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Unschooling > How do you do it?
atmommy's Avatar atmommy 05:39 PM 01-13-2012

I am homeschooling an almost 6 yr old who is quite bright.  He reads at a 3rd/4th grade level and he loves reading period!  I am a former teacher so I struggle with making things to schooly.  We have started doing unit studies which my DS chose the topics for.  However, I have a second DS who is 13 months and my oldest is still struggling with the adjustment factor.  DH works long hours so in theory, I am operating as a single parent a majority of the workweek.  That being said, his behavior has been off the charts (see other threads in other forums!) and I feel that he needs me more than he needs structured lessons.  He loves doing school so I don't want to drop it altogether.  My idea is to scale down our unit study, right now it is Ancient Greece and we are ready myths and learning about life during that time.


I have always been intimidated by unschooling so, if you will, what does an unschooling day look like for you?  How do you tackle the 3Rs, etc.  Thanks in advance for feeding my ignorance!  nut.gif

NellieKatz's Avatar NellieKatz 09:38 PM 01-13-2012

Have you seen this forum thread, called "What did your US-er do today"?


That may help. Also, to understand unschooling, you might want to get your hands on any books by John Holt, especially How Children Learn. Here is some information about him:

He really made a huge difference in our decisions about how our son would get educated.


Also, there is a Psychology Today blog called Freedom to Learn, by Peter Gray. He is an advocate of unschooling and has written many good articles, which you will find here:


As for our family, we are not 100% unschoolers. I teach him math and reading, in ways that work with his own style of processing the information (i.e. super-flexible, not rigid or structured), and I explain to him that those are his "tools in his toolbox" that he will need to pursue the things that interest him.


I can't elaborate more on what we do at the moment, as I am tired and need to go to bed. But I did not want to leave your question hanging there with no answer.




SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 09:34 AM 01-14-2012

We are definitely unschoolers, in the academic sense at least.  We did study Greek myths, but mostly through reading stories.


My girls are 5 and 7 and dd1 just loves monsters.  That interest came from whale and sharks, then dinosaurs, then dragons then onto monsters.  It was my idea to introduce Greek mythology because of all the fabulous monsters in the stories.  Honestly, we just read a ton of stories (not always easy with a little one around.)  I don't personally tie their subjects of interest into unit studies, so Greek mythology might just be an exploration of the myths themselves.  But you could make it more.  I am a pretty proactive parent when it comes to introducing ideas.  If there is a kid-friendly museum with an ancient Greek exhibit, then go there.  


Asking a child not only what they want to learn about, but how they want to learn it is a good first step in giving him the reins.  Sometimes I smile, because my 5yo might say she's going to do X, and I might have a particular way to get her to complete it but I keep quiet and 10 minutes later she's got some concoction taped together and colored and says it's a stable and sticks her toy horses in it and it is nothing like I had in mind, but this is *all hers* and she loves it.  That's the 5yo example, it can get more complex as kids get older.


A couple of things influence our current style: my approval of delayed academics, and the relatively lax homeschooling laws of our state that enable me to follow my heart more closely than a mama living in a more demanding state.


The key with unschooling is less *what* you do than how you do it.  Sort of.  I think a key aspect of unschooling is embedded learning, from real, active life.  I have binoculars available, the camera.  I encourage the girls to help with dinner and baking.  For Christmas we bought some child-size woodworking tools and today while I'm at work, dh and the girls are going to experiment with them outside.  We do an awful lot of reading.  I like to give them free access to their art supplies.  In general we are not very academic yet, but they love to write and learn to read and count and do math in their head (I've learned in this sense my girls are not necessarily typical).


I think most parents are less comfortable with a full-on unschooling approach, and that discomfort especially kicks in as the kids get older.  The homeschooling guilt that parents get sometimes can be a little worse in this unschooling parent, and a lot of mamas would feel more comfortable if they included some structured academics for their own piece of mind.  So far we are doing fine without any structured academics at all.  


In between unschooling like we do, and sit-down homeschooling is the vast, murky, undefined grey area of "eclectic" or "relaxed".  Some families really do unschool, but don't want to be bound by definitions, and others do some structure, but mostly child-led.  It is a nice, comfy spot for many homeschoolers to sit pretty.  The nice thing about this is that somehow it mentally prepares parents for the inevitable changes in their kids and what they might require.  This "allows" parents to shift between periods of more academics, less, more of an unschooling stretch.


