A Teacher-led, Classroom-style of Instruction is NOT the Only Option

Curiosity got the better of me when this article popped up recently in the Facebook newsfeed for our blog’s page. I clicked on it.  What sort of facts about homeschooling was the author going to share with parents whose children are dyslexic?

I read the first line, and I could feel my eyes dull.  I muttered, “Really?”  Now it was sheer morbid curiosity – the kind you get when you have to drive by an automobile crash – that kept me going.

Before I say anything else, I’m going to offer a disclaimer here:  I cannot tell you that what I’ve done with my kids is what’s best for you and your children.  I work with (and around) my oldest daughter’s own unique blend of dyslexia, inattentive ADD, poor working memory, and slow processing speed.  What that looks like in her probably isn’t what something similar looks like in your child.  I might have made some different decisions if Erica’s issues presented differently.  So, please keep those in mind as you read.  All I can ask of my readers is that you open your minds to the possibilities that exist outside of classroom-style K-12 education.

So, the first line… the very first line… It says, “Homeschooling has emerged as a viable choice for many families.  Homeschooling may also be an option for a child with dyslexia (italics are theirs).”  What do they mean, “Homeschooling may also be an option for a child with dyslexia”?  It may be?  Why wouldn’t it be?

Continuing right along, the author states that, “One challenge is the relationship between teacher-parent and student-child.”  That is only a challenge if you are seeking to duplicate the classroom-style, authority-directed view of education at home.  The thing is, though, that’s not the only way of homeschooling.  So if, on the other hand, you opt out of that, there’s no challenge.  If you, as a parent, look at your role as that of a facilitator, a guide, and a mentor for your child, there’s no challenge.  

I can assure you that the only times I have ever butted heads with my kids about homeschooling is when have unilaterally decided that there is something that they need to know, and I have gone about trying to teach that something to disinterested, unwilling children.  Those times have been few and far between, and all occurred relatively early on in my homeschooling journey before I gave myself permission to dump what doesn’t work with this crew in favor of what does.

According to the article, “… the parent is required to maintain a supportive, yet disciplined approach.” Supportive, yes.  But disciplined?  That’s absurd.  There is no such requirement. That’s a personal choice that should be based on what you believe about education, the role of the student, and the role of the teacher.

There have been times that have been more structured or disciplined in my family’s homeschool than others. One year, we did an academic co-op with three other families.  My kids decided that the group wasn’t learning what they wanted to be able to devote more of their personal study time to, so we did not continue with the co-op in the following school year.  While we participated, all three of my kids did what was required of them.

This year, Erica has decided that she wants a more schoolish experience at home this year, so I am accommodating her wishes.  In general, my role is as a facilitator, a guide, a mentor, or even a fellow learner, and none of those require any “disciplined approach”.

Following this “supportive, yet disciplined approach,” the authors contend that parents who wish to homeschool their children will find that, “Knowing what to teach, the sequence of instruction, and the use of valid instructional methods…” will be a difficult, time consuming task that takes an extensive amount of research and specialized training.  Again, that may be true if you are looking to duplicate the classroom-style, authority-directed view of education at home.  Otherwise, it’s utter rubbish.  I don’t need to know what to teach. My kids are perfectly capable of figuring out what they want to learn about.

While some things do indeed require that the information be presented in a sequential manner, a surprising amount of learning can take place out of order.  For example, at six, Jillian was very interested in family genealogy and history.  I read part of an adult non-fiction book about one of our ancestors, called Here I Shall Die Ashore, to her.  While I read, she interrupted me and asked questions when we came across something she wanted to learn more about.  

Then, together the next day, we researched it.  I utilized Google Earth several times to point out locations.  We watched a hurricane on YouTube.  We looked at pictures of cahow birds and wild boars.  We researched St. Elmo’s Fire (not the movie).  We looked up information about the British monarchy in-between the 1100s and the 1600s.  Nothing about that process has been sequential, or even close to what a “normal” first grader would learn in school.  My point is that it doesn’t have to be because I believe that what my kids want to learn is valuable and should be supported.

While the authors state that, “The parent needs to become highly trained in the areas of language and reading or find expert resources that can provide a framework for a systematic approach appropriate for the needs of the child,” I can’t bring myself to completely agree or disagree with that statement.  I myself am neither highly trained in areas of language or reading, nor have I utilized any expert resources to “… provide a framework for a systematic approach appropriate for the needs of (my dyslexic child).”  In the statement from the article, the word “needs” is being used from an authority-directed perspective; someone else gets to choose for the student what their needs are.  In my homeschool,my children get to choose for themselves what their needs are.

Somehow along the way, with very little direct instruction, Erica learned how to read well enough to meet her current needs and desires. Is she a good reader?  Not if you compare her with neuro-typical kids her age.  Is she a fluent reader?  Again, not if you compare her with neuro-typical kids her age. I’m not opposed to remediation of reading skills; I’m opposed to forcing Erica to do it.  She knows which skills she needs and how good she needs to be with each one in order to meet her own needs.  When she finds herself lacking, she will speak up and we will figure out then what we need to do in order to bring her skills up to par.  We’d do that with any skill.  She’ll need to know how to do that because the course of life will be constantly bringing new or deeper interests into her life that will require her to adapt or acquire new knowledge or skills.

