Looking at the Bright Side of Unschooling

Finding balance within your homeschool is the key to superior learning, and some unschooling philosophies can play a key role in that.

Image courtesy of lekkyjustdoit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After writing yesterday’s post about our experience with unschooling, I began to wonder if I was able to adequately convey our good experiences with it. I fear that there was a bit of negativity at the end, and I felt the need to clarify myself.

I am not against unschooling. I feel that some of its philosophies about allowing children to pursue their own interests and using life as a curriculum hit the nail right on the head. I have seen first-hand how much children learn when they have a vested interest in something. In fact, our family still uses natural learning as an important part of our homeschooling routine. Our structured learning normally takes only about two hours a day, while the rest of the day is open for my children to engage in anything they find useful and interesting.

What this has looked like this past week has been my son deciding that he would like to become a wildlife photographer after spending hours at the creek every day taking photos like these:





Spending six hours a day doing structured school work would have prevented him from committing the time he did towards this project. Is this as valuable as book work? I’d have to say that this holds even more value because this is something he initiated on his own and will, therefore, remember all the better.

Before our unschool experiment, I would have scoffed if he had asked me to go to the creek during the school day every single day for an entire week. I would have lectured him about the importance of getting an education. Unschooling taught me to recognize that this is an education.

It also gave me the ability to see the worth in seemingly mundane things that many parents overlook. Caring for a sick baby bird. Making homemade paint out of sidewalk chalk. Helping the neighbor in her garden. These are all things I would happily set aside school work for in order to pursue.

Does this mean I do not assign value to book learning? Absolutely not. I am a self-professed nerd, and I realize that there are some things that are better learned with some structure- usually some sort of book, but not always.

It all comes down to balance. At the end of the day- at least with my children- there are some things which are best learned when they are taught, and there are other things best left to experience in real life. This is what homeschooling is all about. Finding the balance that is right for your family and allowing the joy that follows to shine through.

For more photos like these, you can follow my son on Instagram!


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Learning in Freedom- Our Nature Study Wake-Up Call

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So many doors are opening now that spring is finally here. Yesterday was another glorious day, so we took full advantage of it and walked to a nearby creek.

Watching us walk anywhere must really be a sight for others. We’ve been practicing walking with a partner in a straight line, and it’s really funny watching people drive by craning their necks to see the long line of kids behind me. I know it sounds too schoolish to some, but it beats having them all over the sidewalk, never knowing what they’re going to do. I love to hear the kids talking to each other. Yesterday we passed a cement truck, and I could hear Caollin explaining why the cement mixer has to keep turning. Eavesdropping has its perks!

There is an elementary school, which is right next to the creek ,and passing it was a little depressing. Not because I want my kids to go to school, but because I would love for those kids to experience the freedom that we homeschoolers enjoy. As we strolled past the playground, there were a bunch of kids playing outside, and all I saw was a sea of black because our school district recently implemented a school uniform policy. Seeing all the darkness and sameness there was a fitting symbol for the assembly line learning that is happening in these schools. The school kids always like seeing us pass (we go there quite a bit when it’s warm), and they always wave to us and smile.

Dillon took his fishing pole with him, so as soon as we arrived, he set out to try to catch a fish. The kids all scattered as soon as we got there- that walking in a line is quite difficult for them! They’re all explorers at heart, and that’s just what they set out to do.





We took a sample of the pond water there (there’s a pond, too) to do an algae experiment later. The water is still quite deep from all of the rain and melted snow, so I eventually tried to lead them over to an area not so close to the water. It lasted for a short time while they found worms, bugs, and tree nuts, but then that blasted water beckoned to them again.





We decided to cross to the other side so they could roll down the big hill, when we began to hear a lot of voices. We turned around and saw the school children in their line walking past the creek all holding a paper (probably an assignment). I mentioned to my kids that the other kids must be there on a field trip, too. We stood there watching them, with interest, but what we saw made me really sad. Their field trip consisted of walking single file past the creek without so much as stopping to look at a duck. Then they left.

I turned and looked at my kids and expressed pity for those children. While my kids were there and free to explore, the school children only experienced a little tease. I don’t blame the teachers; it would be very hard for them to control that many children at one time, but, at the same time, it was such an illustration of what these children are missing out on.

As we turned back around and headed to the big hill, I glanced back at the sea of black returning to the schoolyard. Then I heard the laughter of my own children as they began to roll down the hill, and I smiled.


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Weekend Review: Breathing a Sigh of Relief

Early this week, I realized just how close standardized testing and evaluations are, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Remember that panic I went through a couple months ago? Well, I had a slight relapse. Homeschooling in Pennsylvania can be a bit stressful because of all the requirements we have to deal with, but being an unschooler here is new to me, and I started freaking out with worry over how we’re going to comply with these rigid laws. Our state requires us to keep portfolios with work samples, and since my kids are more hands-on, I became quite fretful.

I even went against every instinct I have about learning and started having the kids do an activity with me everyday, just so I’d have some sort of work samples. They really didn’t mind it, as we just incorporated a lot of what we learned from our nature walk on Saturday and went from there. On Monday, we examined, drew, and labelled a wild onion that Arianna brought home. We also studied some moss that Bailey brought home and discovered that moss does not have actual roots but little root-like structures called rhizoids. Arianna actually got really into it and went on to dissect a pine cone, a nut, and a wild potato from our outing. We never even knew that wild potatoes existed before this. I mentioned to her that the root of a yellow flower she was looking at looked like a little potato. She cut it in half, and we smelled it…definitely a potato. Google confirmed our suspicions.


The kids also painted little wooden butterfly cutouts.


