Ah, self-directed learning. It’s one of my absolute favorite advantages of relaxed homeschooling. There can be no more effective way for children to learn, in my opinion.
In fact, its efficacy is what has enabled me to embrace a simpler homeschool approach for my children. Out of all the “fool-proof” tricks I’ve tried and well-intentioned advice I’ve received, there is no denying the fact that kids (at least, my kids) learn far more successfully and enthusiastically when they themselves are the ones who are given the reins on their education.
However, over the past few months I have realized that there are some who don’t quite understand what self-directed learning actually is, and I’ve found that the most confusion stems from one faulty idea: that self-directed learning is just another name for independent learning.
Finding balance within your homeschool is the key to superior learning, and some unschooling philosophies can play a key role in that.
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!
Ever wonder what unschooling is actually all about? Join me as I give an honest review of what this homeschooling approach was really like for our family.
Mention the word “unschooling” to someone in your homeschool group, and you’re likely to get one of two extreme reactions- elation or disdain. When it comes to this controversial homeschool approach, it can be very difficult, indeed, to find a middle-of-the-roader. From the very beginning of my homeschooling days, I was mesmerized by the thought of learning with no curriculum. No books? No seatwork? No daily mother/child struggles? It sounded too good to be true. Nonetheless, after several years of homeschooling with varying methods and finding none that I felt was the perfect fit, I decided to venture into the world of unschooling.
I transitioned slowly into this new way of life. I still had read-aloud routines everyday, and we still used a math curriculum, but other than that, my children were free to spend their time as they chose. It was difficult for me at first. I’ve always been a planner and a bit of a- ahem!- control freak, so allowing my kids to take the lead on their education was difficult for me.
After several months, I relaxed a bit and began to see education in an entirely different way. I was able to see the value in little things like making paper dolls, playing with Legos, and even watching construction crews working on the street. My aversion to video games grew less and less, and I was able to identify the many skill-building tasks involved in each one. I nearly jumped for joy when one of my daughters took apart a light-up toy and afterwards was able to explain to me how an electrical circuit works.
Each of my children was busy finding out what they truly loved by being granted the time to do so. My oldest daughter immersed herself in Japanese anime and online manga and went on to learn not only the Japanese language but both sets of writing characters. She also began drawing her own anime-type illustrations and attended classes in drawing and painting, narrative illustration, and flash animation. Additionally, she began designing and sewing her own cosplay costumes for anime conventions.
Another daughter grew interested in theatrical makeup and made herself busy by painting her siblings’ faces every single day. She also made her own makeup products.
And yet another daughter grew so fascinated with crane and candy machines that she actually figured out how to make her own working candy machine out of Legos.
I could go on and on with stories like this, but I think you get the picture. These- these– are the positive moments most associated with unschooling.
Not every day was like this. In fact, the vast majority of days were not. There were days of complaints about boredom, bickering- lots of it, and fighting over the TV. And then there were the desperate cries of, “Mom, when are we going to start doing school again?”
But instead of picking up our old homeschool routine where we left off, I headed to unschooling message boards, where people would imply that I must somehow be doing something wrong because no child would ever prefer to do school work.
After hours and weeks of reading radical unschooling blogs and books, I eventually decided that that must be the problem. I needed to institute whole-life unschooling, meaning not only giving the children the reins on their education, but on their lives, in general. Thankfully, as a Christian, I was never able to go quite as far as some of these parents do, but what I did begin to allow had a very damaging effect on our family.
Since radical unschoolers have the philosophy of not making a child do anything he or she doesn’t want to, that meant that I was stuck doing all of the housework myself. (Not easy when you’re cleaning up after twelve people!) My kids spent tons of time watching TV and playing video games, which I do believe have value within limits, and absolutely no time reading.
So, the blissful home life that I set out for became a household of chaos, complete with a very crabby mommy.
Finally, I announced to my children that we were going to start completing some structured school work again, and chores would be re-instituted. Was there a mutiny? Nope. They looked relieved.
So what did I take away from this experience? There are several things:
Unschooling can be a beautiful way to learn, but every child- yes, every child– needs direction and, dare I say, instruction on how the world works.
Contrary to what many radical unschoolers believe, children are not miniature adults. They are children, who need guidance in making decisions and, most importantly, need to be “trained up in the way they should go.” They do not have the same life experience that adults do and should not be expected to.
