It was really almost 8 years ago that I first started reading different educational philosophies.
My oldest was a baby, but I already knew I wanted to homeschool. How, exactly, I didn’t know. What curriculum would we choose? Would we choose a curriculum? When would we start? How would it all work?
I spent years trying things out, reading other resources, talking to friends. Eventually, I settled, generally, on unschooling.
But then about a year ago, I started reading more about it, and some of the major proponents of it, and began to question it more. Some of my unschooling-loving friends told me I obviously didn’t really understand and wasn’t really practicing unschooling if I was going to do that or question this.
I’ve still spent the last year looking at philosophies and trying to figure out what works for us, where we fit in. But you know what? I’m done with it all.
Why I Can’t Do Educational “Philosophies” Anymore
For every philosophy out there, there are strong proponents of it. And in every one, a few extremists.
There are unschoolers out there — not a ton, but some — who believe that complete and total freedom is required in all aspects of life. No bedtimes. No dietary restrictions. Parents don’t place any limits at all. They also offer no encouragement to learn or work or do anything.
I really just can’t, with that.
Then there’s the “relaxed homeschooling” or “delight-directed” homeschooling. It’s kind of like a cross between unschooling and regular homeschooling. There’s some parent direction, there’s an academic focus, but kids get to choose how and when they do things and have a fair amount of freedom in choosing their curriculum and units and such. But the parents do assign work and expect certain goals to be met.
But really, bottom line, none of this truly describes us. Somehow, we ride a line kind of in between these two philosophies.
I’m over trying to figure out where we “fit.”
Why Does It Matter?
Why does it even matter how we label ourselves?
I mean…okay, fine. Labeling is short-hand, so we can tell someone else quickly what we do and they can know what we mean and if we see eye-to-eye on things. I get that there can be value in that.
But at the same time, there’s usually a range of people using a label, and some people who use it may not really fit it, anyway. That leads to arguments among people, who say “This label really means this, and if you are doing that, then you are missing the core spirit and do not really fit in.”
I’m so over it all.
Why would I want to spend time arguing with someone over specifics? If their understanding of something is slightly different than mine, or the way they are doing things is somewhat different, what does that matter? It’s not my family.
In a lot of cases, labels end up being a barrier. I’ve had conversations with people where we kind of laughed over people who claimed a label but ignored key tenets of what that labeled supposedly represented. It was frustrating to hear people say “Well, we are this, but…” because it’s not really that. At the same time, though, if that’s what works for them…what business was it of ours, anyway?
Ultimately, I will define what works for me and use whatever label makes the most sense. It doesn’t matter to me if someone else has a different understanding and says I don’t really fit. They don’t have to agree. That’s okay.
I don’t want anyone else’s approval or disapproval on the way I do things. I don’t want people who adhere to ‘this’ philosophy to get disappointed and tell me I’m not really ‘this’ and I don’t understand ‘this.’ (Just because I don’t fully do things one way doesn’t mean I don’t understand anyway…it might just mean I disagree or that doesn’t work for me personally.) But I also don’t want people to come in and say “Good for you for doing it the better way!” That sounds snarky like I was wrong or crazy before and I’ve finally ‘seen the light’ in this person’s view.
Gosh, just worry about yourselves and what works for you! Don’t worry about how another is doing things. We truly are all a little different and it’s really okay.
My Educational Philosophy
So where do I land?
This is just to describe what it looks like for me. It’s not a prescription of what you should do, or the best way, or the only way.
Much of the time, we have nothing formal. The kids have their books, and art supplies, and legos, and whatever else and use them as they see fit. They have a TV to watch pretty freely — but not 100% whenever they want. Sometimes the shows are “educational,” and sometimes they aren’t. (We like Magic Schoolbus and Wild Kratts but they also watch random cartoons too.)
I have no problem with giving the kids lots of freedom to do what they want to do. We almost never have sit down time.
That said, I do like to encourage the kids to practice new skills or seek out new information, too. We pull out math books sometimes. I don’t assign work and they don’t have to do a certain amount of work to any specific goals, and they can say no, they don’t want to. But they have math books and worksheets and we do them sometimes.
They have reading books and I encourage them to read with us and practice their reading skills. But they can also say no to that.
In my own life, I set out specifically to learn things sometimes. I choose to read books or research papers or even blogs (depending on what I’m trying to learn — blogs are great for recipes and soap and such, or as a jumping-off point for certain types of research) to answer questions that I have.
I want the same from my children. Sometimes we are doing nothing and just enjoying life and learning small things as we happen to run across them. But other times we are purposely seeking out knowledge in a variety of ways. Sometimes we’re engaged in study and projects. They choose theirs, with guidance from adults, much like I choose mine.
They’re starting to get a bit older now. My oldest is 9. She takes the idea of “studying” or “learning” a bit more seriously now, and will set aside time for herself to read certain books, or work on certain projects. She’ll even create math problems for herself and solve them.
We’re just starting to see inklings of this in our next two, will be 8 and 6 this summer. I’ve learned not to push them at a young age because it doesn’t do any good anyway. While my 2- and 4-year-olds occasionally will ask for “learning” papers (or mostly just coloring sheets, for the 2-year-old), I don’t really like to do these things with them yet. They’re not “there” and it’s more frustrating than anything else.
So you see, this doesn’t fit any philosophy really. We give them the freedom to choose what they want to do for themselves. We don’t assign curriculum. Even in cases where I’ll choose a curriculum, I’ll sit down and ask them, “Is this something you want to do?” and if they say yes, we’ll choose something together. We do specifically encourage learning and seeking knowledge though. I don’t believe in forcing; I believe in partnering with them. I’ll never “make” my kids learn or do things they don’t want to or aren’t ready for, but I will encourage them to do things and try to find a way that works for them.
That’s where we are right now. And exactly what that looks like day to day is for another post.