A good, recent thread with a good overview of USing is "As an USer do you....".  It is a spinoff somewhat of the behemoth "Regrets" thread and is a questions-and-answer format.


A very good, readable book about unschooling is "Homeschooling our children Unschooling ourselves" by Allison somethingorother.  John Holt is the "father" of USing.  I like the Home Education magazine and their website.  They lean toward unschooling, but encompass the broad range of homeschoolers from secular to Christian to unschoolers to radical unschooling.

atmommy's Avatar atmommy 01:38 PM 01-14-2012

This was extremely helpful and insightful.  I think, because of my teaching background and need to have some sort of structure, that ecletic/relaxed would work well for us.  I was always careful not to make our homeschooling experience like school at home because that was one of the main reasons why we homeschool.  Thanks for this :)

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 08:39 PM 01-14-2012

I wanted to add that you could always just slowly add in more child-led activities slowly.  Just keep giving him the reins until you feel that you have struck the right balance.  


I am a huge fan of unschooling and enjoy every day of it.  I am a fascilitator and senior student more than a teacher, and I know there is a lot to be learned from it: children having to learn to regulate their day, structuring their own learning, taking ownership of it..... I lost my last post I was composing and it was better.


But I also know that unschooling is not for every parent.  Some just don't find that balance where they can feel comfortable giving kids the reins without feeling like they themselves are the cart-horse!  Still, if you feel that you are doing too much sit-down, structured learning, it can be nice to know that you can back off that somewhat without letting it go entirely.


Summer can be a great time to experiment with what straight-up unschooling might feel like.  I almost feel like summer is when our learning kicks into overdrive and it is so easy to just let kids explore the world for themselves, make their own discoveries, share their world with you, your world with them.  For me, unschooling means adults opening their own interests and activities and responsibilities to their kids to share in.  Summer can be a great time to play around with that.  And, if it doesn't feel right for you to continue quite so free-range, then.... homeschool is in session!  But perhaps your experiment will convince you that kids, especially little ones, really do learn without us needing to always pour the knowledge into them ourselves.  That's an encouraging thought, whether you become an "unschooler" or not.

Tigeresse's Avatar Tigeresse 10:24 AM 01-15-2012
Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

A very good, readable book about unschooling is "Homeschooling our children Unschooling ourselves" by Allison somethingorother.  John Holt is the "father" of USing.  I like the Home Education magazine and their website.  They lean toward unschooling, but encompass the broad range of homeschoolers from secular to Christian to unschoolers to radical unschooling.

Alison McKee is the author of the book SweetSilver mentioned. It's a good one! I've also had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her speak several times. I love her down-to-earth approach. smile.gif

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 04:19 PM 01-16-2012

Originally Posted by Tigeresse View Post

Alison McKee is the author of the book SweetSilver mentioned. It's a good one! I've also had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her speak several times. I love her down-to-earth approach. smile.gif

The other thing you will appreciate is that McKee was also a school teacher.  That's the "Unschooling Ourselves" half of it.  Much of the book focusses on her own experience reexamining what she had been taught was the right way to teach.



SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 05:50 PM 01-17-2012

I think I'll give you what you asked for in your first post, then I think I've hogged this thread enough.  


The days have been a bit slow, due to dh's lax winter work schedule and the unusual snowy weather that has cancelled all our scheduled activities this week, today was gymnastics.


This morning the girls woke up, and watched their video.  It was dd2's turn and she chose Magic School Bus.  After one DVD (3 episodes) the TV was turned off and they got around to playing (and fighting a bit).  Meanwhile I hopped on and off the computer, fed all the critters, ate breakfast, made coffee and settled with the girls on the couch to read a chapter from "Prisoner of Azkaban" while 5yo dd2 looked at her own pile of books.  Read a book of dd2's choice.  the last 2 days they've been suiting up for the snow, but today the snow is gloppy.  But dd2 went to collect our days' ONE egg from the coop.


The girls played and dh read to them while I headed out for my walk.


When I got back, the girls were having lunch.  I thought this was going to be a slow day, as far as schoolish activities went, but 7yo dd1 started doing some copy work, writing sea animal names down from her favorite book, Oceanarium.  This has been a recent turn of events.  She has struggled with fine motor development and has learned to write in fits and starts.  It has not been easy for her, but lately she's taken to it with renewed confidence.  The daily practice she has taken on has strengthened her hands, too, making things even easier.  She copies the words into a stiff-backed composition book with silver glitter on the cover.


