5 Things Unschoolers Can Teach School At Home Types

This post provides the opposite perspective of this one which talks about what unschoolers can learn from school at home types.

I see no sense in being wedded merely to a philosophy – I would rather teach my children the best way they will learn. As such, take from these posts what you will and do the right thing.

I have written much about unschooling as a style that appeals to me in teaching my children. If you’re not sure what unschooling is, you should go read this post.

But I have a caveat – I also see the benefits of Charlotte Mason, Montessori and the Classical types of education.

If there is such a thing as Christian Classical Unschooling, I guess that comes closest to our method.

If you’re still unsure what kind of homeschooler you are, take this test. I have heard good things about it from homeschooling friends and it seems to be fairly accurate across the board, although I will give you a word of caution – if the method you think you should be using is not working for whatever reason, you can – and should – change it.

Do not choose a method to the detriment of your children and to your own frustration.

That said, let’s move on to what the school at home people can learn from unschoolers.

1. Education does not always happen at age appropriate times

The school mentality often makes people think that learning must happen at age appropriate times.

“What if my kids don’t get it?”

“What if my kids are behind?”

“What if they can’t understand?”

These are fears that plague new homeschoolers.

I would contend that they do so because they have been raised with the idea that at certain ages children learn certain things. With the push for earlier and earlier schooling, many parents worry if their children do not walk in lock step with their peers.

But wait. Education doesn’t work like that. There is no set time for learning anything, and in fact, in many cases, later is better than earlier.

Unschoolers instinctively get this. They’re not interested in institutionalizing learning.

Unschoolers understand that teachers do not have some magic ability, that they – you! – can learn to gather all the strength, all the patience and resolve to teach your child at the pace he or she learns best.

As a result, they are challenged, but not frazzled by their homeschooling days. They know that even when it doesn’t seem like school is in session, education and learning has never stopped.

2. Education does not happen in one place

Have you heard of car-schooling? How about waiting room schooling? Coffee shop schooling? Park schooling? How about grocery store school? And I’m not talking about field trips when no one is paying attention, either.

In addition to these rather obvious scenarios, we can also add the fact that children truly are learning all the time.

If you are not actively teaching them something or feeding their minds with something all the time, they are learning something else, but they are learning. 

They are learning while wiggling and not just from their textbook. Unschoolers understand this and try to create an environment where twaddle is kept to a minimum, so as to provide a rich environment – not just for the children but the entire family.

3. Discernment is an important skill even for children

This is perhaps the most important aspect of unschooling.

Since children are learning all the time, discernment is a skill they need to pick up and pick up early.

I will admit this was not something I learned until much later because I was not taught how to separate truth from falsehood. I was given a textbook and tested on it and I was good at studying, so I thought I knew the truth.

I was wrong in the worst way possible.

Children do need facts – they do need to memorize and soak up facts, data, information, language patterns, poetry, history and so forth, but they also need a strong dependable gauge to measure these against. And they need to understand how to discern the truth.

I have taught (and continue to teach) my children that the Bible is their sword (how they love that metaphor!) which rightly separates truth from lies. They may not understand everything, of course, but they do understand that there is an objective morality, that it can be sought and found in God’s Word.

4. Academic learning does not equal education

School at home types usually feel the need to spend hours in front of a textbook to replicate a “real” school. But unschoolers know that academic learning does not equal a good education.

While I am not of the camp of people to shun all workbooks and textbooks (as some unschoolers do) I nevertheless see education as far beyond the meager scope of textbooks and the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic. Neither do I push for a so called well-rounded personality.

I simply hold to the notion all unschoolers do that education happens everywhere and at all times and that it’s perfectly okay to memorize math facts while running around in the backyard.

Unschoolers also see the importance of teaching skills (and sometimes character) with the fastidiousness that is rarely seen in school-at-home types.

This is an important distinction, I believe, and one that is the most useful aspects of homeschooling if the children are to be of practical use as adults.

5. You are unique and irreplaceable and so are they!

The biggest problem with the school at home approach is that it gives the impression that it seems easily copied. It doesn’t matter who is doing the teaching, it doesn’t matter who is learning, as long as the textbook is the same. This is patently false.

