Don’t Be a Slave to Labels!

Image courtesy of digitalart /
Image courtesy of digitalart /

A common theme among homeschoolers is, “Don’t be a slave to your curriculum!” The translation is: use your curriculum as a resource; you are not obligated to finish every last page. The key to a successful homeschool is flexibility. I’ve been thinking about this the last few days, and I think this theme can be added to labels, as well.

What do I mean by labels? In this case, I’m referring to differentiating between homeschoolers by their method- traditional, classical, eclectic, unschoolers. You get the picture. As with curriculum, this can be useful. Just as so eloquently stated by Sue Elvis on her blog,

“Labels are difficult. When they are used to separate people by excluding them (you’re not like us so you don’t belong), I hate them. But they can be good when they lead us to like-minded people who can support and encourage us. We sometimes need some reassurance we aren’t alone. When we were ‘doing our own thing’, I often felt alone and actually never talked about how we were homeschooling in case we were criticised. So saying all of that, even when we have adopted a certain label, this doesn’t mean we all have to be exactly the same…”

There is a time and a reason for these distinctions, but do not let yourself be bound by them! I think sometimes we can fall into the trap of defining our homeschool by these labels, and in doing so we can outright ban certain methods of learning because they don’t fit in with what those nifty handbooks say about our approach.

“We’re unschoolers, so we don’t ever use textbooks. We won’t even touch them.”
“Use a television show as a learning resource? No, thank you. They wouldn’t do that in school.”
“You want to read what??? But Charlotte Mason said that there’s no value in twaddle!”

Do you see what I’m getting at? I don’t see anything wrong with any of these homeschooling methods. In fact, I’ve probably used most of them. They all have value in their own way. My problem is with the inflexibility that can come from an attempt to follow each and every “rule” defining these man-made categories.

I, myself, have perpetrated this kind of mentality because I was trying to fall neatly within the “unschooling” parameter. But then one day I realized that I was more interested in “following the rules” than I was in what my kids were actually doing.

As Sue commented, it is helpful to designate which group your homeschool most looks like because that is where you’ll find camaraderie and your main source of information for inspiration, but it should not be the only place you search for ideas and friendship. As an unschooler, I read homeschooling blogs of every nature; I truly find ingenuity in each and every kind, and sometimes I take ideas from these blogs and incorporate them into our day.

So, as a self-proclaimed unschooler, and in keeping with the nature of this post, I’m going to confess to some (or all- how much time do you have?) of the un-unschoolish things that go on in our house.

– I require my kids to read everyday at a designated time, so that it gets done.
– I read aloud to the children at a designated time everyday, so that it gets done.
– I choose the read-aloud books based on things that I think might interest my children, but they would never pursue on their own. I also incorporate a lot of historical fiction/non-fiction because my children aren’t big history buffs.
– My children have a math curriculum, which we try to work on everyday.
– I’ve started a family newsletter, for which I’ve asked for a submission from every child.
– I’ve assigned “jobs” for the newsletter, such as: proofreader, senior editor, copy editor, photo editor, layout designer, etc.

Some unschoolers may well gasp at the amount of structure in our day, but that’s okay. We don’t need to all look the same; in fact, I don’t think we would even if we tried to. So when you go about your homeschooling day, remember that these methods aren’t set in stone. Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I promise you, your homeschool will thrive because of it.

Confession time! What do you think about homeschooling labels?

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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

37 thoughts on “Don’t Be a Slave to Labels!”

  1. I think the labels are really irrelevant. My very narrow experience with homeschoolers is that homeschooling is really one all encompassing belief. Which is, homeschooling is the one way we as parents can ensure our children’s learning experience is incredible.

    Of course I just got into an argument over at with a woman who thought not knowing how to read until 14 was just fine. So maybe I wouldn’t mesh well with those kinds of unschoolers. I think reading is fundamental, whatever schooling method you choose.

    I also worry about children who are homeschooled to shelter. This is usually done by highly religious parents and I tend to not mesh with people who are unable or unwilling to consider any other way of life for fear of fire and damnation. *shudder*

    For me, as long as those above 2 situations are not represented, I would feel comfortable with any parent who cares enough about their children to sacrifice so much to educate them at home. Homeschooling is a courageous, lofty, admirable choice. It’s bigger than labels.


    1. Part of my reason for homeschooling is to shelter. I want to raise my children within my worldview. When they are older, they can be exposed to other worldviews, but for now, I think it would be confusing. I believe that sending our children to school gives the implicit message that the teacher is the expert. When the school’s worldview conflicts with the family’s worldview, who are the children supposed to believe?

      We shelter our children from all kinds of experiences before they are ready to handle it. Similar to the way in which you wish to shelter your daughter from unpleasant experiences through literature, I wish to shelter my children from the cognitive dissonance that would result from conflicting worldviews in elementary school. Time enough for that when they reach the rhetoric stage. I believe that in the grammar stage, it is too early.


      1. I agree in that I also don’t want a teacher to contradict values and beliefs which I am trying to instill in my children. There is nothing wrong with learning about the opposing view, but there does seem to be much bias against Christianity in public schools. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. I don’t shelter them from the world though. My kids have many non-Christian friends, and I am the only adult Christian in the entire extended family, so I would have to keep my kids from my husband and everyone else in the process.


        1. I don’t think it’s possible or necessary to keep children from everything in the world. But I think of shelter as a good thing. And shelter is a perfect analogy, really. Just as we benefit from a house for shelter from the harsh elements of the weather, so we benefit from our home to shelter our children from the harsh elements of the world. Just as we choose to invite visitors to our home, so we choose what influences we bring to our children. Just as we view the world from the windows, we allow moderated glimpses into other worldviews. We accompany our young children when they step outside our home into the world, and we return to our shelter after the day’s sojourn. Shelter is a very natural part of parenting.