Children who are allowed to do absolutely whatever they want to become children that no one wants to play with. I have heard more than a few stories of how people at homeschool conventions could always pick out the children who were unschoolers because they were the ones that all of the other children stayed away from.
As much as I believe that children need to be given the gift of learning at their own pace, if you reach the point that your 12-yr.-old does not yet know how to write or your 15-yr.-old still writes his numbers backwards, it is time to intervene.(And it probably should have happened long ago.)
Unschooling your child does not mean that textbooks are forbidden, although there are some unschoolers who would say otherwise. If your child asks for a workbook to learn how to read, get her one. You are not doing anything wrong. In fact, you are probably doing something right because your child is interested in the first place.
Don’t become a slave to labels. Just because you identify as an unschooler does not mean that you have to do everything a certain way. Only you know your child. Use that to your advantage. That’s one of the beauties of homeschooling- having the freedom of choosing how to educate your children.
Before I invoke the wrath of unschoolers everywhere, this is not an attack on the homeschooling method itself but on the dogmatic approach many people employ. Natural learning is an amazing thing, but, like I say about curriculum, take advantage of the unschooling lifestyle. Don’t let it take advantage of you.
If you’re anything like I am, there are some days that you just can’t seem to get yourself moving. These are the days you spend lazily browsing blog after blog and website after website, trying to find something that will interest you for at least a little while. Since these days are usually on the weekends for me, I’ve decided to share links with you each Saturday. These will include 5 of my favorite blog posts from other bloggers, 5 of my own that you may not have seen, and 5 books I think are worth reading. I hope you enjoy!
Today when I was looking over the search terms that bring people to my blog, I realized something profound- I write about homeschooling a large family but have never actually written about how we break down our day.
I mean, really. How did that get past me? Anyway…
Today I will write about just that. First things first. Our homeschool day gets broken down into three groups:
The Littles- our 7, 6, and almost 5-yr.-olds. (and sometimes our almost 3-yr.-old because occasionally she wants to “do school,” too)
The Big Kids- our 11, 10, and 8-yr.-olds
The Teens- our 14, 16, and almost 17-yr.-olds
It’s important to note that my 14 and 16-yr.-old do take turns each week watching the younger kids until it is their time for school. This is such a huge blessing for me. We actually just started doing this in November, and I wish I would have thought of it long ago because it would have prevented so many stressful days! They do get a very small stipend for doing this, but it is so worth it.
To make things as simple as possible, I’m going to break down our day by using these three groups because that is exactly how things get broken down at home, too.
Before getting started, I do want to clarify that we are fairly relaxed homeschoolers. I do not believe lessons need to take six hours a day because there are so many other things to learn about in everyday life. I try to ground my children in the basics, inspire them with a few activities, and allow them the rest of the day to explore as they choose. With that being said, here we go!
10 am- Bible time-I usually read just a verse or two, and we have a very short discussion afterwards. Sometimes this may include a Bible story or even an episode of Veggie Tales.
– Table Time- I sit down with each child individually and work on math and either phonics or reading, unless one of those subjects will be covered that day in the unit study.
– Five in a Row– (This is done every other day, and we take two weeks to complete a book instead of one.) I read aloud a selected title, and we do two activities related to the story. This week we are reading Lentil.
– Table Time- As with the Littles, I work with each child individually on math and either spelling or grammar, unless one of those subjects will be covered in the unit study that day. As the children wait for their turn with me, they do their silent reading.
– Konos Volume 2– (This is done every other day.) Each unit focuses on a character trait. Currently for us this is inquisitiveness, and we are studying it through a section entitled “Research and Reference.” We typically do two activities per day and will sometimes read a separate read-aloud to go with the unit.
12 pm- Lunch/Chores/ Free Time- While this is not technically part of our homeschooling day, I am including it to show when we get these things done. How is a story for another day. 🙂
2 pm- We finish up whatever was not completed before lunch, after which I try to read aloud to the teens. Here’s where it gets interesting…
That is the only schoolish thing we do before dinner and evening chores. The homeschool day of my teens does not normally begin until at least 8pm. Please don’t be dismayed. They are night owls, and it works for us in this season of life.
8pm- One-on-One-Time- While my teenagers do the vast majority of their work themselves, this is the time I’ve specifically set aside to help them with anything they need me to, usually some branch of math. Sigh.