You as a parent are unique; your children are all different from each other. If you miss that, you are making the same mistake that schools make every day, which is the reason you chose to homeschool in the first place!

Unschoolers see this and will do nothing to squash the child’s unique personality. While children still need discipline (and so do parents, if any education is to be accomplished!) we are not elves in Santa’s workshop churning out toy cars. No one else can do what we do in the way we do it. Sure, they can learn something another way elsewhere but the reason they are with us is that we want to accomplish not just the end product but also control the method in which it is to be accomplished!

The manner in which education is imparted teaches children volumes about their innate worth, their choices and the adults they will become before you have even uttered a word.

So, what are you? An unschooler, a school-at-home type or something in between?

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Redeem the Time

“It all goes by so fast. You blink and they’re grown!”

We’ve all heard it. We’ve heard it in waiting rooms, libraries, grocery store aisles – usually when the baby has thrown up all over himself and the toddler is into the sugary cereal boxes and the four year old is jumping from foot to foot wanting to use the bathroom. Some kind old lady has had the audacity to tell us to “cherish every moment” of this animal called motherhood.

It all goes by so fast, she repeats as we roll our eyes internally.

“It isn’t possible to cherish every moment!” we retort under our breath, but we smile at the nice woman and shuffle the four year old to the bathroom, leaving a small trail of cereal and anxiety in our wake.

In the bathroom, over the din of the hand dryer and the excited squeals over the soap bubbles, we wish it would go by faster: this time of child raising, this time of repeating everything, this day in and day out teaching, training, diapering, a life exhausted, poured out in service of those too young, too distracted, to appreciate what we are doing.

Later, to our friends, online, elsewhere, we declare we can’t wait for the next thing when we can breathe – when the children are walking, talking, at school, grown up, married, gone.

Really?!

Are we really so sick of our children that we want them gone? I need to know. Because I’ve been seeing it more than I care to admit – this disdain for our role, this wishing away of our own flesh and blood.

Of course there are days when we are weary, of course it is incredibly hard to do what we do day in and day out, but is it honestly, at its core, is it really so horrible and so burdensome that we publicly claim to be thrilled to get rid of the same children we claim to love with a fierceness bordering on violence?

I really must know.

Is motherhood really that much of a burden? Are our kids that much of a weight on our shoulders that we want to publicly rejoice – for all to see – when they go away for long chunks of time?

Look, I get it. The days are long – longer than long and they have a tendency to run into the night. But is that all we’re doing? Marking time like prisoners, waiting for escape, counting down to the hour of our release?

I need to know.

It’s All Work and That’s Not Bad

Washington Post recently published this story about parents sick of summertime and waiting for school to begin. The biggest word that stuck out at me in the article was “entertained.” No one can be entertained for three months!

Our heads are full of images of families having fun together – being entertained, on water slides and in the movies, on boats and fishing, running around, squealing, picnicking. Instead, we have children that sulk, complain, are bored; we have children who squabble, scream, cry and throw things.

Is this the reason then that moms are found counting down the days to the most wonderful time of the year on Facebook and elsewhere? Have we so easily bought the lie that entertainment is what’s most important, not just to the children but to us as well?

Or could it be that we somehow are forgetting to teach the children the same lessons we know to be true in our own lives – that it’s not all fun and games, that, when it comes right down to it, what we do all day doesn’t have to be “fun” to be fun, that work is good, and fulfilling, and rewarding?

Redeeming the Time

I don’t claim to know it all. I have often – way too often – complained about my lot, drowned myself in self-pity. I have gleefully thought of days away from my family and time to myself.
I repent.

In my experience and the experience of many, it isn’t the picnics and the fishing that bring families closer (although of course there’s a place for that), it’s the humble, day in, day out, shoulder-to-shoulder work. I have realized, repeatedly, then that it isn’t my children, or the labor they require I should be dreading, it’s the false pictures in my head and their siren song.

I do adore seeing my children smile, laugh, play in puddles, run through sprinklers, shouting, come down the slide exhilarated, but do you know when my love is even fiercer?