          Great post, by the way! it is interesting to think how we label not just homeschooling, but parenting, as well.


      2. Maybe shelter is the wrong word. The way your put it it most certainly is.

        I was envisioning the families who close down their entire world to everyone and everything that is different in even the slightest way. I recently found a Mormon family who’s children are homeschooled so they would not associate with non Mormons. They instruct their children to not even talk to the neighbor kids who are not Mormon. She was actually proud of her daughter when she told the little boy next door, “I can’t talk to you because you don’t go to my church.” Considering they live in Utah which is 70% Mormon and the public schools offer Seminary as an elective, that feels over the top.

        In my opinion that’s tantamount to brainwashing and bigotry.


        1. I don’t feel that way about it. To be sure, my children are exposed to a lot more than the Mormon family in your example, but my main point I think is that it’s up to me what’s appropriate. I may disagree with the Mormon lady about what’s appropriate, but I wouldn’t want to limit her right to decide what’s the appropriate “shelter” for her children. If we as a society start to draw lines as to how much or when or where people ought to socialize their children, we may end up in a situation where we don’t like where the lines are drawn!

          My background (pre-homeschool mum) is in rights advocacy for a vulnerable population sector, so my perspective on issues of rights and autonomy is informed by that background.)


      3. To be clear, I would eat all of my words if you felt you belonged in either of my 2 categories. I have a bit of a crush on both you ladies. You have offered support and help in what was and still is a disconcerting part of my life. Disagree, agree, you 2 ladies are given exceptions and are welcome in my imaginary homeschool coop any day!


      4. I don’t want to limit her rights either! She has every moral and legal right to school how she sees fit. I just don’t want her in my imaginary homeschool coop.


      1. Which begs the question, why do they have to compete? Feels like something or someone would prefer we Christians didn’t get along. That’s a whole other post or book for that matter.


      2. Life happened and I got behind in my emails. I just came back to this blog and read these posts. Ohhhhh…you guys are FABULOUS!


  2. I can’t stand to be put in a box or for someone to slap a label on us and think they have us all figured out, but then there has to be a way to explain or define our way of learning when people ask (and they do;) so that’s when I say we are unschoolers. I agree with you on not ever setting anything in stone…especially as a family grows and changes. What works for us today may not work tomorrow:)


  3. Labels are so…..not……informing. You can say, “That person is a jerk.” But that really explains nothing. It might be better to say, “That person stole my candy bar.” Then the person you are talking to can decide if the candy bar stealing soul is a mean spirited, has an extreme sweet tooth, is a kleptomaniac, or maybe has starving children. :p

    Anyways, maybe that doesn’t make sense to anybody else but me. Sorry, heh.

    Labels…are for the closed minded. But I know I am guilty of that myself. (Is calling people who label “closed minded” labeling????) Oh dear….

    GREAT ARTICLE!!!!!!! ❤


      1. Ok, that’s it! You (Deidre and Shelly) have been voted by me as the sweetest internet ladies. As Deidre said above (best comment ever), “I have a bit of a crush on both you ladies.” (I know that wasn’t aimed toward me, but I kinda wish it was! *sniff* 😉 )

        Thanks for your kind words, both of you. If I had I blog you guys would be my only followers…which still would be worth it actually. I guess I have been too busy “following” to be followed. I am pretty dull tho…

        I don’t know. If I ever do start one… I think my first post will be discussing what Deidre commented above: “Which begs the question, why do they have to compete? Feels like something or someone would prefer we Christians didn’t get along.”

        Much love!! ❤


  4. I LOVE this post! I have been thrilled to discover that there are so many different types of homeschooling families, makes me less nervous to start down this path. You know?


    1. That is one of my favorite parts about homeschooling.. That it embraces individuality. Don’t be nervous. WE got your back!!


  5. I like this article a lot because I’m very new to the idea of unschooling and I have been trying to decide what to call the kind of education I am going to give my kids because I notice a lot of unschoolers seem to think that kids should mostly be in control without any direction or influence from parents. I believe that kids have parents for a reason… parents need to be there to guide and direct and teach. We need to help our kids set goals in line with our own values. I’m not saying we have to force them into life decisions but we need to be there to present truths and realities and opportunities. I get from this post that it really doesn’t matter what name I slap on the type of educating I choose to give my kids, the most important thing is that they are getting the best possible education within our means and efforts…. we do this because we love them and want them to be happy. Thanks for following me and I look forward to reading more of your posts 😉


  6. @Deidre- exactly. The true reason for Christianity can get lost behind trivial things that are only important to us humans. It’s similar to New Testament times with the whole “I follow Peter” “I follow Paul” thing that was going around. People really haven’t changed, have they?


  7. Thank you so much for this series, I’ve really been enjoying it (and Sue’s recent series of unschooling thoughts).
    Labels are a useful way of finding kindred spirits, aren’t they? Other people have labelled us unschoolers and I have sort of accepted the label (for want of any better), but many of your “un-unschoolish” routines resonate with me. I only have two children so we don’t have to have regular times of day to do things, but I take a similar approach when it comes to choosing read-alouds, for example.
    I’m very pleased to have found your blog – I look forward to reading more of your thoughts. 🙂


  8. What a wonderful post!!! Routines ARE important, but they shouldn’t rule our life… time IS important, but it shouldn’t rule our life, so many things ARE important……and so is the flip side, but we need balance………..that “moderation in all things” idea. You’re right – we are not all the same….and we don’t need to be. I am not an unschooler, but I do use many of the unschooling ideas – in my own way……and my children benefit. We are so blessed to be able to impact our children as we teach them and allow them to learn on their own also. Thank you. Gentle Joy


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