Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Update on our Homeschooling Adventures

First of all, I wanted to share with you a section of this month's Home Educating Magazine...because our homeschool classroom was featured!  Very exciting for us. This makes me feel so very official now.

Second of all, I wanted to share with you some changes we are making to our daily format.

Originally, when we began homeschooling, I had no clue what I was doing.  I attended a conference and talked to several homeschooling families to get their advice and then I clung to our first set of curriculum like it was my life blood.  Things went well for a little while.

Do you know what happened next?  We added more kids into the homeschooling routine.  Then life -- outside of homeschooling -- continued to happen.  Suddenly, we were weeks behind in the curriculum and I got so stressed out.

It wasn't until year two or three when I started to realize that the curriculum was only there as a guide.  It wasn't a rulebook for our homeschooling days.  I started to allow some assignments to fall by the wayside and I didn't cry about it.  I started to insert some of my own assignments that were better suited for our family and for where we lived and for the resources we had available.

Nobody died.

By the next couple years, I was barely referring to core curriculum.  We were taking more of a "tossed salad" approach to homeschooling, as they say.  We used a variety of curricula for different grade levels and different learning styles and we weren't using them for the majority of our lessons.  More often, I was creating lessons myself based on my own experiences with what worked for our kids.  Eventually, I was writing my own curriculum to be shared with other homeschooling families.

Now, I have not finished any of the homemade curricula YET, but it's not stressing me out.  Maybe it'll take me years to complete and fine-tune it, but it really doesn't matter, because if people decide to use it for their own home school purposes, they are not likely to use every activity I suggest.  They know their kids best and they hopefully are finding what works best in their families.

For the past year or so, I started growing exhausted of monitoring everything our kids learn about in homeschool.  I'm not talking about record-keeping.  I'm talking about how often I would create a wonderful lesson plan only to disappoint the kids because it was not what they wanted to learn about.  Every day, it seemed, I spent so much time arguing with the oldest two boys, especially, that I barely had time to get around to teaching the younger two kids.  When we did get to school time with the younger two, I felt worn out and half-hearted in my efforts.  Often times, we'd skip a bunch of stuff I had planned because I was in a hurry to finish up for the day and do some of the other stuff the house required.

But these younger kids refused to be left behind in their education.  Especially J, who basically taught herself how to read, and who was becoming unstoppable in her ventures to increase in knowledge and understanding.  In spite of my lackluster attempts to educate them, the two of them worked together on educating themselves so well that by the time I got around to my lesson plan, they had often already learned the subject matter on their own.

Meanwhile, the older boys, now in middle school, needed to be moving into more of an independent study situation, mostly because they were outgrowing my knowledge, but also because we believe it's part of preparing for teenage and adult life to be able to maintain one's own schedule and motivate oneself to take responsibility for his or her own day and life.  It's safer for the kids to start learning these skills while still having Dad and Mom to check in with them and help them fine tune those skills instead of waiting and then dumping them into adulthood where they need to figure it all out on their own.

So this year, we have started to transition our school days into a more unschooling format and the house has never been more peaceful.

For those of you who don't know about unschooling, here is what I have learned so far (I'm still reading and researching because it is hard for me to let go of the control):

  • Unschooling is not NON-schooling.  In other words, it's not preventing kids from being educated. 
  • Unschooling is more student-led than teacher-led.  Which means, I don't have to spend hours planning lessons, which may or may not be rejected by any or all of our four students.
  • Unschooling allows the students to utilize their natural curiosity about the world to direct their education.  
  • Unschooling still involves the parent/teacher because we come alongside each student as they explore the world and their interests.  
  • Unschooling still requires books, some of which came to us by way of curriculum.  Unschooling probably requires MORE books than "traditional" homeschooling (for lack of a better way to describe it) because having resources available for kids to peruse and discover their interests (and then more about those interests) is important for successful unschooling.
  • Unschooling requires more than books.  We have always incorporated a lot of different methods for educating the kids, even before unschooling, so this was a natural transition.  Now, as we explore new locations and go on different field trips, we try to allow more freedom for the kids to discover what they want to take from each experience.  If we go to the aquarium, for example, one child might focus on learning about a specific species, one child might focus on reading every sign, one child might focus on a special hands-on exhibit or experimentation table and one child might just be there to run from tank to tank and back again because he's not great at sitting still and focusing on creatures that inspire him to keep moving (I count that towards P.E.!).  It's about allowing them to learn in the style that suits each of them best.
  • Unschooling probably looks different in every household that adopts this format.  
  • Unschooling is less structured and yet, the kids thrive in the lacking structure because they are confident in the structure of the home and the day-to-day rules of the house.  It lets them focus less on an additional set of rules -- classroom rules -- and just focus on learning and discovering.
There are probably a lot more things about Unschooling that I have yet to figure out.  But so far, this is what I have discovered.

Of course, J and O have sailed into the new format smoothly.  As I type this, J is on the classroom computer improving her technological skills (and hand-eye coordination -- she's playing some skiing game) and O is on my iPad on the floor next to me, playing math games and using our Math-U-See manipulatives to solve harder math than he was doing in the Math-U-See curriculum level he was in.  They crave learning because they want to know more about the world.

H and Z have been a little more difficult to convince.  After years of meeting in the classroom each morning and giving them assignments and lecturing them about why it's important that they learn this subject matter they were totally uninterested in learning and then arguing with them over the quality of work I expected on the assignments they cared very little about, transitioning to a format where they pick their learning material each day and pursue things for the benefits as they see them is like a foreign language to them.