When they’re trying to form letters, trying to grip the pencil just right. I delight in them when they’re trying hard to read, struggling over consonants like walls, then climbing over them, victorious. I cherish them when they work together, hard, when one of them learns that, no matter what, he must learn to love his brother; I celebrate them when, with every ounce of determination in her, she will sit at the desk and solve her math problems and, because she so is diligent, will get better at them, even if it is infinitesimally so.

I want to bundle up moments when the two year old remembers to put his toys away with his pudgy fingers, the last of toddlerhood clinging to them. I want to store these moments in a corner of my memory forever, to call on them on those days when hours seem longer than long.

I want to remember that joy often comes dressed as work.

Dare I say that the kind old woman at the grocery store is right? That it is possible, after all, to cherish much of what we miss in this wishing away of our own labor?

Just a thought.

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The Wisdom of Crowds in Homeschooling

The wisdom of crowds can be a real thing.

I’ve been finding that out all this summer. There is wisdom in finding people who have gone before you, learning from them and adapting what they have to say to apply it in your individual life.

What Homeschoolers Need

The biggest need of all homeschooling moms is support.

Homeschooling can feel incredibly lonely. This is because usually it is done by a stay at home mom. Typically, the family is stretching every dollar and living on one income.

And while it sounds like when I speak of support, I am referring to financial support, I am not.

The kind of support homeschoolers need goes far beyond someone plunking down cash at their feet. Unless seriously financially strapped, giving a homeschool family money doesn’t help. I especially do not like the idea of a charter school, which is not technically homeschool but parent-directed public education. But we will save that discussion for another post.

Homeschooling moms need a real homeschool community around them.

What Is A Real Homeschool Community?

Let me just say this – it is not a homeschool co-op.

While co-ops are great places to learn skills by both children and parents alike, I have often heard of people refer to co-ops as a place to send their children so that they can get some free time while the children get educated. This makes me bristle – it sounds too much like public school.

When I refer to a homeschooling community, I do not mean glorified babysitting of any sort.

A real homeschool community supports the parents in their roles as home educators without seeking to remove the children from under their care or otherwise insert itself as an alternate or equal authority figure.

Here I am referring to our friends, our relatives, other homeschool moms who have graduated after decades of homeschooling their own children, the Church, Facebook groups, online homeschool groups, blogs, librarians, consultants, other homeschooling moms in the trenches with us, even good books that guide us toward getting better at doing what we have been called to do.

Who or Where is Your Homeschool Community?

If you do not have one, it is imperative to find one. For starters, ask around in your church. Look on Facebook.

Talk to older moms who have homeschooled. Yes, you may not agree with all of them – find one or two who can mentor you.

Another great place to find support is in homeschool conventions. If you have one in your city, find out what organization supports them and sign up. And then use it!

Surround yourself with people who will encourage, challenge and teach you. Remember, you’re learning, too! 

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How to Measure Progress (in Homeschooling or Elsewhere)

We’re an impatient lot.

I was just telling someone the other day that I wish I had waited longer to start teaching my daughter. I had been itching to get going on homeschooling with her and bought her counting bears, simple jig-saw puzzles, some picture books – all before she was even 3.

I regretted it. All of it.

The counting bears found themselves under couch cushions, she hated puzzles and became increasingly frustrated with them and the picture books ended up torn, dog-eared and, somehow, wet.

Talk about a waste of money and effort.

Between the fact that I dreaded “school” with her and worried about her mental development and why she could not solve jig-saw puzzles and the mini freakout sessions about whether I am capable of homeschooling, I wish I had been a little more wary to measure progress.

Today, she loves to read, does jig-saw puzzles for fun and just yesterday was trying to teach her two year old brother to count. It’s hard to believe it’s the same girl.

And herein lies the secret to measuring progress – it is hard to measure progress daily and yet it is the only way to do it. Daily.

Progress is Hard to Measure Daily

I recently came across a news story which talked about how students were being tested 91 out of 180 school days.

While we are shielded from this kind of insanity when we homeschool, parents can nevertheless get bogged down by frustrations, questions and doubts – both from within and without, and lack of confidence and can turn to questioning whether their children are learning something often.

