A Day in the Life

Homeschooling and Medieval Living

Are unschoolers really nuts?

When I first began homeschooling about five years ago, I researched everything to do with homeschooling. I attended co-ops, support groups, and meetings. I read every article and website. I watched A LOT of YouTube. I then decided to teach my children through structured homeschooling. This means that I re-created the public school experience at home. We had a tough schedule with grading and testing. I kept records and gave out rewards such as stickers and fake money. They used the money to buy things from the treasure box. It seemed to be going well – at least for me.
During this first year, I met all sorts of homeschoolers and unschoolers. The homeschoolers I could understand, but the unschoolers? They were completely bonkers. They actually let their children do whatever they wanted. There was no structure. There were no grades. There was no testing. This was insane! I did not want that for my kids. I wanted them to go to college and be successful. My son loved bugs so he would go to A&M and study entomology. My daughter liked art, so she would go to art school. I had everything planned out. There was only one thing I did not even consider. My children were miserable.
So that first summer, we regrouped. I took some of the structure out. We had school four days a week instead of five. We went on field trips with a local homeschool group. We went to SCA events. We still learned from text books and I still gave grades and rewards. But they were still miserable. What the heck was going on? Couldn’t they see that this was for their own good? They would be successful, by golly.
That next summer, we regrouped again. We still had text books. We still learned from them. But this time, I borrowed a bit from Charlotte Mason and others. It seemed to help but trying to raise the perfectly educated child stressed me out completely.
Fast forward to last year. I started a tech support job from home. I worked the 12-8 pm shift. My husband was attending college in the mornings. We still homeschooled, be it a little more relaxed form of it. So, many things did not get done. Grades were not kept, textbooks were used less and we spent more time together as a family. I missed my kids so we used our time together to bond and have fun. I noticed one very important thing. The world did not end. My kids did not revert back to a Neanderthal state. They still learned. Really? Could this be?
Well, we had many things happen last summer. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to leave my job to take care of my mother (she is in remission now and doing great). So I had more time on my hands, which disappointed my children. You see, I love research. When I start something, I get a bit obsessive about it. So I was back on the homeschooling kick. I got my husband’s college math book and taught my children college math. I also taught them college history. My kids are now 13 and 16 so they breezed through it all. Although my daughter absolutely hates math. I love it. I could factor polynomials all day long and giggle while doing it. But I am nuts. My son likes math though. He giggles too. He also likes Java (silly kid). How does my daughter work math problems? First she opens the book. Then she copies the problem. Then she cries. Well, not really. She does pout and cross her arms a lot. “But I HATE math!” is her mantra of the day. My son spends more of his free time playing video games and less time exploring. He does this to escape. He is not happy. My daughter spends all her free time writing stories and drawing. They were slowly withdrawing from family time. We were all miserable. What should I do?
Last week, I came across Ms. Gwen’s blog. Through it, she introduced me to Peter Gray. He is a psychologist who studies children and how they learn. He is a huge supporter of unschooling. His article titled “The Danger of Back to School” is eye-opening, to say the least. Seeing all of this gave me insight on how I could make my children happy. I realized that success should not be measured in how much money you make (although that is a nice bonus). It should be measured in how happy you are. They say if you love your job you will never work a day in your life. Why shouldn’t school be looked at the same way? We make children do far more work in school than we do at our jobs. They are micromanaged and taught to sit still and do the work. Really? Would you be happy if your boss treated you that way?
So the rest of this year will be spent on happier pursuits. My son will still work on his Java and math (because he likes them) and I will give my daughter a break from math. I will give her more time to draw and write fan fiction. I have even read her stories and they are pretty good. So what if she can’t factor polynomials? She wants to write, draw and act. I don’t think her lack of numeracy knowledge will be a hindrance. I now have the kids work together on projects. There are times when my son is working math on the board and my daughter will lend a hand. My son will also proofread her stories. They still learn but they have fun doing it and they do it on their own terms. I have found unschooling to be more than I thought it could ever be. It is a great way to raise happy kids. My son no longer wants to be an entomologist (although he still loves all insects and animals). He is more into creating digital art and games. My daughter wants to be a voice-over artist. I am done pushing college. As a teen, I had college pushed down my throat. I was the only one in my family to attend a university. I have done nothing with it. It was a great experience, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t use any of that knowledge today. It is really overrated. But that is a whole other blog post all together.
In the end, I have changed my views on homeschooling and unschooling. I have also found that there is a wide spectrum of people in each category. So are unschoolers really nuts? They just want their kids to be happy. So do I. So I guess I am a little nutty too.

