I’ve spent the last few months reading a lot about educational philosophies, as well as talking to friends who practice different philosophies. I’ve bounced ideas off a lot of people and visited a lot of online forums to get a feel for what it’s all about.
I was pretty strongly about unschooling…but a couple things happened.
First, I went to a large unschooling group on social media, run by a woman who has been instrumental in the unschooling movement for years. I watched how she interacted with the people there and some of the positions she took and found myself quite turned off. In the past, I’ve left other unschooling groups because I felt that some of the people in them were too rigid in their “freedom” (ironic, no?) and that I just did not fully see eye-to-eye with them.
Second, some people I know personally who were unschooled as children shared their experiences and challenged my thinking. This coincided with my examining some of my parenting ideas in general, especially with the older set. (I’ve been there, done that with the baby/toddler set and feel pretty confident — it’s the elementary kids that are still mostly new to me!)
Anyway, I want to share my new thoughts…and plan…with all of you.
Why We’re Re-Evaluating Unschooling (And Our Educational Plans)
The premise of unschooling, as I understand, is to innately trust children and to leave them alone to learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it. When they see a need for math or reading, they will learn to do it. If they have an interest in horses, computer programming, baking, or sports…they will pursue that interest and learn about it in a more in-depth way than any class could teach, and in a totally interdisciplinary way.
I truly believe that forcing a child to learn something they are not ready for, or teaching them in a way that doesn’t make sense to them, or battling them through lessons and tests just to “prove” they are learning does not work and is a waste of time. People don’t learn well when they are under duress. And, sometimes, someone just isn’t quite ready for a certain skill. I don’t think that kids should be pushed into things when they aren’t quite there yet — but instead, should be allowed to develop in their own time, especially in the early years.
I also believe there is little benefit to academics before age 7, unless the child specifically wants and initiates academic learning. If a 4-year-old wants to learn to read; let them! There is no detriment to child-initiated learning ever.
However, it really is more complex than this.
The Role of the Parents
I thought a lot about what the role of a parent really is. I don’t believe that a parent should be a total dictator, handing down the rules and ignoring complaints and expecting unquestioning obedience. It doesn’t work, it makes kids angry and it makes them just try not to get caught when they do wrong. I want my kids to internalize morality, not only behave when I can see them.
But I also don’t believe that parents and kids are fully equal. They are worthy of respect and autonomy as human beings, but they are not on the same level. I equate this to a situation where an adult enters a training program of some kind, perhaps on a new job. Both the adult who is new and the adult conducting the training are equal in that they are both worthy of respect and decency (the trainer can’t belittle and abuse the trainee), but the trainer clearly has more experience and wisdom on this topic and must take care to impart that wisdom to the trainee.
That’s my job as a parent — to impart the wisdom that I have to my children, due to my greater life experience. I think radical unschoolers can miss out on this at times. I think that allowing children to do whatever they want without guidance misses an opportunity to demonstrate and explain why one choice is better than another (for example, going to bed when you are tired is better than staying up and being exhausted the next day). Now, this goes back to positive vs. permissive parenting — the positive parent has boundaries and imparts wisdom and consequences; the permissive parent lets the child do whatever they want. I’m definitely positive.
I want this to shine through my children’s educational experiences, too. I want to share with them the wisdom I’ve gained over the years, and impart as much to them as I possibly can, while I have the ability to influence them. I lead them and guide them until they are ready to live on their own.
The Importance of Exposure to Ideas
While I think that children can and will seek out information on topics that interest them, it’s possible that they could easily miss out on some basic, functional knowledge.
How many children will seek out learning the parts of speech? I feel like having a basic, working knowledge of vowels vs. consonants, parts of speech, antonyms and homonyms and synonyms, etc. is necessary. Some will understand it better than others…but they should all be aware.
Or, think about history. If no one ever tells them that the U.S. was an English colony that declared independence in 1776, how will they know? All of these stories of the past — they need to know they exist. Some children will be content to learn some basic facts and read some books about it; others will be fascinated and will dive deeply into it.
It’s our job to expose our children to these topics and ideas that they would not necessarily run across otherwise. We don’t have to force it onto our children, and we don’t have to do tests on names and dates and sentence diagramming. But we should deliberately and specifically expose them to new ideas and ways of thinking.
How This Shapes Our Educational Choices
I don’t want to be too hands-on, or too hands-off. I don’t want to leave them alone for fear of frustrating them (and miss important opportunities), nor do I want to push them to busy work just to “do enough” (and end up with them not really learning anyway).
So…where did I land?
With the small ones, nothing changes. My younger three will be 5, 3.5, and 15 months in the fall. They will continue to explore the world freely, without my imposing anything on them. I do, as before, have various materials available to them. Some basic preschool curriculum, art supplies, etc. which they can choose to use, or not. They’ll join us at our homeschool co-op and get to explore the games and activities that are available there.
With the older ones…this is where it changes. They will be 7 and 8.5 this fall. We will be encouraging them, over the summer, to improve their reading skills. Both can read, but neither reads very well. (Both do math like it’s nothing, though…the other day, my 8-year-old counted that it took her brother 127 seconds to complete a job, and told me “That’s 2 minutes and 7 seconds” without even having to think about.)
