Welcome Back to School: “How I Make this Unschooling Charlotte Mason Legal!”
It’s been quite a while since I sat at the keys of my computer, but Life has been crazy! We have turned back into single car family, the kids got sick, I started teaching Sunday School and I’ve been engrossed in writing my first fantasy novel (scary/crazy/wonderful all in one!). Also, I really needed time to fill in some of the blanks in our planner (I probably could have used last years but its trapped inside of a box from our move to the Apartment) so that I could show how this all works for me.
Before I dive in to the whole process let me make a quick disclaimer or two:
I live in Anne Arundle County Maryland and have only ever worked with this county. Please tweak anything I write or use to fit the requirements of your county and or State or even just your preferences. Please research the regulations for your state to make sure that you are complying to them. This is just a general guide of what works for me.
Disclaimer 2: This is my second year in this state, I am NOT an EXPERT, nor am I claiming to be. I was praised highly by the three reviewers I met at different times regarding how I set this up. Several people who were interested in how I record our daily activities for legal purposes really liked how I put this together and so I am sharing this as an Idea for anyone who may want to try it out. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
#1 Know the Rules and Regulations of your County and State.
In order to make this all legal in my state I have to prove that I am providing “regular and thorough instruction” in the main subjects taught at a school. The ones listed for Maryland are “English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education.” I do not lesson plan. I do not create a Scope and Sequence. I do not follow a curriculum. I follow my children’s interests, read, explore and generally learn through life… which you can imagine does not provide a whole lot of proof of “regular and thorough” instruction.
When I started this journey I FREAKED out while trying to prepare for my first review!! There are two required a year and some prefer to go via an umbrella school which will help you go through the process for a fee but we don’t have extra money so we do our reviews through the county because its free.Mid freak out I called one of the veteran homeschoolers from church (who reassured me that I was fine), read through every blog I could find (not much help), searched high and low for any paper proof that my son had actually learned what I claimed he did (not too much was still in pristine condition). I even went so far as to have him take a few math and language arts placement tests (which I despise…but I was desperate) to prove to the reviewer that he did in fact know how to read and do grade level math.
All of it in vain.
I brought my son in (not because I needed to, he just wanted to come along) and he wowed our reviewer as he chatted to her answering questions about the subject matter before I could. I showed the reviewer my planner, some photos from our iPad and an excel file. I did not even get to the papers and tests before she started singing my praises and told me that I had enough. Before siting down with her I had a mini meltdown in the lobby of our county library as I watched other moms walking in with SUITCASES and CHRISTMAS TOTES filled with curriculum to show off…I had an iPad and an expandable file folder, there was no way I could compete!
The reviewer let me in on a secret that day … boxes of curriculum does not always mean a well educated child.
I asked her what her and the other reviewers (usually retired teachers) looked at so that I could prepare for future reviews.
Her answer was simple.
A schedule, even if its loose .
A variety of subject matter.
#2 The Schedule (“Regular” Instruction)
Having a schedule is NOT mandated, overtly, in the state guidelines and many of the other homeschoolers I had talked to were irate at the idea that they would ask for a schedule when it is not mandated by law. Here is the thing though, as explained by our reviewers, a schedule is the easiest way to show the “regular” part of the “regular and thorough instruction” as mandated by the laws. Personally, I prefer to show a loose schedule rather than hundreds of dated pieces of paper so I will continue to have schedules as a part of my review prep.
(Be kind with these photos: I am not a photographer and these were taken with my iPhone while my two year old jumped on the couch…spilling yogurt in the process on said couch… ah life!)
This is my current planner. Last year I bought a generic weekly planner at Target but the daily sections were pretty small and I was adding another student so I created a planner of my own using a large sketch book from an art supply store (I think it was Micheals but it may have been Joann’s), a ruler and markers.
On the First Page of the Binder I wrote out the calendar for the year . It’s not perfect and I could have printed one out to paste into place, but I didn’t. After making this page I decided I really needed to use a ruler. Wow those are some wonky squares!
I separated the months into quarters because it is easier for me to keep track of all the changes this way. I was also told that it makes me look very official and organized…which is a plus that I was not relying on.
The next page is a break down of scheduled vacations and Holidays. This is more so that I can have it written in one place. Each vacation is based off of a general time frame when we like to do a family vacation (or staycation) and each day off is based off a holiday we celebrate or a family members birthday. If we need more time off we take it…but here is the thing, when your living and learning daily though every day experiences then everyday is a school day.
This is really purely for review purposes.
Here is where we have our very loose weekly schedule, which has already changed dramatically since we lost the use of one of our second car… see, loose interpretation at work!
Followed by our very loose daily Schedule, which as stated before is just a loose guide, it will change from day to day but generally we try to keep a rhythm that looks kind of like this.
#3 Varied Subject Matter (Thorough instruction in the main areas of study)
For this section I will focus on how I prove “thorough” instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education. I will go through it step by step but its easiest to think of it as reverse engineering for unit studies. I take what we do each day and then link the activities up into units after the fact.
The first part of this varied instruction is the list of things my children want to learn within the school year. As stated before, I find it easiest to work in Quarters, It helps us keep our focus and reassess regularly.
