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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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.

Music

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.

Subtitles

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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How Does a Typical Classical Unschooling Day Look?

“What does a typical classical unschooling day look like?” “How exactly do you do school?” “Is there a ton of memorization?” “Do you use a curriculum?”

These are the most common questions I have received lately and ones I hesitate to answer. I hesitate to answer it because homeschooling looks – or should look – different for every family. So when people ask me how we classically unschool I tend to be taciturn.

Unschooling by definition is non prescriptive. So I’m not recommending this as an “ideal” day. This is just our day.

With that said here’s a typical classically unschooling day for us.

The mornings tend to be pretty easy and loose. The children wake up at seven, they make their breakfast and leave me time to have my coffee, journal and work on my blog. Some days I wake up earlier – as early as 5:30 a.m. – because I want to write or catch up on other writing work.

About 8 o’clock if it is a workout day I head out into the backyard with my kettlebells and listen to a podcast while working out. While I am doing this the children usually play or explore or ride their bicycles in the street or they decide to read. Before school, we do chores together.

Our school or “sit down work” as I prefer to call it begins about 10 a.m. This is when we do drills for math or phonics or anything that the children are currently working on. Check out this post about how we decide what they will be working on for a period of about three months at a stretch.

The sit down work is done by 11 a.m. and that is when we start working on lunch. My daughter enjoys cooking and this is when we put lunch together. We’re currently working our way through the sixth book of The Chronicles of Narnia – The Silver Chair.

At about 1 p.m. is free time again. This is when the children sometimes head into their own rooms to have some quiet reading time or they go outside and play Jenga or swing or just annoy our pet cat. (We have our own version of Grumpy Cat.) Occasionally, they get involved in some extended crafts or build a tent out of their blankets and hang out in the living room. 2 p.m. is officially the time when they are allowed to watch TV or play video games. (This “screens after 2 p.m. only” rule is relaxed on Saturdays when they get to play online to their hearts’ content.) This is when I head into my bedroom for some quiet reading time or for a nap.

Dinner preparations begin about 4 p.m. when screens turn off. Dinner is usually at five after my husband comes home and on some days the children can practice their music with him. He is currently teaching my daughter to play the guitar.

Bedtime for them is at 7. My daughter will usually read for an hour in her room before going to bed.

So there you have it. This is what are classically unschooling day looks like.

But where does the Classical part of it come in, you might ask. And I would point to our love of history, our emphasis on learning through the trivium and the importance we place on memorization.

Since we are still in the grammar stage of learning I focus not on trying to get them to understanding concepts as much as I do on giving them the facts.

Using the unschooling idea of strewing I get them interested in a variety of things and when that interest grabs them I make sure to put a lot of work into getting them to memorize and learn and remember facts. For this purpose I make use of whatever media, field trips, guides (family and friends) and books we have at our disposal.

As I have mentioned elsewhere before I am not opposed to using workbooks classes or any other traditional form of learning if it helps my children. However I see myself more as a guide to facilitate their learning rather than someone from whom all knowledge is to be imbibed.

If you like this method of learning and you are interested in finding out more about it please be sure to sign up for my upcoming book The Classical Unschooler. It will be available for free for a limited time.

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Winning at Homeschooling: It’s Not Enough to Plan – You Must Also Prep

The winter doldrums are here. As I wrote in my previous post about feeling some homeschooling burnout, sometimes I really just depend on habit to carry me through.

Habits, I notice, are easier to engage in if you already have in place systems which support those habits.

One most people can relate to is exercise. On days when you don’t have the motivation to work out, your habit keeps you going, but if getting to the gym is too onerous and you haven’t made it easy to get a workout, then you won’t do it. If eating healthy is your goal and you have junk food lying around your house, you haven’t perfected your systems. And you are setting yourself up for failure.

The same goes for homeschooling.

You can have your goals and a list of the curriculum you plan to teach for the year, but if you haven’t done the prep work that comes with homeschooling, it will be much harder to get it done. Not only will it feel harder and take longer, without sufficient prep work, you won’t know if you’re going to get it done on time.

I’m not talking about planning

I love stationery as much as the next homeschooling mom. But I am not referring here to a planner or journal. Filling out a year with what we’re going to accomplish each week just does not work for me.

