, but I remember enjoying the movie. If you are so inclined, follow this one up with Beowulf by Burton Raffel for older readers – considered the most readable Beowulf.

Gifts From the Gods: Ancient Words of Wisdom from Greek & Roman Mythology by Lise Lunge Larson & Gareth Hinds – This one seems to be the Aesop’s Fables on Greek & Roman mythology. While not technically a graphic novel if put to the test, it still remains a good book to read to children with timeless wisdom and beautiful illustrations.

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds – I think some of my favorite work by Hinds is his adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays into graphic novel format. Since the plays were staged and not read, this makes a wonderful first introduction to future readers of Shakespeare. After reading this, you can go watch the play or read it.

Macbeth by Gareth Hinds – This was, hands down, my absolute favorite graphic novel in the Shakespearean genre. I think it captures the essence of the original play and I loved it from beginning to end.

The Merchant of Venice by Gareth Hinds – I have a confession. When I saw this was available, I squealed a little. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to read The Merchant of Venice in its original format. Yes, I said it. I have never finished. The characters always get confusing and with Shakespeare’s penchant for beginning plays with smaller characters, I don’t get beyond the first few scenes. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

King Lear by Gareth Hinds – Need I say more? Beautiful book. This was another play I could not get into. The graphic novel was my gateway.

Bearskin by Gareth Hinds – This is the retelling of a Grimm brothers’ fairy tale. It seems to be out of print though so if you find a copy, hang on to it!

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang – Two graphic novels that show two opposite experiences of the Boxer Rebellion of China. Fascinating and gives a glimpse into history.

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang – These are three short stories that won the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Short Story. I plan on reading this one but haven’t done so yet.

Frankenstein by Marion Mousse – part of the Classics Illustrated Series. I, needless to say, love all these books. I think they’re a great introduction for young readers into the world of classics and will gladly collect them all!

Much Ado About Nothing by Appignanesi & Vieceli – If your kids/readers are into Manga, they might truly appreciate this adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. I prefer a little more color, so I didn’t like it as much.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Kate Brown – Another Manga Shakespeare.

Hamlet by Vieceli – I tend to be drawn to the tragedies of Shakespeare more than the comedies, so this Manga version of Hamlet is my preferred book of the three.

Graphic Revolve – This is a series of graphic novels which, I have to admit, are NOT my favorites. They are referred to as “Common Core Editions” and may have been created as an introduction to good literature, but many of them come across as poorly put together with only an emphasis on plot. Nowhere in the ones I have read do I see real creativity or beauty. So, it goes to follow that I don’t recommend these, but I’m adding them in here so you can look through them and see if you find that one diamond among the rocks.

Campfire Graphic Novels – This series also includes many classics – Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and the like, but also includes some historical books – World War One, World War Two and also biographies – They Changed the World, Leonardo da Vinci and mythology – Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians,  Legend: The Labors of Hercules. Campfire graphic novels seem to be created in the style of the true comic books of the past as we would consider them today and would likely appeal to readers who like reading Marvel comics.

Tintin – I’ve already mentioned this before as something I loved to read as a child. They now come as collections but I prefer the big versions because the compact collection is a little hard to read. Then again, it’s easier to curl up in bed with a smaller book.

The Adventures of Asterix – These are my absolute favorites! Even today, I love, love, love these Gauls and will fight my daughter to be the first to read them. Here’s a box set of 34 titles.

Templar by Jordan Mechner – I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It had all the hallmarks of a good historical novel – drama, plot, interesting characters and it was in full color! Bonus.

Of course there are tons more and the more you look, the more you will find.

In keeping with my general philosophy of being a classical unschooler, I try to use graphic novels as a way to enhance what we’re learning or as a jumping off point to engage interest.

What would you add to this list?
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4 Ways to Use Strewing As A Strategy in Classical Education

I had a teacher in college who was opposed to entertaining her students in any way. She had a more serious disposition, if you will. Now, in all fairness, she was a great teacher and I don’t want to complain about her too much. So let’s just say that she had some quite strong opinions.

This seems to be part of my background as a homeschooler as well. It is common for me to assume that if something is fun, that if the children are learning as well as enjoying themselves thoroughly, then they are probably not learning at all.

That nagging voice in the back of my mind shows up every time watching, waiting it seems for them to laugh and it goes, “Aha! See, this isn’t school!” What a relief to know the voice is a liar, that they can indeed learn while playing.