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Homeschooling and Public School

Letters on the fridge

Photo Credit: Lyn Lomasi via Compfight

I have homeschooled my children for the last five years. I feel that I have been somewhat successful at it. My daughter will be attending college next year to study acting. My son is only 13 and he already knows and loves Java programming. He is currently working on a Java project of his own. Although most people might think this is an achievement in and of itself, I don’t. Granted, I am very happy and proud of what they have accomplished. But, I am even happier about something that most people don’t notice. They are creative thinkers. When they have a question, they ask it (even when it is an embarrassing one). If I don’t know the answer, we look it up together. Hey, you are never to old to learn something new. My daughter takes things apart just to see how they work. If either child is interested in something, I encourage them to learn more about it. I don’t care if it is “age-appropriate” (well, within reason). My son has been doing advanced algebra since he was 10. He absolutely loves math. My daughter has been reading college level books (such as Tolkien and Shakespeare) since she was in the third grade. Her public school told her that she was too young to read them. So, she checked them out of the public library and read them. I have always made sure that they had support for whatever subject interested them.

When most people think of homeschoolers, they generally think of severe right wing conservatives who only teach what the “good book” tells them to teach. I am here to break that stereotype. First of all, we are Unitarian Universalists and we are pretty liberal (although I wouldn’t go so far as to call us severe left – just moderate). I also practice secular homeschooling. I feel that religion/spirituality/philosophy should be taught separately. Academics should be just that – academics. Secondly, I feel that my children must learn about society and learn to cope within it. In order to attend college, take part in the workforce, or just interact with society, they must learn cooperation, communication, and leadership.

In a way, I have been “homeschooling” my children since they were born. I was there to teach them to walk. I read and sung to them constantly when they were toddlers. I gave them a safe and loving environment in which to explore and learn. I wanted to give them the best that I could. Then, they grew to elementary age. I lovingly sent them off to public school and all was well. I loved the school so much that I helped whenever I could. I was room mother and volunteer of the month. I also took a job as a substitute teacher with the district.

So, if everything was going so swimmingly, why did I pull them out of school? The elementary school was great, fair enough. But then, my daughter began the fifth grade and, in so doing, moved to the intermediate school – which was not so peachy. There were seven classes a day as opposed to one. There were cliques. And the guidance councilor was not as empathic as she could have been. In fact, the woman pried my daughter’s hand out of mine and took her to the councilor’s office daily. In short, the school let me down. It let my daughter down. She begged me not to make her go back to that school and I just could not make her go.

My son, on the other hand, loved school. He was still at the elementary school (in the second grade). But, I could see that there would soon be problems. His teacher complained that he could not stay still. His attention span was very short and he would not stay on task. His desk had been moved several times, but it did not help things. “He really should be on meds,” was what the teacher and staff told me constantly.

On a day in mid-February of 2009, I took them out of public school and I never looked back. I have used many methods of teaching: school-at-home, Classical, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Waldorf, and Unschooling. Finally, I just decided to let them learn however they could (and all of this without medication). Now, my kids use their own methods for learning. This doesn’t mean that I just leave them alone. They still study math, science, computers, drama, the piano, Java and anything their heart desires. I am the bellows that keeps the embers lit. I think any and every parent can do this. Anyone can raise a creative thinker with or without the help from a public, private, charter, or online school. If your child attends a really great school, more the better. There are great schools out there. But that doesn’t mean you should just leave all the teaching duties up to the school. As parents and caregivers we could do so much more. I didn’t just leave it up to someone else to teach my children alone. I have used all the resources I had to make my children the best they can be. Will you?