Each child is so different that I’m finding it necessary to write about them separately, so here goes:
–The 14-yr.-old– She loves to read, so we’ve taken advantage of that by using a literature-based math curriculum, Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology. She and my younger children have actually been working their way through this entireseries. What I like the most about this book is that it includes enough biology to count towards her science credit, so, although she always has library books checked out on everything from the universe to chinchillas, if she ever runs out of things to read, her science is covered. For history we use living books. Right now she is reading The Book Thief, which is based in WWII era. Since she does so much reading, and she loves to voluntarily write reports, the only language arts she does is vocabulary, and that is because she asked for it.
–The 16-yr.-old– If you’ve ever had a child who needs to be prodded along, this is mine. Don’t get me wrong. He is brilliant with computers and can probably identify every single spider and frog on the planet, but he does not like to be bogged down with school work. After much tweaking and trial and error, we’ve found a routine that works for him. He uses a math curriculum, but I usually only assign him every other problem because he has no patience for drilling. Like his sister, at his request, he does do a vocabulary curriculum. He uses library books and documentaries for astronomy, and he uses living books, movies, and documentaries for military history. He is also working through D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and the accompanying Student Guide.
–The almost-17-yr.-old– This is my overachiever, but she would deny it if you asked her. 😛 She also uses a math curriculum for geometry. She’s in her 3rd year of psychology, her 2nd year of Japanese with Rosetta Stone and she is learning both sets of Japanese characters through a workbook from a friend who is from Japan. While we had no plans on doing geography this year, she became interested in US geography and devised her own intricate method of studying this subject involving mapping, demographics, and interesting facts about each state. She uses A Beka for biology and has already finished her grammar workbook.
….And that’s about it. I hope I didn’t make this too confusing for those of you looking for guidance on how to handle homeschooling lots of kiddos! If anyone has any questions or would like me to clarify anything, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I always look forward to hearing from you!
3) It [unschooling] is premised on the idea that people don’t “love learning” if discipline is involved. My experience & observation of others is just the opposite – people tend to come to love those areas of life in which they apply the most discipline – and not just self-discipline, but where adults have taught them discipline.
On this particular comment, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. Unschooling takes a lot of discipline- on the part of the child and the parent. The question is, what is that discipline being applied to? Remember that I haven’t always been an unschooler. Our homeschool has evolved from school-at-home to unit studies to eclectic and then finally to natural learning, so I’ve seen the outcomes of all of these methods. With regard to my children, they have retained the most information from topics that they themselves pursued on their own. Pursuing their own interests, in itself, takes discipline, so discipline is certainly not an issue. And whether the discipline is coming from the child or being taught by the parents is not the issue. The issue is what path will their education take? Yours or theirs?
When we were still doing unit studies and would be learning about a particular subject, such as American Indians, they really seemed to have a good grasp of what I was teaching them, and they did have fun doing it. We made false face masks and headdresses and visited a Lenni Lenape museum. They had a ball. Fast forward a few months- I asked some questions about the American Indians unit, and they hardly remembered anything.
Contrast this with a perfect example of my son, Dillon. He loves spiders- especially wolf spiders. I have never covered spiders, specifically, other than that they are classified as arachnids. So Dillon took it upon himself to find out everything he could about wolf spiders- books, websites, documentaries, YouTube videos, you name it. What did he get from all this? I now consider him to be an “expert” on wolf spiders. He can tell you where they live, what they eat, how long they live, how big they get- I could go on and on.
We spent four weeks on that American Indians unit, and even though they seemed to enjoy it, now they remember nothing, other than a few things. On the other hand, Dillon still remembers everything about wolf spiders and has increased his knowledge of them even more since then.
This is not surprising to me. I did the same thing when I was in public school. I remembered what I was supposed to long enough to make the honor roll and graduate in the top 10% of my class…and then I forgot it. It was no longer needed. What do I remember from school the most? The subjects I chose to take- mythology, theater arts, parenting (thank God I remember that, 11 kids later), cooking, nutrition. What do these have in common? My interest.
And I will go even further to say that, unless you have a need to learn something- and by need I’m not referring to a need to fulfill state requirements, but a need to learn something in order to achieve a goal- a lot of what is taught in schools is unnecessary. In the majority of cases, people will pursue a career in something that they’re drawn to- interested in. Is it really important that an astronomer knows that laissez faire means “hands off”? Does a historian need to know what alliteration is? And who exactly decided what is important to learn? This is why homeschooling is the ideal choice because these things should be decided on a case by case basis. Not everyone is the same. God created us to be unique individuals, and we should nurture that.