This is especially common in the younger ages while we are dealing with developmental issues and sometimes pretty much just waiting for the children to be able to read and write, or even talk.

Make Progress Daily

No, that was not a typo – you read that right.

While it is almost impossible to measure the outcome of what we are teaching everyday without resorting to ridiculous amounts of testing, we can however measure progress by measuring our own diligence in teaching.

The problem arises when we want our efforts to be balanced by the results. This can take years.

The fruit of labor is not immediately apparent.

This was the mistake I made, the mistake the schools that test more days than they teach are making and the very same mistake that first time homeschoolers are likely to make.

There is no harm in measuring progress by diligence, baby steps, a check on the calendar as long as they are on the side of effort, not results. The results will come but they will not be daily.

Measure progress by effort, not results.
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How Discipline Can Help You Predict the Future

Name one thing you can do today – for your self or your children that can predict the future. No? Okay, how about you name one thing that will make you happier tomorrow or a week from today?

The answer might surprise you – it’s discipline.

Discipline can help you predict the future happiness of your children as well as your self.

Whoever wrote discipline is freedom was definitely on to something.

I have written in the past about the necessity of a time budget and how to begin one. There are various articles online about how to do the same with money, but curiously not many talk about how these restrictions and rules instead of making us feel constrained and miserable as we think they will, actually make us happier. (Clearly, I have to write one.)

Mea Culpa

Remember when our family was flirting with the idea of unlimited screen time not too long ago? Yeah, well.

Let me put it this way. It didn’t work.

While I still am fairly liberal with our use of technology for school, I have come to the conclusion that I do have to limit its use in the morning to create a distraction-free environment in which the children learn.

In big ways and small, I have come to realize that Charlotte Mason was right. The habits of the child do produce the character of the man.

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” – Charlotte Mason.

It’s a sobering, sobering thought.

 Not Just For the Kids

Parents sometimes tend to make the mistake of thinking that discipline is only for the children. And as such, if they haven’t cultivated it in themselves (or have had a hard time doing so) they assume they will never be able to teach it to the children.

However, if you’re even remotely introspective, the very act of teaching it to the children will make you start to apply it yourself.

And if you think discipline is about being miserable all day, read this.

Discipline Can Predict Future Happiness

I had wrongly assumed that having a routine that we stuck with no matter what and having definite boundaries that even I wouldn’t cross (for example, no snacking until two hours after a meal, no more than one soda a day, no screens until 2 pm) were arbitrary rules we didn’t need, but I was wrong.

Just like a money budget gives you the freedom to spend on the things you have planned for, and a time budget helps you get through the day feeling accomplished but not constantly rushed, discipline predicts the amount of satisfaction you will experience with your given task. 

Without a plan, it is easy to get sidetracked, feel hurried or worse, waste time on trivialities. Learn to cultivate discipline, add some necessary, clear-cut guidelines and bring lasting freedom to your homeschool days.

Now, go make some rules.

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What Unschoolers Can Learn From the School-At-Home People

Debate is unavoidable.

I was recently looking for a history curriculum for the children. We like our current approach, but I was considering a timeline or just a broad overview even if it was just for myself that would serve as a jumping off point so to speak. So I started to read some reviews of the bestselling curricula and, you know what struck me?

There is no consensus. None at all. There is only a trend. There is a majority and there are averages, but none, not one curriculum, textbook, author, style, gets a unanimous vote.

Some people didn’t like the tone in Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the World, some people did not like what they saw as the Christian bent in it, others went with E. H. Gombrich’s book but it was rife with talk of millions of years, something that didn’t sit well with others; still more people argued that much of what was in the history books was NOT how it happened at all.

Debate, disagreement, differences were, indeed are, unavoidable. They’re unavoidable because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and definitely no straightjacket way of learning.

I recently attended a homeschool convention where I forced myself to listen to speakers I didn’t always agree with.

In my experience, hearing the opposing point of view does one of two things – it makes you defend your point of view, at least to yourself, which requires that you address the questions head-on, and so gives you greater assurance that what you’re doing is right, or it makes you see what needs to change in your own approach.