Each child has a page in the planner dedicated to their goals, broken up by quarter.
After each child’s personal goals page is our yearly planner.
Every night, or once a week depending on the week, I fill in what my children have done during that day. Some days I am very vague, others quite detailed. I color code the entries so that I know who did what. Green is my son (his favorite Color), purple/red is for my daughter (purple is her favorite but the marker died on me and so I switched to red) and blue is for activities we do together as a family. I will add other colors as amy other two get old enough and I will probably change how wide I make my days to fit all four…if we still live in this state by then.
If the activity is easily separated into a subject, I simply write down the activity. If the activity requires explanation, than I list out subjects and why it fits. For example, we go to Kinder Farm Park several times a month, however what we talk about, who we encounter, what books we may read under the shade of a tree adjacent to the chicken coop or what rabbit trail this adventure may spur will change with each visit and so I list the topics covered while there.
I also list activities normally associated with play, cartoon shows and video games my children engage with…even if they’re not overtly educational. For example, I have here pretend play and legos. When my children play pretend they are creating worlds (setting), creating alternate personalities (characters, antagonists, protagonists), acting out stories (beginning, plot, end) and often times they are incorporating what they have learned (summarization, narration, gathering thoughts). When my children play with legos or blocks they are testing the rules of physics, they are practicing physical science, they are budding engineers trying to solve problems. A morning filled with intense pretend play and lego building is morning filled with language arts, social studies, math and science. When my son pulls out the iPad to check on Boom Beach, Samurai Siege, Hay day, Dragon story and Vikings Gone Wild, he is doing economics (collecting money for goods or services), social studies (warfare, societal structures, rural vs urban, Vikings, Samurai/Ninja, WWII), math (I challenge him with calculating his total earnings before the computer, sequencing, cause and effect) and these games often lead to rabbit trails in other subjects as well (how did different people use archery in the past? Why would there be a need for landing vehicles = DDAY study). Same goes for cartoons. When my children watch Peep in the Big Wide World they start asking questions (or I do and they have fun finding answers), they use what they are learning about animals and then use that information when we go to the park (is it true that ducks are purple turned into a whole waterfowl study!). I record it all like this. Mostly because I will forget that conversation in a week or two, even if the kiddos don’t.
At the end of the quarter, I will all of these notes and add them into an excel sheet.
This is last years excel sheet. Basically, I reverse engineer a unit study approach based on everything we do. The first column is used for the Unit Study and its break down and each following column is a subject. The Subject columns are only big enough for an x and I simply x off any subject that may fit.
For example: This is a small portion of the Physics Study from last year.
Social Studies Arts Field Trips Science Math English For. Lan. Health
Physics (on going)
Isacc Newton X X X
Bashers Physics X
Nova: Computer and Fractals X X X
Blocks X X
What if the Moon Didn’t Exist:BBC X X X
In addition to the planner and excel sheet, I also have a simple composition note where we keep anything written that is not from a workbook. Yes, we have workbooks strewn about the house along with coloring books and I offer them as one of MANY options to choose. One of my children actually enjoys them and so chooses to do a page or so in them almost daily. None are full curriculums, most were found on clearance or in a dollar bin at bookstores, Target or Walmart. Having a composition book to keep all written examples, helps keep everything in a central location when it is time for reviews. One composition book is enough for the written examples for two quarters.
We also have Nature Journals that the children created so that they can record their observations when out and about, but I don’t even bring those to the reviews, it’s just something they have for themselves as memories (one booklet has lasted almost two years now so its not like they are adding to them daily or even weekly).
It is not a difficult way of recording.
It is not time consuming (Ive been told that some use Evernote and other online venues for similar purposes – I personally prefer having a hard copy of what we do, which is why I do it this way).
This does require some creativity and an entirely new look at how education can be described. It is not always easy to see how your child’s obsession with Barbies, Ninjago or Beyblades can be construed as school but it can and is learning if you change your perspective.
Most Parents are passionate about their children.
Whether they are in a brick and mortar school or not. Being passionate about their education means being an active participant in the process…no matter what part of the process you are a part of.
Teachers are also, usually, very passionate about their students.
They spend inordinate amounts of time and money, that they do not get paid for, trying their best to educate other peoples children. Unfortunately, they have been getting a lot of flack and while there are those who may not be up to snuff (as there are in every profession, even parent hood) it is not by any means the majority.
As homeschoolers we choose to embody both passions.
The passion of a teacher as well as the passion of a parent. No matter what style you choose to use in the education of your child the goal is still the same. To have a well rounded, productive member of society. Sure there are other goals as well depending of your faith and creed but the basic goal is the same. This is what we strive for.
Unschooling is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. It requires constant mentoring and guiding (even if it looks hands off). The Charlotte Mason way is filled with living studies in multiple areas with lots of reading, writing and exploration. At first glance they may look they are counter intuitive but they are not. They both respect the wholeness of the child as a person. My passion for education is what binds too seemingly different philosophies together and makes it come alive.
Will I freak out again right before my reviews? Possibly.
Will I get through it? Definitely, because I’m passionate about my kiddos and their learning… and the proof is apparent in them.