I ate lunch, did some chores.  Some days they join me with this, but they finally got their playtime groove and were happily playing together.  The chores have been slim because dh, a professional gardener, is in his slowest weeks right now and is home most days.  


Right before I sat down for more Harry Potter (#3 is my favorite!) dd2 asked me what 8+8 is.  Often I don't make the girls figure out stuff because my mom did that and it Drove.  Me.  Nuts!  But, I do a silly pause because I know dd1 is listening.  Well, usually.  Not this time.  So I himmed and hawed and screwed up my face funny trying hard to think think think *what* 8+8 could possibly be........hmmmmm..... when dd2 said "I can draw 8 squares and count them!"  She mumbled as she drew the squares "there are two 4's in 8".  She seemed a bit stumped what to do with her 8 squares, though, but she ended up counting them twice through after I suggested she wanted to add up two 8's.  "16!"


Then we read 2 chapters of Harry Potter while dd2 did her writing with Oceanarium in her gold-sparkle composition book.  She also recorded her finding that 8+8=16.  Well, now we know that Sirius Black is Harry's godfather!


Then I got up to do some yoga.  Brought down the heavy stack of coffeetable books on subjects like whales and dinosaurs and mammals at dd2's request.  DD2 looked at them from the top of the stack.  DD1 started to do yoga with me, but became distracted by the mammals.  Yoga (aaaaahhhh!) was prematurely finished by a tooth that got whacked loose when looking at the books turned into silly rough housing.  Read some books to dd2 to help settle her down-- Sneeches and Make Way for Ducklings.


The snow has prompted a lot of interesting questions about what exactly it is.


Now I need to get ready to make dinner.  Hopped on the computer.  Normally the computer is turned off after breakfast, but dh is home and wants it on, which I find terribly distracting. The girls have fashioned desks out of cardboard boxes, pulled up little footstools and are busy writing in their books again, playing "school".  Sometimes they help me make dinner.  


I'm sure the play will get appropriately rambunctious right before bed.  DH reads bedtime stories, including at least one that dd1 can read by herself.


I would say this day is about average.  Somedays are busier, some are not.  Sometimes there is hardly anything resembling "schoolish" things, some days are filled with it.  We "unschool" 7 days a week, 365 days a year (366 this year!).  So, if some people see this day as not having a lot in it, remember that "school" does not come and go for us.  We are "on" all the time. 


I think you will find that this is fairly constant among all kinds of unschooling families, though primarily the ones with young kids like mine.  The line between real life and learning is regularly blurred and often indistinguishable.  I have been told by mamas with experience that kids change as they get older, wanting to do more focussed academic studies (and whatever is in their interest) to work toward a specific goal, and unschooling can look quite different.  Unschooling younger kids often looks a bit disorganized, though not without rhythm.  That's been my experience, but not every young child is like mine.  Some really love sitting down with parents and "doing school" from very early on.  Some are quiet about their discoveries. Mine shout them out at every opportunity, leaving me with no doubt as to where they are in relation to their schooling peers.


So, take this as one unschooling mama's experience on one particular day, and not a definitive example of what unschooling will always look like.





Piglet68's Avatar Piglet68 09:12 PM 01-17-2012

If you think of unschooling as a lifestyle you might appreciate the differences in what any given "day" looks like. Some families like to be out and about a lot, they like to do lots of different things. Other families prefer to be homebodies and not schedule too much for themselves. So how busy you are will depend on your particular family. Our family could best be described as homebodies. My kids are most content and most comfortable at home and they don't have high social needs. So we don't have much in the way of scheduled activities.OTOH, I know families whose kids want to be around other kids a lot, and/or staying at home is a recipe for mama to go crazy, so they intentionally schedule more activities and outings than we do. Here's what we do, but keep in mind that you can tailor your life to whatever floats your boat - that is the beauty of unschooling! :-)