In fact research seems to suggest that it is in play that children learn best. And if you know me, you know that I don’t think play is just for children.

I have learned so much without trying that I am realizing that just like the kids I learn best when I am focused engaged and enjoying myself. Forcing myself to learn and study is necessary in certain situations but what gets me there is not external motivation but internal desire.

The enthusiasm to learn something new in which I am interested is an amazing powerful force. This force can be harnessed especially in classical unschooling using the method of strewing.

So you might ask what is strewing? The dictionary definition of strewing is to leave things about untidily. Ha!

But the unschooling definition of strewing is to leave things out for children to discover to learn and then to put them away and change them out continually. Another way of looking at strewing is to suggest to children to notice things when you are out and about doing things together. Many parents do this unconsciously while out on the field trip.

As an unschooler strewing comes in very handy when you are trying to either gauge the interest of the child or get the child interested either as an introduction to a new subject or to go deeper into a subject that he is already working. Strewing can easily be used as a strategy and classical education.

Now it might seem as if classical education with its focus on systems and specific ways of teaching can be completely opposed to the idea of strewing which seems haphazard and random. But it is not. Strewing can easily be incorporated into classical education and incorporated quite effectively and efficiently.

Here are some ways in which you can include strewing into your school day. You might already be doing some of these unconsciously.

Library books

I love our local library we go there every week and the children take out whatever they’re interested in. It is a great way not just to get your child’s interest but to let him get deeper into whatever he might be interested in. Our current haul included some books on the natural world around us, some graphic novels and some picture books. This fits the age group and the interest level of my children.

However, this is where the classical aspect of my teaching comes in. While I do not limit their choices in books and I will let them read whatever they’re interested in to a degree, I do consciously also order books from the library and put them on hold. These are books based on what they have been speaking about or playing or studying that I think they will like.

Use the local library to learn the interests of their children as well as to give them more than just what you want them to learn. Picture books are fantastic for this. Encyclopedia are also a good choice. My children can spend hours looking at pictures of animals. They have picked up information about climates in different areas and names of places and habitats I have not taught them. All through strewing. Who knows where these bits of information will land them?

Audio books

In addition to the books I mentioned above, we also listen to quite a few audiobooks.  You can find them at the library or you can buy them on Amazon or you can have friends loan you some.

The best thing about these is that there is no dedicated time that you need to listen to them. We listen to them in our most natural surroundings – the car. (Okay, I’m kidding about the natural surroundings, but we do like to listen to them every time we are in the car.)

We have listened to audio books about historical stories of real men and women, inspiring events, people, business books, Greek myths, Egyptian myths, animal stories, Arabian Nights, The Odyssey, you name it there’s a book about it. Even I listen to a book in the car when I’m alone.

Audio books are great for introducing children to new language, or getting the templates of specific sentences into their minds which is one way they learn to think clearly and get their point across better. Audiobooks carry all the benefits of a read-aloud without actually having to make time to sit down and read to them (which we also do) but audiobooks continue to do this when we do not or cannot find the time ourselves.


If you think songs aren’t effective, think again. Some children tend to be more audiocentric in the sense that they learn better by hearing. These children learn by repeating by repetition by hearing themselves say the same things repeatedly.

As annoying as it is to me my daughter seems to learn in this way. So in addition to audiobooks I make sure that we have enough good things to listen to. While I don’t mind exposing them to different kinds of music (the radio in the car is not banned) I also find that I can use this time to teach her math facts set to music or good hymns or historical or geographical facts which also are part of our curriculum.

Music is my favorite “Oh by the way” learning tool.


Close captioning isn’t used as effectively as it could be. Most parents don’t even think about this when they turn on the television. Leaving it on can help children read as they stare open mouthed at their favorite characters. I like to leave it on especially when we are watching a movie that is not animated and perhaps something that is above their age range. Today, for instance, we watched The Lord of the Rings which I’m quite certain had words they had not come across in their readers. (And no, I’m not talking about Elvish.)

Here’s another way to use subtitles. Older children learning a new language can watch a movie in English and turn on the captions in the language they’re working on. I’m sure it’s all gibberish at first, but soon patterns emerge and things get learned.
What other “by the way” learning strategies do you incorporate into your homeschool?

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