The author goes on to discuss several of the benefits of homeschooling, includes some recommendations for getting started, and concludes the article by asking, “What are some examples of the kind of instruction I should provide?”  The examples he gives are examples of, again, a classroom-style, authority-directed view of education, and that is not the only way of doing things.

 

Summer Learning for Your Child With Learning or Attention Differences

I’m seeing it on a lot of the Facebook groups for parents of dyslexic, dysgraphic, ADD/ADHD, insert-your-diagnosis-here children right now: Should I have my child work on any particular skills over the summer, and if so, which ones? Understood.org even has an article addressing the topic, and I’m going to give you a completely different perspective on the question, after I ask some questions.

*For the sake of clarity, I’m going to dispense with trying to get the quotes I want to discuss integrated properly into a grammatically correct sentence and just use a bold font to quote or paraphrase the author’s points, and I will follow with my questions.

 “… it’s very important to find ways to keep working on these skills over the summer.”

My questions: Why is it “very important”?  And, to whom is it “very important”?  Hang on.  Just stay with me while I ask questions, and please – start thinking outside the K-12 classroom model of education that we’ve all been brainwashed to accept as the best method of teaching children and having them learn for some answers.  What you find outside of the box that someone else has created as a one-size-fits-all solution for teaching your children might be liberating and exactly what your child needs in order to uncover and nurture his or her own genius.

“When it comes to certain kinds of knowledge, kids really do have to ‘use it or lose it’.”

My questions: If this “certain kind of knowledge” is so important, then why wouldn’t kids be using it in their daily lives naturally?  Why would we need to be afraid of them losing it?

“Summer learning loss can set kids with learning and attention issues back as much as two or three months.”

My questions: “Back” from what?  According to whom?  And, why is their opinion the most important thing?

“Here are some thoughts on how to put together a summer learning schedule that looks and feels very different than going to school.”

My questions: Why is someone other than the person who’s supposed to be doing the learning putting together a learning schedule?  Why does it need to look and feel “very different than going to school”?  Is it because “going to school” feels like something the child hates?  If that’s the case, why are you doing things that way instead of looking for alternatives?

“Encourage your child to keep a daily journal.  Together you can come up with a minimum length for each entry and other details such as correcting misspelled words.  But give your child the freedom to choose what to write about.  And have her share the journal with you every day so she knows it’s important to keep up with it.”

My questions: Why would you say “encourage” when you actually mean “tell”?  You’re saying that it’s “important to keep up with it”, but important to whom?  Why?  And how does making your child share it with you help her know that it’s important?

“Tapping into your child’s interests is a great way to help your child ‘smell the roses’ and balance having fun with retaining skills.”

My questions: Why does it have to be a one or the other scenario?  Why can’t having fun and retaining skills go together?  And why would you want to leverage your child’s interests in order to get him to do what you want him to do?  Would you like it if someone did that to you?

So, what do you think?  Do we blindly accept someone else’s model of education, or do we ask questions?  As little as three years ago, none of what this author wrote would have done much more than raise an eyebrow for me. Back then, I was still fighting a little against this new paradigm of mine because it was just plain uncomfortable. It

It just didn’t fit with everything I’d been raised to believe about education, but it was still there, nagging at me. And of course if your child is having major difficulties in school during the school year, you work on those weaknesses diligently over the summer to make sure that your child doesn’t lose what she worked so hard to gain inside the classroom.  Right?

Wrong… at least, for me.  Words are powerful things, and over the last few years, the words I use to frame the questions I ask about education have changed profoundly.  The words I’ve learned have indeed been liberating for me.  So, getting back to the question at hand: Should I have my child work on any particular skills over the summer, and if so, which ones?

Will I have the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills over the summer?  Absolutely not.  For several reasons. Reasons that I will share with you in Part Two of this post.  Why “Part Two”?  Because I asked questions that were probably different than the questions you’ve heard before about this topic, and I want to give you some time to reflect on them.

Did you reflect on the questions I asked in Part One?  Did you find the questions I asked running straight into a brick wall in your mind?  Did you mull them over, wondering how it all might work?  Could thinking about these questions and all sorts of different answers to them possibly be liberating and exactly what your child needs in order to uncover and nurture his or her own unique genius?

If your child is in school, and you’re happy with that model of education despite the difficulties your child has in class and you have in IEP committee meetings making sure that your child gets what he needs, then you may as well stop reading and click the little X that closes the tab; there’s nothing here for you.  In that scenario, following the advice in the article that prompted me to write this post is probably your best bet.  Hire a tutor.  Make your child keep a journal and use her personal feelings for fodder for grammar and spelling lessons.  Turn off the sound and the pleasure in watching a TV show, and force your child to read the closed captioning.  Leverage your child’s interests and turn them into “school” during the summer.

But, if like me, you’re left with kind of an icky feeling in your gut when you think about doing that sort of stuff, and you’re even a little bit open to ideas that may sound weird and will totally challenge everything you currently believe about education, keep on reading.