Right now we have entered a very busy schedule time, but I think many people would consider it not busy at all. Our homeschool group has started meeting up at the local rec centre for a public swim on Mondays and since the kids enjoy it so much (and they are so well behaved that I can actually socialize) we are planning to do it often. Probably not every week since I've found that my kids will start to get bored and their behaviours go downhill if that's the case, then it's not fun. So two or three times a month is good. On Tuesday and Thursdays we have an aid worker who comes for my son (he is high-functioning autistic) and since being at home is easy for us I've been planning outings on those days to make full use of her: attend a homeschool get-together, go to the playground, visit a local nature centre, etc. On Wednesdays DS has riding lessons for one hour in the afternoon. So basically we have something going on 4 days a week, and that is already starting to feel like a lot for me. My husband is away during the week for work, so on weekends we don't schedule anything except DH and I take riding lessons together (it's our "couple time" thing right now) on Saturdays. And at some point DH usually takes the kids out to give me a break and reconnect with them after a few days away from home. 


Mornings are slow here. We tend to be night owls, especially during the short days of winter, so lately we've been going to bed around 11-ish and getting up around 9-ish. I really appreciate that we can all get as much sleep as our bodies need, waking up when we are truly refreshed and ready to start our day. The kids generally start off their day playing on computers or playing with toys. It's a quiet time and I'm generally busy with housework, paperwork (paying bills and all the myriad organizational stuff of being a homemaker), or baking/cooking. If there is nothing scheduled that I need to prep for (packing lunches, etc) then I offer to do "sit down" time with them where they get about an hour of one-on-one time with me to work on any project or craft or activity of their choosing. Sometimes they know what they want to do and sometimes I make suggestions and they pick. We go out late morning or early afternoon and like to be home by about 3 or 3:30. Then the kids do their thing until dinner, after which mama is officially "off duty" and I generally watch movies and knit, or go on my computer (DH is away during the week for work so I'm basically single-parenting then). 


What do my kids do when we are hanging out at home? DD is very self-motivated, always has been. She enjoys drawing (I mean she actually studies drawing techniques, etc), computer art programs, writing and illustrating her own comics (both online and on paper), sculpting with polymer clay (she especially likes miniatures), and making movies (she has a video camera, shoots film, then edits and adds sound effects and music using iMovie and publishes them on her YouTube channel). She is also keenly interested in Nature and enjoys watching all the BBC series like Blue Planet, Planet Earth, etc. Through reading, movies, trips to nature centres, etc she has amassed a pretty decent amount of knowledge about biology. She learned to read and write on her own, started doing basic math on her own (she'd ask us to show her stuff, she liked playing with math workbooks, etc). Over the last year or two she has not been as interested in math, got the impression she had fallen behind (long story; short version is - I nagged her a bit and she shut down) and is pretty math-resistant right now but I know she is very capable and eventually will come back to it if I back the heck off. It's easy not to worry when your kid is reading at age 3 and writing at age 4 but I do believe that all kids learn to read eventually (learning disabilities not included) and they will learn to write and do basic math too because you simply can't go through life without encountering these things and I've seen it happen. 


DS also learned to read at age 3, writing was harder because he has muscle tone issues and it was hard for him but because we never, ever pressured him or made any issue out of it he has no resistance issues with it. His writing is poor for his age but definitely improves with each passing year relative to himself and he will not hesitate to pick up a pen and write if he feels the need so I'm not worried about it. It will come with practice. He is starting to get into chatting online with friends (he plays Roblox, Minecraft, etc) and this is prompting him to learn a lot of spelling without even realizing it ("Mama, I need to spell KNIGHT!"). He has a good head for numbers but is not interested in math busywork and since he is only seven I'm not even thinking much about it yet. He does show an intuitive grasp of number relationships and I want to preserve his confidence in that. 


Not all kids are self-driven at home like mine are. Some kids need some prompting, or more active assistance with learning how to fill their time. You might find your kids like having a regular schedule, they may enjoy sitting down with you to do "busywork", they might need to you to help them when they seem bored or lacking direction. But you can do all this without imposing it on them or nagging them. My point is that just because a kid may struggle with how to fill a gap in time that doesn't mean unschooling isn't working. They just may need some tips on how to find that thing that they would like to do right now, just like some kids need some tips on reading. What's important is the let the kid tell you if something isn't working and let them back out of it if they aren't happy. Stay willing to discuss and throw out ideas or suggestions but don't expect them to follow it. 


Wow, that was long but hope that helps give you some idea of what unschooling looks like. 

Tags: Unschooling