Before you jump the gun, let me just interject that I love learning. I’m learning all the time, and it is a good thing to be knowledgeable, but why you’re learning something is as important as what you’re learning. Alluding back to my high school days,- sorry for all the trips down memory lane- I took six years of German. Six. I should be a pro, right? Not so much. I could probably help someone in their first year of German, and it would end there. Why? I haven’t had the need to use it.
Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s great to report to the school district that you taught your third grader Euclidean geometry. It’s awesome to look back at those old homeschooling journals and see that your seventh grader completed a course on quantum physics, but are they going to remember it? Unless they have an interest in those fields, I’d say probably not. Why? Because they won’t need to use it.
This is why it’s so important to let your children’s interests come into play. This time is precious. Let them spend time pursuing things that they’re going to retain and possibly use in their future endeavors. I myself know how hard it can be to realize that our children may not care about the things we care- or think that they should care- about. Let them lead the way. Trust that they have the ability to increase their knowledge in the things that are important to them and that they will have the discipline to do so. That’s the best kind of learning- the kind that they won’t forget.
High school is approached differently than the younger years.
This is the last part of this series, and I saved this topic as the last section for a reason. High school is approached differently, even more intentionally, than the younger years. There is a reason for this…
We have decided to use a homeschool accreditation diploma program for high school diplomas versus me issuing one myself. From what I’ve found in my research, parent-issued diplomas can sometimes run into problems where lawyer-backing becomes necessary, so this is the most comfortable option for us.
Since I wrote about Devin’s decision to approach school in a more textbook-driven way in an earlier post, today I’m going to focus on how we will fulfill the necessary requirements next year.
Devin and Dillon will both be in ”high school” next year. It’s very important to me that their learning is self-directed, despite the fact that more structure will be necessary than for the younger kids. (I addressed the accreditation requirements right here.) Once again, thanks to Renee over at FIMBY, I was able to take what they’re interested in and create their entire curriculum around these subjects.
Dillon loves Minecraft. There’s no getting around it. I fretted and fretted about the amount of time he spends on it and got sound advice from Renee. Can you incorporate this into his curriculum? After some research I discovered that yes I can! I stumbled across Minecraft Homeschool, an online (obviously) class that is sufficient to replace curriculum.
I totally get how it covers math (to a point), history (the class involves researching ancient structures and replicating them), and a gaming elective. As of right now, they are planning to add science and language arts curriculum in the fall, so that would be perfect. We’re also looking into computer programming through Khan Academy but haven’t come to a definite decision, yet.
If you’re wondering whether Dillon’s time is going to be completely consumed by the computer, trust me, it won’t be. Dillon loves the outdoors- catching slimy critters that disgust (and scare) me, wading through the creek, and skateboarding are some of his favorite pastimes.
The only concern I really have right now is the fact that he has to read 25 books next year, including 3 classics. Sometimes it’s really hard finding books that he’ll actually finish.
Devin loves the PBS show Sherlock and the USA show Psych.She’s fascinated with body language (kinesics) and logic, so right there’s her perfect curriculum! She’ll be reading the classic Sherlock Holmes books and will possibly write her own private investigation short story (a requirement is that she must write three compositions of any length and one ten page composition). She’ll be studying Psychology with a textbook (I’ll post our curriculum choices in a future post. We’re not 100% on almost anything yet.) We were going to just utilize the library for this, but I want to make sure she learns psychology with a Christian-based curriculum versus new age ideologies. We’re going to cover kinesics through living books and logic through a Christian-based curriculum. She will also be taking geometry- a requirement through the state- and astronomy. (I know this has nothing to do with the curriculum, but this was her choice for science, so she’s doing it. Incidentally, I do know for a fact that we’re using Teaching Astronomy through Art because it combines two of her favorite things, so it’s a no-brainer) So is this approach still considered unschooling? I guess it depends on who you ask. These curriculums have been created solely on their interests, so self-directed may be a better word. It honestly doesn’t matter to me, as long as they are learning and loving it!
How do you homeschool high school? Leave a comment and join the conversation!