In H's words, "I think it's better when you just tell us what you expect from us and we do it."

Where's the initiative and independent thought process is that?  What kind of adults would I be bringing up if that's all we focused on?  I'd probably be guilty of doing no more than the public schools.

Public schools hand out requirements and reward with grades and promotion from one grade to the next.  Everyone at school graduates with pretty much the same knowledge as everyone else.  Great.  This method is great for the Industrial Revolution when the most people could hope for was a factory job when they were done with school for the day, but this is a new century.  Nowadays, the best employers are looking for individuals who are self-motivated, creative and unique.  They are not looking for one of a million graduates who knows basically the same stuff as everyone else.  No, I believe they want the people who set themselves apart!

Then there is WalMart and other big box stores who probably aren't that discerning.  But is that really the kind of people we want to raise?

Now, I'm not putting down WalMart.  I shop there.  Many people work there and in this economy, it's great that they are still employing so many.  Sometimes beggars can't be choosers when it comes to jobs (and maybe that's my father's voice in my head because he's of that generation).  I'm just not sure our goal should be to raise future WalMart employees.  I want more for our kids and I want them to want more for themselves.

The more I watch our kids grow more comfortable with this process of unschooling, the more I see the possibilities in their future opening wide open.  It's exciting to be at this place.

H has always loved Legos and drawing.  He enjoys fantastical stories best and his imagination is incredible as it leaks into his building and artwork.  He talks of wanting to become a Lego set designer or a roller coaster engineer.  If that's really something he wants to strive towards, then he will naturally be required to focus most on sciences and mathematics, as well as drawing and construction.  As he explores these desires for his future more, he will naturally start to gravitate towards the subjects and knowledge he will be required to have OR he'll realize that's completely the wrong direction for him and he'll stop feeling locked into this one perceived future and start exploring other options.  Whichever way he goes, he'll be using the gifts, talents and interests put there by our God and he will motivate himself to carve his path towards his future in a way that suits him best.

We are his parents.  We are here to guide him in life.  We are here to ask him questions that might get him thinking.  We are here to answer some of his questions -- or to direct him about where to find the answers.  We cannot be held accountable for deciding exactly what he needs to know for a successful future.

The funny thing is that S came home for a couple months recently and there were so many things I know we'd gone over and over in school with her and in the five months she was out on her own, she'd forgotten all that.  She knew what she needed to know to survive out there, but the years of homeschooling -- while I'm sure especially some of the faith-building and Bible studies we did planted seeds in her -- none of that really mattered when it came to the path she put herself upon.  We fought through every year of homeschool with her and come to find out, she doesn't remember the majority of it.

Come to think of it, I don't remember most of what I learned in school either ... because it just doesn't really apply to the path I've chosen in adulthood.  Anything that I know that seems like it came from a classroom-based education is likely stuff I've re-educated myself about as an adult because I realized I needed that stuff in order to better teach our kids or whatever.  Crazy when I think about all those years living up to my teachers' expectations and the goals set up by districts and states and government and then remembering so little of what they actually taught me.

I'm not purposely bashing public school.  For some families, that format is what works best for them.  I understand.  Hopefully, those families provide enrichment opportunities for their kids so that they will stand out as individuals later on.  But that is not the way public schools in themselves are set up.  They are present to assist families, not to be solely responsible for a child's full education.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough and haven't been doing this for such a long time that I really know what I'm talking about.  We are at the beginning of this new divergence in our homeschooling journey and so far, I like what I see.  Our kids are diving into educational activities without my needing to nag them or argue with them.  More and more, even the big boys are acclimating.  One day, they might even see the benefit of this major change.

At the very least, I feel a lot less stressed now.  I'm able to let the days sort of define themselves a bit more instead of trying to control every minute.  I think it helps the kids enjoy the process of learning better, too.  And our time together as student and teacher is a lot more relaxed, so it doesn't encroach so greatly on our relationship as child and mother.

Check my instagram for great pictures from our school days lately.  My feed posts on the right and there is a link directly to it by clicking the square-brown camera on the right, as well.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Good for you lady. This is kinda the model we have been using frim the beginning. Many Blessings.

    1. Thank you. You'll have a better time of it using the model from the beginning, I think. I used to require a lot of structure, but as I grow up, I'm enjoying a more relaxed and open schedule. I think it's more natural for the kids, too.

  2. You have grown into a motivated and inspiring woman. From what I see on IG the boys seem to be adjusting well to "unschooling" Whatever works for their successful learning is the desired outcome. Although this would be hard for me, because I prefer more structure, I see it working for your family.

    Love, Mom

    1. Mom, I think you HAVE to say that, but the funny thing is, I know you really mean it. And you know me and how much structure I always preferred, but I'm changing in the past several years. I think the kids we have require me to be flexible and to change plans on a moment's notice, so I started finding we were frustrated more by having a plan all laid out and then not being able to live up to my high ambitions week after week. So now the Lord is teaching me to trust Him more and to trust Him to guide us into unique learning opportunities wherever we are/go. There are moments when I feel panicky and like I am "wasting time," but then I realized that God's just giving me a window of time to focus on Him, to relax or to spend quality moments with certain kids. It's been really good and a real growing experience for each of us. Thank you for your kind words and love my whole life long.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, Brenda! It might not be a big deal for some, but for me it's exciting. :-)