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How I Homeschool

As many of you may know, I have been homeschooling for the last five years. During that time, I have researched many homeschooling methods. There are so many of them out there. I have tried to take bits from each and every one of them to create my own eclectic method. Here is what I have taken from each one of them.

Charlotte Mason

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Mason believed that children should be involved with their education. She felt that the children should learn through immersion, not just sitting and reading a text book. I have put this into my homeschooling. Even though we read textbooks, we also learn by doing. For science, we go outside and really look at nature. For math, we use manipulatives whenever possible. For writing, I have them write in a journal. Mason uses Living Books in her curriculum. That is something I am trying to do more of. I am always on the lookout for good history authors. When my daughter was younger, she loved the Magic Treehouse books. They were ideal. We would read them together and talk about history. Now, we use The History Teachers. Their YouTube channel is full of history lessons set to popular music. I have found my kids singing bits of history many times throughout the week.

Classical

This method emphasizes the Great books of Western Tradition. I have exposed my children to these books. From Homer to Chaucer and from Shakespeare to Twain, we have read and discussed so many of them. Although, we have not even covered half of the list.

Dr. Maria Montessori Method

This method has an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s development. I give the kids a list of subjects and say “Which one do you want to do first?” I allow them to choose from a list of choices. Each student has a list of what needs to be learned that week. They can then choose when they want to do each lesson. They can do all of their math in one day or spread it out over the week. If everything is accomplished early, they get Friday off school. If all their work is not done by Friday at bedtime, they will not have free time during the weekend until it is all finished. Dr. Montessori stressed that children should work in mixed age groups. My daughter is three years older than my son. Yet both of them work together to figure out problems. Both are working from the same math book – Pearson’s Pre-Algebra and Introductory Algebra. My son is stronger at math than my daughter. So, he helps her out with her math. She is stronger at reading so she helps him out with that. I love it that they can both work together. Plus, I just have to teach a subject once and it is done.

Structured

In the beginning, I was very structured in my teaching. We had a set schedule. It was:

  • 8-9 Wake up, eat, chores
  • 9-10 Language Arts
  • 10-1030 Math
  • 1030-1100 MW History, Tuesday Science, Thursday Geography
  • 11-12 Electives (Computer Science, German, Piano, Art, etc.)

We only did this for a year. It was really hard and did not allow any flexibility. Now, I just have a schedule on a week to week basis.

Unit Studies

Unit Studies are a cross-curricular educational approach in which learning is focused around a common, central theme. We have done this with history. The theme/subject was the War of 1812. The kids first read about it in their history book. Then, we watched a YouTube video about it. Then, we listed to the 1812 Overture and the Battle of New Orleans.  For the science portion, we learned about the artillery and ships that were used then. For geography, we looked at various maps of the time. Then, they wrote about what they had learned.

Unschooling

There have been times (especially around holidays and errands) when I just let the kids choose what they want to do. I still have trouble letting them go completely. I still have to set some boundaries. In this respect, I tend to lean more towards Montessori than Unschooling.

Waldorf

The Waldorf Method emphasizes the cooperation instead of competition. We do that in our homeschool. The children work together on so much as a team. For math, they do their work together. Then I make each one of them do a problem on their own – working it out on the board. By doing it as a team first, they encourage each other to find the right answer. Then each one is confident to do the work on his/her own.

We just got out of school a couple of weeks ago. I have already started work on next year. At the end of every year I ask them, “So, do you want to go into public school next year or shall we homeschool another year?” Their answer is always the same “I don’t want to go back to public school. Can we homeschool forever?”

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