I decided to welcome the challenge. I believe other unschoolers would be wise to do so as well.

Here are five things unschoolers can learn from those who are more “school-at-home” minded.

(I will have another post about what the school at home people can learn from unschoolers as well.)

1. Punctuality

One of the biggest areas where the let’s do school at home type of parent succeeds over an unschooling one, I believe, is in matters of punctuality. I remember getting an Uber ride from a mom who had homeschooled eight kids and she joked about how when her son entered the military, he said, “I love it, mom! It feels just like home!” She expected them to be ready, pencils sharpened, books out, to do school at a specific time.

Another mom would send her kids out the front door and bring them in from the back door, wish her a good morning and then get down to teaching them – all this just to create a separation, to let the children know that this was serious, this was important and it was now time to learn – formally.

Unschoolers, typically, do not emphasize this kind of punctuality. Since learning takes place all day, they do not set aside time to learn, free from distractions within the normal day. I believe this is a flaw and the unschooling model can be bent to accommodate formal learning while leaving enough free time for the rest of the day to explore and continue learning by unschooling.

2. Systematic thinking

When I started looking for a history curriculum as I mentioned above, I did so for a specific reason. The children were being exposed to learning opportunities all the time because of the books they were reading, the television they were watching and the questions they asked. So they were immersed pretty regularly in information and knew, excuse the redundancy – a lot about a lot.

What they lacked, and still do, were information hooks.

I find history fascinating because I have a general sense of what happened in each century and each period. They don’t. As such, everything happened a long time ago. And while I understand they are still young and much of this understanding will come later, I want them to have a system on which to hang all they will be learning.

This is aided by clear, definite, slow progression, not unlike learning math. It is only when enough of these appear that they can cross-reference and have fun gathering and sorting new information, i.e. learn.

3. Discipline

I’ve been reading how children do not need to be taught to read and elsewhere about how playing is more important than doing math. And while I agree with some of the points made in the posts, especially the ones that emphasize not pushing children too early because reading and writing is linked to big developmental changes in children, I see teaching or guiding as fundamental to learning.

Discipline in any area is fundamental. This is a fact of life that can be ignored only in fantasies and movies. While it is wonderful when we hit upon the one thing where we are gifted in a certain area and then find a way to build on it, the idea of the noble savage is far from truth. Children do not do hard things if not taught, neither do adults.

Reading is hard, math is hard, learning a musical instrument takes work. Learning often takes determination, grit, sweat – all just different words for discipline. This is an area where school-at-home types strengthen their will and teach their children to do the same far more than unschoolers.

4. An emphasis on guidance

Teaching my children does not make me the source of all knowledge, but it does establish me in their minds as someone to look toward to guide their learning. In the information age, I see this as imperative.

The reason unschooling works well for many in the younger ages, is because, I think the parents’ authority is already well established in the child’s mind and he clearly depends on them for daily needs.

As a child grows up, these bonds loosen a little, but they still have a need for guidance. If parents do not provide this, something or someone else does. It happens all around you. It happened to me – I went to private school; from the age of three, as soon as I left my home, all my affections, all my honor, toward my parents transferred over on to my teachers. My parents faded to the background – they didn’t know much, I didn’t see them all day, and they weren’t dressed as well as my teachers.

The school at home people have this one right. They establish themselves as the children’s guides early and often. As such, the bonds loosen, but don’t break. They are not replaced by other authorities, of which currently there is no lack.

5. A rewards system

Unschoolers tend to look down on any kind of rewards system – they despise encouragement in the form of stickers, stars, or even cash, seeking joy as the only motivator for learning.

However, for better or worse, rewards and punishments are an inherent fact of life, just like work.

Rewards change, of course, as children grow and become adults – I have yet to see a 15 year old get stickers for using the bathroom correctly or sit in the corner for jumping on couches after being expressly prohibited, but they do remain all through our lives. Unschooling parents need not shun them. They can instead teach the children to be guided by the right things. Rewards and punishments are just a way to hasten learning, or natural consequences. Habits can start for one reason and continue for a completely different reason.

