Years ago, before I even had children, I remember a friend of mine sharing his homeschooling philosophy with me. At the time, I was somewhat shocked. More accurately, I was just plain dumb-founded. I’d never heard of such a thing.
Him and his wife raised their children in the early 90’s. Though he never gave an official title to their philosophy of schooling—they may not have known there even was an official title for what they were doing, he simply just called it “homeschooling”.
To start with, he was very adamant that homeschool should not look like government (or private) school in the home. What they did was they taught their children how to read. They also taught them basic math skills. From that point on, they would *regularly* visit (and I mean like weekly) the local library and read up on topics that interested the kids. They’d go on field trips. They’d visit museums and conventions and community events. They took music lessons. They’d seek out information from professionals and businesses, etc. The children developed voracious appetites for books. Their “education” was very much child-interest led. No real textbooks or curriculum involved at all (well, except what they used for math and learning to read). And boy, were those kids SMART!
I thank my friend so much for planting these seeds of what education could look like.
When we started off homeschooling, we naturally began teaching our children through this lens of un-schooling. It happened very naturally actually. We worked hard to teach the kids how to read and write. We taught them basic math skills. But from there, our school went the way of whatever interested the kids.
For example, at one point in time they were interested in toads. So we learned all about them: they’d read books/articles/magazines, write stories, color pictures, go out in the backyard and woods to find them, make toad habitats, try keeping one as a pet, look at pictures online, and compare/contrast the different kinds, etc. When their little minds were filled up with all things “toad”, we’d simply move on to another topic.
When holidays or special occasions arose, we took the time to research those specific topics, decorate the house, play dress-up, explore and attend local celebrations, etc.
And all of this information STUCK. The kids, to this day, still remember vividly that time in our schooling. They loved it. It was fun and totally hands-on… it interested them… and it actually held their interest… No testing required because we KNEW they were learning.
Fast-forward a year or two to when our oldest kids were elementary aged. My spouse and I started caving to the ideologies of the homeschooling community at large. EVERYONE uses a curriculum (it seemed). People would ask us about what curriculum we used. When I said we didn’t really use one, BOY we got an earful: our kids aren’t getting a full and balanced education. They’ll have “gaps”. They won’t be caught up with their peers. They’ll be behind. How will they pass tests (especially the ACT/SAT)? How will they learn Calculus and Chemistry? How will they get a diploma or get into college? (Yes, we were hearing this when our kids were in *elementary* school.)
Eventually we bought into all the crap (pardon me) and started trying out curriculum. Thankfully we never went too far in the hole financially to purchase materials. (And boy, some curriculum are super pricey!!!) But we have definitely tried our fair share of options. Nothing really seemed to work though… or make the kids (and parents) happy. Nothing felt like a good fit for our family. So we’d move on to something else…
This past year, as the frustration mounted for child and parent alike, I just started to PRAY. Lord, give us as a family direction. I just don’t think homeschool should be like this. What is the sole purpose of school anyway? Just to pass a test? To get into college? Be filled with (useless) knowledge that the kids won’t remember? Is school supposed to be boring, uninteresting, and groan-worthy? Are the kids and I supposed to be frustrated? Is there another/better way? Can’t school be fun and interesting? Can’t they always keep that love of learning? Is there any way to NOT squash it?
Thankfully, the Lord has answered our family’s prayer. He started bringing to mind the memories of the way we USED to do things… in the beginning. School was life. It was about what the kids wanted to learn at the time. They’d show an interest… we’d provide them with materials and opportunity. They learned. (Shoot, we the parents learned, too!) We all had a whole lot of fun. Then we’d move on.
As I began to research homeschooling philosophies, I realized this “un-schooling thing” was a totally OK method of schooling. And there’s actually a lot of families out there (world-wide) that are doing this very same thing, too! We’re not odd-balls!!!
When we finally made the decision to un-school, we approached the kids and asked them, “what do you want to learn today?” Their jaws hit the floor and they looked at one another inquisitively and in bewilderment. They haven’t really have had a choice in the matter for a very long time. They just learned what we wanted them to learn. Finally our 10 yr old said, “I want to learn about taffy… like how it’s made.” So I handed her the tablet and said, “ok, go learn”. The kids flipped. They thought I’d gone crazy. But they took the tablet and looked up ALL KINDS OF THINGS. How it’s made, can you make it at home, when did people start making taffy, why is it called “salt water” taffy, taffy pulling, etc. They had a blast. Even my toddlers were excited. That lasted for a time, they got bored, and wanted to move on. But that info stuck. And now they all want to make taffy at home. So we’re going to look into it.
Yesterday it was marble and glass-making. I looked into it, and not too far away is a glass making factory and they give tours! So we plan on going as a family there soon.
On the one hand, embracing un-schooling is freeing… like we FINALLY found what works for our family… we’ve FINALLY come to terms with our beliefs on education. Ahhhh. But on the other hand, it’s kind of scary. We’ve been so inundated with curriculum and schedules and grades and grade levels and testing… it’s hard to think out of the box and let education flow freely and fluidly. And can we do this effectively with (7) children?! So many questions… So many things I have yet to research…
We’re taking the month of August to wet our feet, to relax our white knuckled grip on schooling, to try things out… We’ll see how this next school year goes! Our kids are currently finishing out “summer school”. That is, they’re working on spelling and math each day (online), on top of having to read at least 1 hr. Our official school year won’t start until September 6, the day after Labor Day.
So that’s really why I started this blog. I wanted to log our experiences and adventures with un-schooling. I need a free space to discuss my ideas and concerns and feelings. My spouse and I decided to keep this blog anonymous and devoid of too much personal information concerning our children. For privacy’s sake… and also we just don’t want our loved ones judging us, ridiculing us, berating us for our schooling choices. Gosh, people can just FLIP OUT on you, you know, if you do things differently than the status quo.
If you’re interested, please come along side us as we embrace this new chapter of homeschooling!