I enjoy the segues, the rabbit trails, that are part of every good education and I hate walking on a pre-prescribed straight path, even if that path has been chosen by me. There is too much beauty and diversity in this unschooling world to stick to a lesson plan or any such predetermined schedule.

If we let go of the spontaneity & internal motivation that drives our homeschool, we lose control over our education.

So here’s what we do instead.

A strategic meeting

Recently, I was listening to a seminar about goal setting. You know, right, that I love integrating business ideas into our homeschool? Well, here’s one that I thought was pretty straightforward. A sticker chart.

Oh, I hear the groans already. But bear with me.

What is a sticker chart, really? It is a visual motivating incentive given to an individual with the hope of accomplishing a goal.

It is the same as giving yourself check marks on the calendar on days you work out, or having a no-spend week to get back on track with the budget or doing The Whole 30 to jump start your weight loss goals.

So I had a strategic meeting with my children to set some learning goals.

I told them where we wanted to be in 3 months, what actions I needed them to focus on to get us there and what small tasks they needed to accomplish to get us there. Each time they accomplished a task (they had their own options as to how to do so) they received a sticker.

There were small wins and big wins – at the end of a line, say, they received a small party. At the end of the year, they got to pick what we did for the big celebration.

The chart hangs on our fridge. It tells a story within 10 seconds of seeing it. And the children love it.

The planning in our homeschool included learning each child’s gifts and challenges and taking these into consideration when picking books and activities; the prep was giving them free rein over their choices when it came to accomplishing our common goals.

Without one or the other, our homeschool would fail.

Prepping our curriculum, daily tasks and our plan in this way keeps us engaged, motivated and free to indulge in our creativity as we learn. It also teaches us habits of intrinsic motivation and other ways to gamify our education so that it truly becomes our own – habits that will in the future be helpful no matter what the children do.

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Community Homeschooling – Messy but Whole

This is a guest post by Waetie Sanaa Kumahia who is a homeschooler, freelance writer and founder and director of the Randolph Community Homeschooling Co-op in Massachusetts. 

When speaking with other working class people about launching the Randolph Community Homeschooling Co-op, one of first concerns I often confront is the misconception that one must have a lot of money to pursue this option.

I can fully see why so many people make this assumption. After all, you have to have confidence in your own thinking, belief that what you as a parent have to offer your child is sufficient or more than enough than what can be gained in a school setting, and, finally, you need to have the time and energy to engage in aspirational thinking about your and your children’s future as opposed to only focusing on keeping food on the table and a roof over one’s head.

So, yes, to some degree, the choice to homeschool can be indicative of possessing a certain level of privilege and comfort with one’s abilities and options that many people in poor, multilingual, and under-resourced communities fear they simply don’t have.

Because of all of these real or perceived barriers, my goal in offering a cooperative model is to highlight all the ways parents and community members can embrace their role as our children’s first teachers.

My belief and experience is that it is these very stories of resilience, resourcefulness, innovative thinking, and community mindedness that characterize many members within the communities of fewer financial resources are exactly the ones our children most need.

My awareness of these concerns, and knowing the real constraints that many working families—including myself– are under, I am making an explicit effort to launch a home schooling model that adapts and focuses on the needs of this specific community, one which has been designated as the most diverse suburban area in the entire state of Massachusetts. 

This means that there is no competition to be had between our local school systems, whether public, private, or charter, and the home schooling model. Each model is inherently different and has different learning opportunities to offer.

I would argue that while any school can try their very best to meet your child’s needs, once the school doors close, homeschooling is that special sauce that is essential to ensure that your child’s specific strengths can be acknowledged and highlighted while more one on one focus can be given to any deficits.

This is where community homeschooling comes in.

By hosting the majority of our events on the weekends, or evenings, my hope is that families come to see that home schooling is not limited to the day time hours or to stay at home parents. What counts is the quality of the time spent, not the schedule.

By utilizing all the strengths and learning from the local community, whether that be entrepreneurs, community leaders, or single moms, we will have ample assurance that no one needs to home school alone.

It is our knowledge and experience as a community that we must lean on and that ultimately will teach our children where they have come from and reveal how much farther they can go!

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