Are you an unschooler or a school-at-home parent? Which of these would you disagree with?

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5 Ways Summer Can Energize Your Homeschool Year

Summer is here! Long days, tired, happy kids and homeschool moms planning the next year’s curriculum, right? But before you jump into it, remember to use this down time to energize your upcoming school year.

Here are 5 specific ways you can do that.

1. Watch your kids:

No one knows your children like you do. Especially if this is the first year you will be homeschooling, don’t jump into it immediately and definitely do not run out to buy curriculum just yet. Take some time to “de-school” them.

Let them be bored for a little while. Watch what they like. If you’re so inclined, do some informal, gentle testing of their abilities. What is the first thing they reach for after they’ve been doing nothing? You might learn something new about them and it could help your curriculum choices or schedule in the upcoming year.

2. Homeschool Conferences:

I intend attending at least a couple this year. Homeschool conferences are invaluable for families. They can keep you updated on laws and other situations that can affect you, they can make you aware of a different style of teaching, and most importantly, they can give you a support group.

Homeschooling can sometimes get lonely. Conferences help you find that group that’s just right for you so you don’t have to be.

3. Play with schedules:

Summer is a great time to play with different schedules. The days are longer, so you feel like you have more time. Also, you’re not trying to get through a specific plan. Use the warm months to think through how best to approach your time in the coming months.

If you need to, buy a planner, but don’t fill it up with a schedule. Instead, mark out the days you will take off in the upcoming year. Work backwards, with the end in mind.

Summer is also a great time to train the youngest member of the family. Many moms will potty train around this time of year, but it can also be helpful to reconsider sleep schedules, eating habits, play times, bath times. Play around with putting these in different parts of the day and see what works best. You might find that a change is necessary.

4. Read to the children:

I have written before about how we have only just now begun to enjoy reading aloud. If you have failed in the past, it may be time to revisit that goal. Reading to them could be another way to uncover interests you did not know they had.

5. Change one habit for each person, including yourself:

Habits are hard to break, but summer is a great time to do so. Take an inventory of each of your children and yourself to see which habits work and which no longer serve you (and them) well. Make a plan to change them. Just be sure to work on one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Summer can be a great time to energize your home, your homeschool and yourself. If you’ve been dragging the past few months, take some time to think about how to approach those problems in the coming year. “Spring cleaning” your schedule, your style, even your self, could make a world of a difference!

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3 Resources for Sex Education in the Elementary Years

A mother’s intuition is almost never wrong. I knew the question was coming.

“Mom, how are babies made?”

We are not a family that has shied away from the answer, or intended to, in this case. The older children (ages 6 and 5) knew where babies came from, but we had not gone over the mechanics of it all, so to speak.

We had watched many a video of babies growing inside mother’s wombs, and I had been waiting for the next question, but it hadn’t come.

Until one day they were playing Minecraft. And the pigs are some carrots.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

I decided it was time. Sure, this wasn’t going to be the only conversation – there would be many others, but it was time to delve into the nitty-gritties.

Because if they are asking, they are thinking about it. And if they are thinking about it, they will find out from somewhere else. And somewhere else is not a place I want them to look for answers, especially today.

Here are my three favorite resources for beginning or continuing the conversation with my elementary age children.

1. This video: We Are All Miracles

Since my daughter shows a real curiosity about how things work in our bodies and devours encyclopedia, I set aside some time to show them this video. I kept it age appropriate, waiting for them to take it to the next step. “There’s a little bit of daddy and a little part of mommy” was enough to keep them satisfied for a little while. And they loved watching the baby form, which is where most of the questions erupted until I had to pause the video and answer them.

2. This book: God’s Design for Sex

This is the first in a series of 4 books and Amazon just told me that I purchased this book in 2011. I guess I was prepared! But I wish I had bought more than the first one. Nevertheless, it helped to be able to read the book as a story to my curious six year old daughter.

In it, a little boy asks the questions she has asked in the past. Every page has a picture. My favorite part? That information came from the boy’s parents, not strangers or friends. I will be buying the rest of the books in the series.

