Just the other week, I ran to the post office to mail our NOI (Notice of Intent) to the local school district. It’s our sixth year “officially” homeschooling, and the first year that I’ve notified for four kids. My not-so-baby boy is now 6 years old…sniff. Good thing there are still two more little ones so I don’t miss the early years too much!
We’ve unschooled all along, so we really don’t count “grades” or anything. The kids occasionally ask “What grade would I be in if I went to school?” The answer for my oldest, this year, is sixth. Sixth grade. Middle school.
It’s so weird. I feel like she was a baby yesterday. But in reality, she’s almost 12. How is this happening?!
But, time marches on.
I’ve written pretty extensively in the past about the general concept of unschooling. (If you’re not familiar, then definitely check out 8 Responses to People Who Question Unschooling.) Many people get it, at least kind of, for those early years. (Some people are still like, “But what if they never learn to read?!” If that’s you, see How Unschoolers Learn to Read.)
This year, though. Middle school. I thought I’d do a quick update to our unschooling journey and share what’s working for us right now. This is just us, and just at this point. I’m sure it will change a million more times as we learn and grow together. Hopefully this is valuable to some!
Unschooling in the Middle School Years
These days, my 4-year-old will spend all day moving between the magnet tiles, the play dough, and various other open-ended toys. It’s really all he needs right now.
My 11-year-old is a bit different. Obviously, she has very different needs than my 4-year-old does. A lot more of what she does looks like “school” now. Still casual, relaxed, at her own pace, but definitely not just play anymore. She has her own future plans (she wants to own a bakery and restaurant someday, where she develops her own real food recipes) and is working towards them.
Older kids are full participants in their own education, just like little kids. Little kids don’t really think through things a lot; they play and explore and enjoy. Older kids do think through things and choose more deliberately.
More recently, she’s expressed a desire to do a lot more writing. (So have the older boys.) When she has a need or a question, she brings it to me and we figure out a way to address her need together. The easiest way to explain what she’s doing is probably just to break it down by “area.”
She’s read through all of the Dork Diaries books and several of the Max Crumbly series. She’s stolen several of my books lately too! We just bought the first of the Christy Miller series for her to try as well. She nearly always has a book in her hand these days, going through one every 2 – 3 days!
A list of the books the older kids have read in recent months:
- Hunger Games
- Catching Fire
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (we have the whole series but they haven’t read most of it yet)
- Dork Diaries (all in the series)
- Max Crumbly (all in the series — there are only a couple so far)
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (all in the series)
- Captain Underpants (the boys are kind of past this now)
- Goosebumps (a handful of these)
- Goddess Girls
- Magic Treehouse (only the 8-year-old likes these)
It’s up to them to choose their own books. My favorite is going to the thrift store outlet near me, where I can pick through giant blue bins of miscellaneous stuff. I’ll come home with 50+ new books! The kids sift through and pick out the ones they want. I got three of the Harry Potter books this way…although none of the kids have been very interested so far!
The kids actually do a lot of writing this year. My 11-year-old frequently makes lists, writes cards and letters to family members, and has written short papers on rocks and minerals. She actually assigns herself a research paper topic and a deadline, and asks me to grade it when she’s done! Sometimes she needs my help selecting or refining a topic, so we’ll sit together and jot down ideas and then she’ll take it from there.
The kids are also wanting to write books. The 11-year-old and 10-year-old are working on outlines for their own stories right now. The 8 and 10-year-olds have written and drawn several comic books as well.
The idea of writing blog posts has appealed to them, too. The kids have become more and more interested in what I do, and in following their favorite bloggers and YouTubers as well. They have started to ask if they can share the importance of healthy eating and other topics that are important to us — so sometimes one of those passions will start a writing project.
Each of the kids has a Spectrum math book which they do here and there. Plus plenty of real-life math at times, like figuring out how much money they have vs. something they want to buy. The 11-year-old is mostly interested in business math, and we’ve done a “business notebook” before (where she had to figure out what supplies and equipment she would need for her business, how much it would all cost, how many recipes she could make from those supplies and how much each item would cost to make, etc.).
Rocks and minerals and other forms of earth science interest them most right now. They spend a lot of time in the woods, looking for plants or rocks to identify and study. They also pick chemistry experiments to try now and then.
There is also a lot of cooking, which is a form of chemistry, especially baking.
Over the next year or so, I plan to start teaching them how to read actual studies. They’ve expressed an interest in it, and I feel like they need to know how to seek out and evaluate this kind of information. As soon as they’re ready…we’ll do it.
They mostly watch TedEd videos on a variety of topics. They especially like Greek mythology and wars.
It’s hard to quantify what all they do right now. I did buy an SAT practice test for them recently and offered to try it with them just to see what they know. We haven’t done it yet. (This was a find at one of my favorite stores, Five Below!)
They have a lot of art supplies, and frequently make collages, paint canvas, sew, and more.
Sometimes the older kids get to come to work with me, and learn how to label products, stock shelves, take out recycling, and other “grunt work” that comes along with a job! (We own our own business, so the kids are able to work alongside us legally, which is pretty awesome. Right now, they don’t come more than once a month, but this will probably change as they get older.)
My 11-year-old also joined the youth group at our new church. All the kids get to spend time with peers once a week during kids’ church, and she gets to go twice a week (regular church and youth group).
We’re also planning a casual, hands-on co-op with local families, with kids ranging from age 4 – 15. They’ll be doing things like mixed media art, creating their own board games, epic LEGO buildings, wood working, mock trials, and whatever else appeals to them.
Okay, I’m tired after writing all that…lol. There’s a lot going on.
My Philosophy For the Middle School Years
Keeping in mind we’re just entering these years now…here is what I believe and my goals.
I love that as they get older, I can really talk to them. And we’ve tackled all kinds of tough topics so far — drugs, alcohol, sex, peer pressure, relationships, college, and more. They feel very free to come to me and to share all their thoughts and ask me questions, and I hope that never changes. It’s important to me to both impart what I believe and to challenge them to think through these issues and come to their own understanding and beliefs. This could really be a post in and of itself.
I believe that they can and will educate themselves, with my assistance. I function as a support to them. When my oldest said “I want to go to church, I want to leave the house more often, and I want to spend more time with my friends,” we helped her find a youth group she is excited about that meets all those needs.
I get less and less worried that they are going to “miss out” on something as I see how their interests change and how they reach for more. I didn’t tell them they should learn to write research papers; they asked to do that. And I didn’t tell them they should read books like The Hunger Games; I just brought home a bunch of books and they latched on to them. They’re doing a great job at covering a wide range of topics with their own interests.
We have frequent discussions about what they’d like to be doing this week, next month, next year, in 5 years. It’s important for me to listen to them and hear them both so they know I care, and so that I can help them meet their goals. We’ve talked a lot about college and its benefits and drawbacks. At this point my 11-year-old wants to attend some classes that will most benefit her adult plans, but not seek a degree. She doesn’t want to go into debt if she doesn’t need to.
It’s just kind of awesome to see them taking shape as people, to watch their passions grow, to see them taking on more and more. I trust them, and they trust me, and I mentor and support them.
At the end of this school years, I will most likely offer the 11-year-old (who will then be 12) the opportunity to choose a standardized test instead of a portfolio assessment. It will be 100% up to her.
Ultimately…my philosophy can be summed up as, keep the lines of communication open and support their emotional, social, and educational needs!
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!