Dropping the Un from our SCHOOL

Over the years I have transitioned, tweaked, mixed and done whatever was necessary to find a system that works for us. I mixed together what I loved and created a Philosophy of Education that works for us and that philosophy hasn’t changed but my methods of implementing it has.

In the beginning I tried so hard to make classical work. It was just too much all at once with kiddos that were just too young for that kind of style. I then rebounded into public school which is far more of a traditional style (or what most of us see as traditional) and that was a miserably failed experiment as well. That was when I found Unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Thomas Jefferson Ed and Montessori.

I read everything I could find on these. I immersed myself into the theories, methodologies and implementations of each one using our deschooling period as my research time. I fell in love with so many aspects of each one that I ended up even more confused than when I began; but the two that spoke the most to my fancy were Unschooling and Charlotte Mason.

  I think that’s the trap for all new homeschoolers. Overload you with information and send you on your way with a simple phrase like “you’ll find what works for your family” and leave them contemplating each and every aspect as if their child’s entire future hinges on this one decision.

Unschool your children and you’ll either have these amazingly self-directed teens that know exactly who they are and where they’re going or you’ll have a lazy, entitled brat who can’t read. Use Charlotte Mason and you’ll have a well read, nature lover with a wicked dry brush who is ready for anything college will throw at them or a burnt out teen who can’t stand the idea of one more dusty old book and doesn’t know what they want from life. Maybe I should memorize more like the classical style or spend more time outdoors like Waldorf or …

Dude, this train of thought is exhausting and debilitating!

I was so tired of trying to over analyze every single aspect (which was totally unnecessary!) that I ended up Unschooling with a pocketful of Charlotte Mason tools for when the kids said “I’m bored, what can I do now?” and it WORKED!

Honestly it still works.

It never stopped working. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I am writing this because I decided to change things up. I started last year as we added more structure to our rhythm but instead of fixing things I started to notice some behaviors or aspects that I didn’t like and that is why we are dropping the un from our school.

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I still believe in the power of respect and freedom. I still believe in building a cooperative environment where mom and child work together towards creating the kind of education that is best for the child. I still believe that the child should feel responsible for their own education. I’m also still all about spontaneous trips or rabbit trails.

But,

  1.  I’m a history nerd and I really didn’t like how haphazard their historical knowledge was being introduced. When my 7 year old asked me if Pocahontas came over on the Mayflower too, I knew that I wasn’t doing something right. When we visited Valley Forge two years before learning about George Washington and they couldn’t connect the two on their own- that was a problem for me.
  2. Electronics were playing too big of a role in all of our lives and none of us were able to self regulate- myself included. One of the tenants of unschooling is that if you let them have all that they want they will eventually not want what is bad for them and learn to self regulate. Maybe that works for some people but addictive tendencies run in my family. We have a serious history of drug abuse, alcoholism, being workaholics and generally being unable to self moderate that runs through almost every generation of both my family and my husbands. In our family this was becoming a problem.
  3. As a part of our movement towards facing underachievement I have to require that my children do certain things they don’t want to do. This is completely contrary to unschooling and completely necessary for my family. This isn’t about pushing them to do more but rather about teaching them perseverance and grit. This is something that I wasn’t forced to do and now I struggle with this absolutely necessary part of life- I want better for my children and its far easier to break a habit when your 8 than when your 18 or 28.

This is why I am officially leaving behind the method of unschooling. However, before I completely write all of this off I want also say that unschooling gets a bad rap. Below are what I see most commonly as misconceptions of unschooling:

  1. Unschooling is not UnParenting. Choosing to unschool does not mean that you stop being a child’s parent. There are varying styles of parenting found in all styles of schooling and the same goes for unschooling. It is just as easy to find a parent with bedtimes and house rules who unschools as it is to find a free range, yes parent. That said, it is also just as easy to find a free range, yes parent in classical environment. Parenting style does not dictate schooling methods. The trick here is that if you are an unschooler with rules, usually you have conversations with your child about the reasoning behind the rules and you keep the communication open and flowing. Teaching a child boundaries is just plain safe and unschoolers do this too (even if the methods vary).
  2. Unschooling does not mean that your child does nothing! An unschooled child can take a mathematics course or use a language arts curriculum- or play minecraft, read fantasy for hours, and build forts in the woods. What makes the child unschooled is that they, the child, are the ones who choose that path. If the parent says, “I think you should take this class” or “here choose between these curriculums or this class” then that is not unschooling, but if you’re at the library and your 10 year old sees a poster for a math in minecraft class and then proceeds to tell you “hey that looks fun, can I do that?”- well that is unschooling. On the flip side, if your 6 year old wants to learn french after reading Matilda and you offer a french tutor that is also unschooling.
  3. You can’t unschool part time. You’re either in or out. You can set up Montessori stations in hopes that little fingers will choose to sit and play (and eventually they will). You can lay out great books on table tops or displays silently praying that one of your children will be attracted by the illustrations that graze the front. You can have easels, paints, paper, crayons or tools out and about enticing young eyes with their shiny gleams or colorful rainbows. You can drive to the park with a lunch and watch as your child explores and adventures. You can even lay out that handwriting book and leave it there in the same spot, religiously dusting its cover over the years until the moment when the 8 year old picks it up and uses the instructions to write herself a story. Or you can join in as your child plays their third hour of Minecraft and actually ask questions so that you too understand why they love playing this so much. You can bake or cook or garden or read…but you’re either in or out. Telling your children that they must complete one lesson in each book before free time is not unschooling. Eclectic is a wonderful word, so is interest led, use those instead. You can’t school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the claim to unschool Tuesday and Thursday. This is akin to someone saying “Oh, I’m a vegan too, well except for eggs and cheese.”- No. Just No. Choosing to unschool is a lifestyle choice. It is choosing to let your child be responsible for their entire education. Not everyone likes it. Not everyone wants to live this way. And unschooling doesn’t have the copyright on freedom of exploration and interest led learning. It’s ok to choose to use curriculum on certain days and learn through life on others, but it is not unschooling.

Unschooling can be an amazing path for some children and some families. I will never regret our years unschooling because out of this stage in our journey my children learned to love asking questions and searching for answers. We will still have a place for this as we move on but things from this point on will be planned out and led more by mom. Their opinions are valued, but I will have the final say. We are all growing and moving in and out of our metamorphosis as we move towards the unknown. Choosing to use certain methods to further your philosophy is great but don’t feel tied down by them. As a wise homeschool mom who has been in the trenches far longer than I told me, “Live what you love and leave what you don’t.”

That is exactly what I am doing. I’m following what works for my family, even if that means changing things again, but as my husband says,

‘It’s all good, kids bounce anyway. They’re flexible like that.”

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Methods vs. Philosophy: Inspiring Purpose for your Homeschool

Some people find an educational method that is so in line with their personal philosophy of education that it perfectly describes how they want to teach their children. Others are more complex and don’t quite fit into any one box.

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There are so many posts out there about educational methods that I won’t take the time going through all of them. Instead I am going to write about finding what works for me.

Some call this the eclectic approach. For us that sums it up but I prefer to call it Unschooling Charlotte Mason because the two methods that best describe our learning environment are unschooling and Charlotte Mason. In reality the truth of the matter is that no matter which method you choose there will always be purists or radicals that stick almost dogmatically to the tenants as written about by the original authors. I have no ill will towards these people, I am simply not one of them. I will never ask what Charlotte Mason would say about xyz and I will never be called a radical unschooler. Like pretty much everything, there is a scale, and I am a centrist.

Philosophically, I identify with unschooling more than any other and use unschooling as the foundation of our schooling style. We are entirely child-led and we strongly believe in respecting the child as an autonomous entity that is capable of understanding and communication at developmentally appropriate levels. There are some misconceptions about unschooling out there that bother me, such as the idea that parents who practice unschooling don’t parent at all or that it is a lazy way to school. Neither are true, at all, even the most radical unschoolers are parents to their children who are teaching and imparting wisdom in very deliberate ways, it just looks different. When it comes to parenting we are more traditional than most unschoolers but that doesn’t mean that we respect our child less than others, it is simply a construct of our family dynamic. We personally do not reject social constructs but rather strive to build an understanding regarding the necessities of certain social constructs and to logically and respectfully decline the necessity of others.

Where unschooling is our foundation, Charlotte Mason provides our tools. Philosophically, I also identify with many of the concepts and reasonings behind the Charlotte Mason Method but what I use the most are the methods. I love the focus on literature, the arts and nature. I find that the short lessons fit well with our sense of respect for the developmentally appropriate needs of curious children and that copywork is a light introduction to a lifestyle that incorporates literacy in communication. I am not a fan of the schedules or rote memorization as they are used in some of the more strict CM households but I understand why that works for other families, this is where our foundation in unschooling is most apparent. followtheleader.jpg

The following are other influences on our educational philosophy that I don’t often mention but are equally important in understanding where I come from.