3. Another helpful resource: Anatomy for Kids

This deals specifically with anatomy and can be especially useful for changing bodies when the children get a little older. I have not used this yet, but do plan on having it as a resource. The website also includes some activities the children can do that are related specifically to each book.

Some caveats, of course. Some children will ask sooner (or later!) than others.

My daughter is very curious about biology, as I mentioned before. My son, just 16 months younger, couldn’t care less about it. I took the lead of the one most interested to teach the rest.

And most important: you might be surprised at how easy it is when you get going.

We have, from the time they began to talk, used the right anatomical terms. It just made the conversation much easier.

Don’t freak out and it won’t be embarrassing, scary or dramatic. As my husband said, “Talk about it, then ask them what they want for lunch.” Okay, full disclosure, I was freaking out a little and had to call him at work for emotional support.

But, most importantly, don’t evade it or shy away from it.

My greatest joy, after the tiny freak-out session, was that they had asked me and I had an opportunity to tell them the truth before anyone else had fed them lies.

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Unschooling: What It Is and What It Is Not

For the most part, when I mention to people that we unschool, I get one of two reactions. The first is curiosity, the second is disbelief. This is typical across the board.

The former usually means they haven’t heard the term and they want to know more. The latter comes from unschoolers or homeschoolers themselves, both claiming that that’s not really what I’m doing.

So I’m here to set the record straight. Since unschooling is a term that can apply loosely or rigidly, here is what unschooling is and what unschooling is not.

Letting the Child Take the Lead

When it comes to our family, unschooling is trying as hard as possible to take the lead of the child. It involves waiting, agonizingly long sometimes, for the child to be ready for the next step of their education instead of following some random scope and sequence because the state standards require it.

A perfect example is one of writing. Many curricula tie reading and writing together and while there probably is a connection, I don’t see any reason to hold back a budding reader simply because he is not holding the pencil right.

By the same token, we do not believe that the children will learn only when and what they want. We set aside time for “school” every day, but it is with the awareness that it is only the tip of what they will learn on an ongoing basis through the day.

We emphasize reading, writing and math and, yes, we do math drills.

We do this because we believe that these are the basics of any good education and no matter what the children decide to do in the future, they will have need of these basic skills.

However, we follow a relaxed schedule and don’t feel pressured to keep up with grade levels. We insist rather on achieving a certain level of mastery before moving on to the next level.

Aiming for Self Discipline

My ultimate aim for the children is self discipline, which is one of the reasons I am such a proponent of unschooling. I want them to take responsibility and be self-directed. But I am also aware that at this point they need my guidance to get to that future place where they will be steering their own ship.

We discipline, we exhort, we teach – continuously. We do not encourage acting out, temper tantrums or otherwise bad behavior and neither do we justify it.

As such unschooling is not letting them run wild and figure things out on their own.

It is however arranging things, ideas, subjects, even our home, in ways that they can learn, in the course of our daily lives, how stuff works, how people and professions, countries, governments, environments, history, God and geography interact with each other on an ongoing basis.

Unschooling is interacting with my children in the minutiae of daily life while pointing to the larger picture and reminding them to find their place in it.

Non Traditional Teaching Methods

Unschoolers are known for their distaste for worksheets and textbooks. As someone who hates clutter, I am one of them. However, my children love online drills and I do have a daughter who loves stationery. Let’s just say I don’t stand between her and her passion.

With that said, I have an affinity for non traditional teaching methods and include them as often as we can. These include hands-on workshops in cooking, field trips, Netflix videos, TED Talks, experiments, talking to specialists, and so forth.

For us, unschooling comes into play most often when subjects mingle one with another. Science leads to history, to language arts, to math, to the Bible and back to cultural studies. This fluidity is one of the attributes of a good education, because the more connections you make, the better the learning.

Unlike some radical unschoolers, though, I do not make a rule out of this. If the children prefer to read a book about butterflies rather than go out and look at them, I won’t stop them. And I have gradually begun to read more to them as well.

