Finding the Freedom to Unschool (at least a little bit)



I don't think my homeschooling can adequately be described by any one of the popular methods anymore.  I think if I had to give an answer it would be the Classically-Minded Montessori Traditional Charlotte Mason-Inspired Unit Study Unschooly School of Stuff method.  With a concentration in Intuitive Parenting.

Because I want them all. 

A literature-based curriculum that keeps children enthused about subjects and taps into the innate desire to learn and teaches through the universal appeal of story?  
YES!

A time-tested curriculum that fosters critical thinking skills and immersion in ancient truths and cultural foundations and teaches according to the proper understanding level of the student?  
Of course!

A curriculum that focuses on hands-on experiential and skill-based learning that grows upon the interior inborn intellectual delight of the student?  
Oh that!  We've got to do THAT!

A school setting that requires rigorous work and proof of concept mastery and acknowledges that the worth of a subject cannot be measured by its immediate gratification?  
Obviously!

Check all the boxes.  I want them all.  And on any particular day you'll find me using one or more approach, though I don't necessarily identify it as such while it's happening (and probably wouldn't really know how anyway).  And that's where the Intuitive Parenting comes in.  What seems to my reason and intellect to make the most sense in this given situation?  
Yes.  Let's do that.

But as I get further along in this homeschooling journey I find myself more and more relying on the scariest one of all.  Unschooling.  I have my non-negotiable subjects - math, reading, writing, Latin, memory work, piano.  Those things get done because they must get done and aren't always going to be fun.  But things like science, history, literature, physical education, health and more have for the most part become my unschooling subjects.  Here's why:

A few weekends ago we went to a Civil War reenactment.  We thought the boys would like it (they adored it) and we had a free Saturday and a season pass.  So we went.  When they got home within fifteen minutes they were setting up their own battle.  A week or two later I turned around to my six year old's request, "Mama, look at me!  I'm George Washington!"  He had on a navy blue tee shirt and his version of a tricorn hat fashioned out of construction paper and string.  I briefly admired and then didn't think much about it so used to it as I am.  The boys all went out to play and I cleaned.  As I cleaned I found books strewn about the front room.  Again.
Sigh.  Will they EVER learn to pick up their books?  
But as I picked them up I saw the title of the books and what was happening.  All the books were about George Washington and different battles of the Revolutionary War.  They were learning yet again without me doing a single thing.  A few minutes later I was called out to the yard to this:





It was their own Revolutionary War reenactment.  They had looked it up, worked together, planned it all out (uniforms, weaponry, attack styles, smoking cannons and all), and they did it all without one iota of help from me.  I can guarantee that they learned more from that than from anything I could've planned.  I mean, I guess I could've planned all that out.  I could've decided that at a certain month or year we were going to study the Revolutionary War.  I could've planned reading assignments and crafts and discussions and field trips about the topic.  I could've written out lesson plans and assigned biographies and read them stories of the battles.  I could see this being part of some very extensive unit study program with coloring sheets, book lists, diagrams to make tricorn hats, and a whole big helping of stress on the side.  That could work.  But this time something else did.  They did it on their own, they did it for fun, and they did it without any stress on my part.  I have to believe there's something very important to them taking the initiative, figuring it out, implementing it, and wanting to do it all on their own.

And I'm learning to be okay with that.   

This happens all the time.  I bet it does in a whole lot of houses.  History, science, reading, sports…they want to learn about something and then they do.  Or a conversation about something happens naturally at the dinner table - a current event, a way to spell something, a debate about the best ways to build a rocket.  It's the lemonade stand they plan and implement all on their own.  The random Google search to answer that question about black holes.  The poring over a book on Ancient Egypt and requesting a coloring page of King Tut's mask.  The family garden.  The building of a birthday catapult.  The desire for cookies (the "if you can figure out how to make them, sure we can have them" approach.)  The woodworking project with dad.  The family pilgrimage.

They're learning all the time.

And yet every single year I still think I need to have The Perfect History Curriculum, The Perfect Science Curriculum, The Perfect Book List, The Perfect Program to Write on the Form.  Otherwise, how will they learn?  And every year I fail at implementing it and they still learn and no doubt learn far more than that elusive curriculum would've accomplished anyway.  

It's messier than I would like.  It's not organized and lovely and doesn't fit well onto the state's quarterly report forms.  I can't quantify it and measure it and check it off my list.  But it's real and it's happening and if I see it for what it is, it's actually an unbelievable gift.