To improve their reading skills, we will:
- Use sight word cards
- Read books they are interested in (both them reading, and me reading to them)
- Using Antonym Ant puzzles (and Homophone Rabbit Puzzles, Synonym Dinosaur Puzzles, and Homonym Butterfly Puzzles)
- Using Goldilocks and the Three Parts of Speech games and activities
- Using Expedition Short Vowels
- Using books on CDs (our library offers them free with a smartphone app!)
Three of those materials, I got in the Build Your Bundle Homeschool sale…super cheap.
We won’t be doing much formal math at this point since that is easy for them. I do tend to pull out math materials now and then just because they enjoy it. They are solid on time, money, and basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I do like to use this website for free printable math worksheets when they are requested.
That covers math and reading…it’s low-key and hands-on, but it’ll help them improve their skills. Once they can read better, then a whole bunch of stuff opens up to us!
Geography is on our list this year. All the kids have shown a strong interest in learning about maps and places. I bought a big panel world map (it’s about 54″ x 36″) and batting and backing, and will make a “quilt” of the map to hang on our wall. We will also be using:
- Across the United States (50 state profiles)
- Learn the States Cliff Climb Flashcard Game
- U.S. National Parks and Historic Places Board Game
I got a lot of these materials from the Build Your Bundle Homeschool Sale, too. (And the big map from Joann Fabrics.)
Finally, we’ll be doing some more hands-on science, because my kids are super into that. Since we have a large garden, and the kids really enjoy nature hikes, we’ll be starting with Earth science/botany. We will be doing:
- Nature hikes at local metro parks (identifying plants along the way)
- Wildcrafting herbs
- Raising a backyard garden
- Botany in 8 Lessons
- Quark Botany
We’ll be using the LikeThat Garden — Flower Search app (FREE), which allows you to take a picture of a plant with your smartphone, and the app will automatically identify it. Pretty cool!!
The last two are materials in the BYB sale. Well, “Botany in 8 Lessons” is in this year’s, but “Quark Botany” was in last year’s. (Quark Zoology is available this year.) The Quark Chronicles are story-based science texts, basically novels that center around a science concept or area of study. This is kind of two-birds, one-stone; focusing on science and reading simultaneously!
Our plan is laid back. We won’t be doing really any worksheets, there won’t be any tests. We won’t be sitting down for formal lessons.
We will be taking more time to play learning games (they’ll get to pick which ones and when, but they love games so they’ll be excited), do more projects, and read more. We’ll be more intentional about learning.
Of course, if they express a particular interest, we will dive in and explore that more. I really want to be especially intentional about facilitating their interests in this way.
I don’t know if you could really call this unschooling. There’s no curriculum and it’s child-led. But, I’m not just leaving them to their devices to figure it out — we’re doing more than just “living life.”
When I’m eating during my work time, I decide to learn things. I search online for questions I’ve had and start reading studies or books or watching short videos so that I can gain knowledge. When I want to do something new — soap making is on my list right now — I read a lot about it, then I create a plan, gather materials, and then do it. I don’t just learn by “doing whatever,” I set out, specifically, to learn something!
That is my goal with my children. We’ll set out, together, to learn things.
Build Your Bundle Homeschool Sale
I mentioned this a few times above, but you need to know the details. Today is the last day to get your curriculum in this sale, up to 96% off retail prices (May 23).
The Quark Chronicles books are in the Charlotte Mason bundle. The geography games (learn the states) are in Elementary 1. Botany in 8 Lessons is in Elementary 2. A lot of the reading stuff is in Elementary 1…and some of the stuff is in the Mystery Bundle, which I’m not supposed to tell you. 🙂
The sale offers buy 2, get 1 FREE, so if you choose three bundles, that third one is no cost. If you got Elementary 1, Elementary 2, and Charlotte Mason, it would cost $80. (They’re normally $40, $40, and $30, respectively.)
If you want to spend a little less, try the Elementary 2 (it’s really well-balanced for all subjects for early elementary kids), Early Learning (a full preschool curriculum, sight words, basic history, counting, ASL), and the Mystery Bundle. That would be $60 for all three.
Or just pick one. I never can choose only one. 🙂
I ended up buying almost all the bundles, actually. I didn’t get the Upper Grades ones, I didn’t get the Character bundle, and I didn’t get the Homemaking bundle. I didn’t feel like I needed them. I also only am using one or two items from the Homeschool Helps, Brother and Sister, and Fine Arts bundles. I’m not even using that much from the Unit Studies bundles right now, even though I was really excited about them initially. The hands-on games and activities that come pre-made for me, is where it’s at right now.
The most important thing to know is, the sale ends TONIGHT. There will be no late sales and no second chances.
I am really excited to have settled on a plan that really makes sense with my educational goals. Which allows me to help my children learn and exposes them to new topics and ideas, without being drudgery and book work.
I really want the same for you, too. I want it to be affordable for you and fun for you all. So please, grab the bundle(s) of your choice while you still can!