So there you have it. The way I see it, we have the best of both worlds. If I’m not unschooler enough or homeschooler enough, it doesn’t matter. I see unschooling as a spectrum, not a box. We’re on it, somewhere. I’m certain of it. 

What do you think? What method works best for your family and how closely do you align with it?

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A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Own Homeschool Curriculum [infographic]

Ever since I wrote about the 5 most common curriculum blunders homeschool moms make, I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a post specifically to address how to go about creating your own curriculum.

The problem with a lot of premade curriculum seems to be its rigidity. Every child is different, comes with different strengths, abilities, interests.

Each parent is different, too, and most homeschool moms have their own strengths and styles in which they teach best.

A pre-packaged curriculum addresses none of this.

While there may be advantages to buying one just to get started, I find that fitting it into your own family’s routine and personalities becomes its own chore.

I have always built my own curriculum. You can as well, by following the steps below.

Step 1: Assess the child’s abilities

One of the biggest reasons I recommend building your own curriculum is because a grade level doesn’t mean much to a homeschooler. Eventually, you find out that even though your six year old would technically be in first grade he is reading at third grade level or your daughter who is only nine is already working at sixth grade math.

But their abilities are not straight across the board.

Typically, you find out that one of your kids is a math whiz while the other is a reader. One can advance through the grades of history while another is interested in science.

In such a scenario, it is much easier to pick and pull and build a curriculum of your own rather than go by the rigid categories and limitations pre-packaged curricula offer.

It is best to assess their abilities through various online tests. I have found a few that are quick and free and will help you get an idea of where to begin.

Step 2: Consider their interests, your style, and how much time you have to homeschool

Some children learn to read by playing Minecraft. Some like to listen, some are musically inclined, others are not.

While pursuing a well-rounded or rigorous education, don’t forget to play to the children’s interests. If you have a child who loves to cook but isn’t interested the least bit in reading, there is no harm in giving her a cookbook and engaging her in reading from that angle.

There is no one size fits all. Homeschooling is all about thinking outside the box.

Not all school needs to be fun, but don’t completely throw away the freedom you have and insist that it’s in the curriculum, so it must get done.

Also, take into consideration your teaching style and how much time you have to devote to school in a given day. There are parents who work and still homeschool, there are parents with irregular schedules who homeschool. How much time you have is an important factor.

These will and should directly affect your curriculum choice.

To get an idea of what style of homeschooling suits you best, take this quiz.

Step 3: Browse scope and sequence or guidelines of various curricula through online catalogs

Okay, here’s where it gets to be fun.

If you’ve been poking around online, I’m sure you have come across online catalogs. You have probably also been mailed some to your home. Some of these catalogs will list titles of books for each grade level. Take some time to go through these.

Check out their Scope and Sequence page. In it, they will tell you exactly what specific skills they will be covering. If you want to take this a step further, you can check these against the scope and sequence of your specific state.

Now, align the scope and sequence with your child’s interests, your teaching style and voila. Any curriculum built this way will far superior than any boxed curriculum because it will be customized to your family.

Take some time doing this, though. This part will be perhaps the most time consuming part of all. But the work on the front end will pay off later in the year.

Step 4: Look Around You

Okay, you have a pretty good idea of what you want to teach your children and you know they’re going to love it and you’re going to enjoy teaching because it aligns with your style and the time you have. Great! At this point, take a break.

Yes, that’s right. Take a break from the planning and the thinking and the deciding.

As you take a break, you might just realize that you already have around you material that you have not considered “curriculum” because it didn’t come with “textbook” written all over it. Consider encyclopedia like Childcraft, (if you’ve ever been so fortunate as to pick up a few at a library or yard sale) story books, Netflix, even relatives and friends skilled in a task.

Read Six Ways to Save Money while Homeschooling to get a better idea about free or almost free resources you can use.

5. Shop!

And finally. Fill up the remainder of what you need and enjoy the rest of the summer. Of course some of us don’t take summers off, so in that case, well, have fun! It’s time to enter the new school year confident.

Enjoyed this post? Then you’ll love my book The Classical Unschooler’s Guide to Creating Your Own Curriculum coming this summer! Sign up below for updates, giveaways and details.

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