The world is an incredibly interesting place.  The stories of our past, the way creation works, the many amazing things we can create with our hands and talents - they all entice the child whose mind has not been dulled.  And while I nod my head to that, it is just now that I'm learning to embrace it and let it work for me.  How foolish I am to be too afraid to get out of the way and just let it happen!  It's a gift to the homeschooling mom that her children are born with that innate desire and instinct to learn and very often it can happen with nary a structured and stressful lesson plan.  It's a gift that I'm learning to recognize as real and just as valid as the learning that can be quantified and checked off the list, if not more so.  It's a gift that my family needs right now.

I think it's fair to say there are things we have intuitively or intentionally done to foster this kind of thing so it's certainly not just hands-off do-nothing homeschooling.  Not at all.  But it is natural, effective and darn it, it's certainly easier.  Which means it's a whole lot more likely to happen versus my perfectly outlined and parent intensive curriculum that I won't realistically actually implement because baby and dinner and exhaustion and how the heck did we run out of red construction paper again?!?  

We have set family meal times, we go on field trips as a family (but I don't think I've ever once called it that), we greatly limit screen and media time (and make very intentional choices about those when they are allowed), I allow them ample amount of free time, and we've filled our home library with books that are worth reading.  All of those play a huge part in things like described above just "happening."


Oh, don't get me wrong.  I don't want to give off the idea that our home is some blissful 24/7 educational utopia.  Because it's not.  But right now we are called to homeschool.  And I have a little brood of kids, a home to care for, meals to make, health to keep up, and other ministries that are important to me.  If God is calling me to all of these then I need to accept and believe that God will provide a way for it all to happen.  And maybe this is part of it.  Maybe I can accept this natural curiosity and eagerness to learn as His gift to me.  I want to recognize that and work with that and stop stressing about it fitting some sort of preconceived mold of what education should look like.  I'm going to see those moments they create as the way God may be giving me to continue to educate my children at home while still meeting the demands of all the other things.  A gift I can receive without guilt or pressure to the ever tempting More.

This year I'm daring to allow that to be my lesson planning.  They'll be required subjects, of course.  They'll be daily math and reading and Latin and more.  But I'm going to try for those other subjects to not plan anything at all.  With lots of materials and tactics and ideas in my arsenal, I can let go and embrace the gift of letting it happen all on its own without me needing to stress or fear.  I'm finally giving in to that fact that maybe God had a hand in all this and let it be the joyful, messy, and so very freeing adventure that it can be.  I'm embracing the gift of children who want to learn and counting it as valid.  

I think I'm finally  learning that it's okay to get out of the way and that the lessons that I don't need to teach are just as real as the ones I do.

And of course, this is where I am now and how it looks for our family right now.  It's not what I deem the way all the families must do it so let's get off that crazy train right now.  But for me right now in our particular family it's time for me to embrace the fact that I don't need to do it all.  To see the gift that's lying open right in front of me.  It's time for me to finally let go of my ingrained ideas of how it should all look and embrace the gift and freedom of sometimes doing what feels like "nothing" at all.

6 comments

  1. Mary
    Love the story of your boys embracing all things Civil War:) and yes I just love those 'unschooling' moments where they learn despite us. I do think the success is in the environment you are providing. Wishing you an awesome learning year:) {{}}

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  2. Eh... I kind of hate the term unschooling for things like this. "Self-driven learning" makes way more sense in that they wanted to learn and so they made it happen. Clearly they schooled. I always think of true unschooling as the kids who's parents literally just experience the world as their school but I'm a big nobody on the homeschool circuit so don't mind me. Whatever you call it, I love it. I love learning!! And this was right up my alley!

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    1. Ha, yeah, the definition of unschooling is so wide open it seems…I'm not sure there IS an official definition. To me it means self-driven learning with no formal plans or schedules.

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  3. Those pictures bring back so many memories! When I was five, my grandparents packed my brother, myself, and my Mom into the motor home and went for a four week Revolutionary War battfield tour. And again was I was eight, a six week Civil War battlefield trip. It was all things AWESOME! I am pretty sure I became a history major because of those trips. My mom has a video (taken with the old, heavy vhs camera) of my brother preaching a homily at the church in Jamestown. Fun times. I will need to pull this out in the middle of the year when I am stressed that all the plans I've made aren't working for us.

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  4. This is my 20th year of homeschooling (if you don't count the pre-school years with my oldest) and with 3 year old twins I know I will be at it for many more years to come. I have fallen in love with so many ways to teach my children. I have found that not one school year looks like another, but not one semester looks like another, not one day looks like another. I "unschooled" with lots of texts books as launching pads for the rabbit trails. I need to add that we have lots of learning issues in our kiddos so that alters the output. I have 4 in or past college now and they are doing great! If we led our kiddos to Heaven, then the rest is gravy.

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