The Waldorf method uses natural or nature based materials as well as focusing on handicrafts as an important part of understanding your role in the greater world around you. We really like this aspect as it speaks to our more simple outlook on life. I love that it focuses more on creating than our more materialistic society with its need for more stuff.

Maria Montessori espoused the idea of allowing children to do everything adults did but at their own scale, which I think really aids in developing a self sufficient and confident child.

The Thomas Jefferson method has the seven keys of education, and I honestly agree with every one of them. They just seem like practical nuggets that make sense and they fit well with most of these other philosophies.

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My husband laughs and says that I am a hippy, with love of course, but I don’t feel like I fit into that category. Each of these aspects speaks to my desire for a more simple life. I prefer to follow in the footsteps of my great grandmothers who raised families almost a century ago. The raisers of the “great generation” to me did something right, something I wish to recreate in my own children. There is a sense of entrepreneurial spirit, strength in faith, respect and self discipline that I see in my grandparents and admire.

I can sense my own materialism, I can see my own self indulgent lack of discipline and my Vitamin D deficiency is proof of my need for more time in nature (which surprisingly, has lately been far more relaxing to me than a pedicure) and I want more for my children. I am not naive enough to think that I can return to that time or that I would even want to, I’m too much of a feminist for that. As a Puerto Rican Woman there is no way that I could have the kinds of opportunities that I have now, then, nor would my daughters. I do, however, want to take the aspects of that simple life, the freedom, the simplicity, the focus on respect and use them to balance out the indulgences of our hyper technology driven (automatic) present, while keeping in tact some of the more progressive improvements.

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I enjoy taking the time to make our food from scratch, even if I don’t do it that often, because I want to eat real food and I want my children to see the effects of hard work. I enjoy spending three hours out in the woods because it allows my children to organically learn in a way that just doesn’t compare to reading a book (that almost feels like sacrilege to write!). I want to teach my son and daughters how to sew because it is a valuable lesson that can be used later in life. I want them to be able to see art from around the world because it is culturally relevant and creatively fulfilling. I want them to have a deep love for great books but I refuse to force them into reading monstrosities they are not interested in, which is why reading aloud works so well for us.

I will not force my children to study history chronologically but I will offer them a timeline when they want to see how things line up. I will not force my children to practice piano but I will show them inspirational videos of famous pianists who talk about the importance of practicing. I will not tell my child that they must finish that book, but I won’t buy them a new one in the mean time and I won’t let them ruin the ending by watching the movie version.

I may not look like a CM’er and I may not look like an unschooler either, because I’m both with bits and pieces of others mixed in. On some days I may sway more towards the side of CM, with my focus on living books and narration (usually in the Spring when we have the most energy), whereas others are purely unschooled with the children entirely leading the way (mostly in late autumn when it is darker out but the weather is still decent). Even on those days I’m still practicing both methods, in fact I am always practicing my own special mix of all of these because the method in which we homeschool is based on my philosophical understanding of life, the universe and everything. (42?)

I am influenced by my faith, my relationships with my family, my relationships with traditional schools and school teachers…everything that I am is a combination of experiences and ideas that have solidified themselves as a part of my personality. I am me today because of it and I should expect that it will influence my parenting, my community association and yes, the way I feel about education. As will everyone else’s experiences shape how they approach education (as teachers, supporters or homeschoolers). I would go so far as to venture that most homeschoolers are eclectic which, I will define as being educationally influenced by multiple educational methods. Yes, there are the purists who hold true to a single view point out there but I think that people are probably more inclined to pick and choose aspects from multiple sources, even if they only claim their main method.

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If you know someone who is struggling with homeschooling but doesn’t want to throw in the towel, or can’t, remind them that the stylistic options are as numerous as the sun. Keep what works and tryout something new for those things that don’t. No two homeschool families will look exactly the same because no two families are exactly the same. Whether you are going to pick up curriculum or not, how you approach learning as a family will be directly linked to your families philosophy of education.

When your in those beginning phases of planing for next year (or if your just reassessing this year) make sure that your asking yourself the following questions.

What is my purpose, why do I homeschool?

Why do we school this way?

How is this helping our family grow academically, spiritually, and socially?

What am I expecting out of our homeschooling experience?

Is this realistic?

Who am I doing this for?

Where do you find your purpose and inspiration?

Are you inspired or are you just trudging along?