On Tuesday, we discussed the differences between plants and animals, and the kids each drew their own version of a plant/animal hybrid. Dillon and Devin have been playing WOW often, and Arianna is still into her theatrical makeup. We made fruit salad for dinner that day, so the kids had a great time helping me cut fruit. (Actually, I didn’t have to cut any of it- they did it all!)


Wednesday we watched a cute YouTube video of a photosynthesis rap song. Afterwards, we discussed the root words of photosynthesis and chlorophyll, and the kids made word scrambles using plant vocabulary words. The kids enjoyed watching a documentary about insects on Netflix called “Microcosmos.” We’ve also been reading Farmer Boy and have been discussing the many responsibilities of pioneer children. I’m hoping this will help to curtail their whining over their chores…
Wednesday night some of the kids went to Kingdom Builders, and Arianna went to youth group. I had nursery duty, so I stayed in there with Kenzie.


On Wednesday evening, I got some exciting news…I found an evaluator who also has ten kids and is an unschooler. It was like a big weight lifted off of my shoulders. Part of the reason I’ve been so nervous about work samples is because of evaluations. I’ve always turned in extremely thick portfolios before, and I wasn’t sure how my evaluator would react to a much thinner binder. This new evaluator is much more relaxed, and since she is also of the mindset that children are always learning, the amount of samples makes no difference to her. Hallelujah. Big exhale.

On Thursday, I informed the kids that they no longer have to do activity time with me, unless they want to. They all said that they actually thought it was fun and will probably continue to do things with me sometimes. That made me happy because I really did enjoy it; I just didn’t enjoy feeling compelled to do it to please the bureaucracy. Learning should not be forced. Period. Ireland was the only one who opted to work with me today, so she made a plant lapbook, and we talked about why plants are important. Speaking of learning by choice, today was my third day of learning German through Mango Languages. I was able to start at Chapter 6; I took a placement test because I did take six years of German in school. I’m having a lot of fun with that. The younger kids have been on coolmathgames.com and Khan Academy brushing up on their math and logic skills. Ireland has been requesting math “schoolwork” quite a bit, so I’ve been printing a lot of Pre-K worksheets for her. Arianna still likes to cook, so after baking a cake, she helped me make stuffed peppers for supper. Yum.


Kenzie has started pushing her little stroller around the house. She’s not going to be a baby much longer. Sniff.


Friday will probably be a low-key day. Saturday, Devin has drawing and painting class, and Sunday is her art show. And Caollin and London will finally be getting baptized on Sunday! The water heater for the baptistry had broken, but the replacement was supposed to come in today. They’re so excited.

What have you done this week? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

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Maybe It’s Easier Than I Thought


Today was another one of those glorious days that you look forward to all winter long. Blue skies, beautiful weather, snow almost melted. Like I said, glorious. Since everyone is feeling better, I decided that I was not going to let this day go to waste.

After Devin’s art class, I took all the kids (minus Dillon) to Lehigh Parkway, which is five minutes from our house and has an amazing bike trail that I wanted to walk.


We set off, and 30 seconds into our trek, the kids wanted to stop and collect some pine cones that they saw.


I gave them a few minutes, then announced that it was time to move on. That declaration was met with a few sighs, but they begrudgingly trudged on. After a few more minutes, they wanted to walk up to the water and take a closer look. This time I sighed, but I relented and told them to hurry up.


Again, I hurried them along, so we could continue our walk. Behind me I kept hearing little mumblings of This is no fun, Walks are boring, I want to play. I’ll admit that, at first, I was a little irritated. After all, I was doing this for them, right?

That’s when it hit me. I have been worried, more than a few times, that maybe my kids aren’t learning enough. More than anything, I want my kids to feel confident to pursue anything that interests them. Anything at all. So there I was attempting to quash their natural curiosity about the world around them, so that I could accomplish what I had set out to do. It was like someone screamed in my ear, “What are you doing?? Let them run. Let them explore. You’re breaking their spirits!”

I took a deep breath and let them take the lead from there. It was amazing. They climbed “mountains” (actually big hills), picked wild onions, and discovered moss growing on rocks. This led to a conversation about how moss does not need soil to grow. Bailey pulled it off of a rock and studied the underside of it. We talked about the root-like threads that were there that held it in place. He was so interested in this that he brought it home with him. They looked for tadpoles- nothing yet- and tried to identify animal footprints in the snow. This evolved into a discussion about how sometimes tracks in the snow can be misidentified because the snow melt makes tracks look much larger than they actually are. We looked for signs of new leaves growing on trees- also nothing yet- and deciphered between evergreens and deciduous trees.


Eventually, Summer started to get tired and London had to go to the bathroom, so we headed back to the parking lot. They played on the hill there, rolling down the hill again and again. Finally, we went home.

Frankly, I was pooped, but the kids were far from finished. While I made dinner, Arianna, Caollin, London, Bailey, and Luke jumped on the trampoline for a while (I got a few jumps in, too :)); then Caollin went in and reappeared wearing a dress- Time to play Little House on the Prairie! Inside, Devin decided to try to make sushi for the first time.


My point in all this? Sometimes watching and waiting for your kids to do something can be frustrating and worrying. You may wonder when something is going to happen. You know that old saying- “A watched pot never boils.”? I think it applies here, too. Sometimes the most amazing things will happen when you least expect them. I didn’t take them out for a field trip today. I wanted to go for a walk, and that was really my sole purpose for going out. I let my guard down, and BOOM, they decided to do that something I’ve been waiting for- when I wasn’t looking!

So if you’re feeling fretful that your kids seem to be doing nothing, my advice to you? Stop. Take a deep breath. Stop expecting things to happen. Just know that they will, and leave it at that. Because, sometimes, maybe it’s easier than you thought.

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