We’re finishing up our second week of unschooling…
We’re finishing up our second week of unschooling today, and this week has definitely had its UPS and downs. Unfortunately, a lot of those downs came when I started stressing too much about what my kids were doing.
Since my kids spend so much time on their tablets, I’ve initiated a ”media blackout” everyday between 1-4 when all electronics must be put away, unless they want to research something or are watching a tutorial.
Summer(2) on a Leap Pad Learning Tablet. It’s during these media-free periods that I find it hardest to let go of determining what they will do and what they will learn. It’s hard for me to let go of what other kids their age, even homeschooled kids, are learning.
They are learning, though. Everyday.
Dillon finishing up the first chapter of his science-fiction story
This week has been pretty uneventful as far as outside activities. The only time we even left the house this week was to get groceries, so I’m just going to review the week as a whole, rather than day by day.
So what did we do this week? Other than lots of Minecraft, Ruzzle, Scribblenauts, and Sims, the kids did everything from art to science experiments.
We’re still reading Little House on the Prairie together and enjoying it immensely. The kids have been doing their own reading
everyday,too, like Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and Little House in the Big Woods.
Dillon(13) has really been on a roll with writing this week. Besides writing a science-fiction story, he’s also started a blog and has been posting 2-3 times a day. He loves it.
Dillon and Arianna(12) did several experiments this week with eggs and other things we just had lying around the house.
This experiment shows how soap breaks the surface tension of water.
Devin(14) started her homeschool photography class last week. She’s a little bored so far because there haven’t been any shooting assignments yet, but that’s kind of a good thing because her auto focus hasn’t been working all the time, so we have to get it repaired.
Yesterday was Ireland’s 4th birthday, so Arianna, our resident baker, made her a cake.
The younger kids played a lot this week. Apples to Apples, Operation, puzzles, and imaginative play occupied most of their time.
So while my kids haven’t built a nuclear reactor out of paper clips and string :), they’ve had a lot of fun this week just being themselves and exploring their own interests, while I am slowly, but surely, becoming okay with this.
Are you one of those people, like me, who lovesto read about how other people homeschool?Maybe you’re someone who lovestotalk about your approach to homeschooling, also like me. Today I’m writing about our approach to our latest journey, unschooling.
As I’m sure you know, every day is different, and, especially since we’ve just transitioned from eclectic homeschooling to self-directed learning, we’re still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Our Typical Unschooled Day
8:00- Breakfast- usually something simple; I’ll be the first to admit that our meals are more about convenience. I honestly don’t have the time or energy to cook something from scratch everyday for twelve people.
9:00- Chores- Since we do these a few times a day, it only takes about 20 minutes to get things done.
9:20- From this point on until lunchtime, the children are free to do what they want. Like my husband, my children are all technology fanatics, so our morning looks something like this-
At first this really bothered me, but after I stopped stressing about it and actually paid attention to what they were doing, I realized that they’re learning far more than I ever imagined.
– Minecraft- geometry, logic, learning step-by-step how such things as glass and steel are made
– Ruzzle- spelling, vocabulary
– Scribblenaut- spelling, vocabulary, science, history
-Leap Pad Learning Tablets- well, that’s kind of obvious
They will sometimes do other activities during this time, such as their math. I know many unschoolers don’t formally teach math, but living within PA homeschool laws makes me too nervous to skip it. My younger kids- 8 yrs. old on down have a choice about whether or not they’ll do it. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. At this age, it’s very easy to incorporate math into everyday learning.
My 9, 12, &, 13 year-olds are all required to do their math everyday at their own pace. Incidentally, besides my 14 year-old, these are the children who must be evaluated every year, so the documentation is so important.
12:00- Lunch- again, usually something simple
1:00- Family reading
Starting at 1:00, we have what I call ”Media Blackout”. Until 4:00, no electronics are permitted, unless they’re researching something or watching tutorials. While they do learn through media, I think it’s so important to do hands-on activities. During this time is when you’ll see what I consider the good stuff.
8:00- Bedtime and Bible story for the kids 6 & under – Bible reading with the older children followed by silent reading
9:00- 8 & 9 year olds go to bed; my three oldest go to bed whenever they want, as long as they’re quiet.
You may have noticed I didn’t address my 14 yr. old much. This is because her approach is different, again, because of compliance with homeschool laws, and, honestly, by her own choice. I’ll address this in a later post.