Will I have the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer?

Absolutely not.

And here’s why:

  1. The way that question is worded sets the summer apart from the rest of the year and learning apart from school.  Inmy family, we don’t separate living from learning.  There isn’t a specific season or a specific location for learning to take place.  Learning takes place all year long in all sorts of different locations.  We don’t heave a great sigh of relief that school is over for a while when June rolls around.

My kids don’t have the expectation that they will devote themselves to academic pursuits from September until June, and then veg out for the remainder of June, all of July, and all of August.  They aren’t spending nine months of the year studying what someone else has told them is important for them to learn, whether they want to or not, so they don’t need a big breather.

  1. More importantly, I believe that “Should I have my child work on any particular skills this summer?  And if so, which ones?” are the wrong questions to be asking.  If, instead, someone had asked me, “Will the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer?” the answer would be absolutely yes.  It’s a subtle change in language there, but a huge shift in paradigm.

In the original question, there are several underlying assumptions that I flatly reject.  One, an education is something that someone in a position of authority (a teacher, parent, tutor, etc) does to someone else (usually a child).  Two, the person in the position of authority is the best person to select what, when, where, why, and how the other person will learn and be assessed.  Three, since the person in the position of authority is the best person to make those decisions, the willingness and engagement of the other person aren’t particularly important factors in whether or not the teaching is going to get done.

In my reworded question, I have flipped those assumptions.  I’ve given power and control back to the person doing the learning.  I have recognized that an education is something that someone must want and strive for in order for it to be meaningful and worthwhile.  I’ve validated and supported what the person doing the learning wants to learn, and empowered them to make decisions about what, when, where, why, and how they will learn and be assessed.  I’ve eliminated the adversarial positioning between parent and child that often arises when a parent’s agenda for a child’s education clashes with a child’s desires for his own education.

In the original question, I’m left with all of the questions that I put into words in Part One and no satisfactory answers to any of them.  When someone tries to tell me that there are certain skills or sets of knowledge that must be used or will be lost and so it’s important to keep working on them over the summer whether the child wants to or not, I’m skeptical.  If these certain skills or sets of knowledge are actually so important for the child to know, then the child would either already be actively using those certain skills or sets of knowledge in daily life, or she would be running into roadblocks that not having those certain skills or sets of knowledge throws up in her path.  Running into roadblocks will then force the child to acknowledge a legitimate need for the certain skills or sets of knowledge.  He’d then have to figure out how to go over, under, around, or right through the roadblock.  All four options are valid, and as adults, we use all four depending on the circumstances.  Children need to be taught how to assess which option in different situations is the best course of action, and parents need to be available to advise and guide the decision-making and then help facilitate that best course of action.

“Summer learning loss” is something that is manufactured by an artificial learning environment.  It’s a problem in schools.  It’s a problem when learning is separated from living, and when teachers need all of their students to progress through the same material in the same amount of time at the same pace.  “Summer learning loss” is not a problem when real-world necessity or personal desires dictate what someone learns.

My Squirrel Hunter will indeed work on particular skills this summer… but they’ll be skills of her choosing, that are meaningful for her.  Right now, she’s off with her church youth group serving our community for a week.  Next week, she’ll be helping out with Vacation Bible School for the younger kids.  She’s working steadily through the Basic Military Requirements (BMR) manual and doing the tests at the end of each module so that she can go to Sea Cadet Recruit Training in July.  The BMR is no joke.  It’s 700 pages that she has to read, and each test averages about 60 questions that she must answer.  She’ll continue to work on her art and her ASL.  The Squirrel Hunter has mentioned several times that improving her spelling is something she might be interested in working on.  When she says the word, I’ll be there to help her do just that if she needs me.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with things like tutoring, drilling with flashcards, doing a parent-child book club, watching TV shows without sound while you read the closed captioning, or having a child keep a journal that you use as a fodder for spelling and grammar lessons.  Those are options that may, or may not, help your child shore up weaknesses and/or hold onto academic gains made in the school year during the summer.  The problems as I see them are making the decisions to do those things in the first place without input from your child and then actually doing those things to an unwilling child.

At its core, life learning alongside your child involves a deep mutual respect.  As a parent, you have to do what few people seem to do when we think about educating a child, and that is ask yourself: would I like it if someone else did that to me? Would you like having someone insist that you keep working on the subjects or activities that you hate the most and don’t see a need for right then?  Would you like being drilled over and over and over again? Would you like being hauled off to tutoring against your will while your friends got to go swim at the pool or watch a movie?  Would you like hearing, “because I said so” when you ask why you have to learn something that you weren’t interested in learning? Would you like being forced to work on your weaknesses instead of being allowed to focus on your strengths?  Would you appreciate having your interests leveraged or manipulated by someone else’s agenda for you?

My answers to all of those questions come easily.  No, of course not.  And that is why will not be having the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer, but I will be available to guide, advise, encourage, and facilitate what she is interested in working on – this summer and for the rest of her life.

Please do me and the Squirrel Hunter a favor.  If you’re enjoying our blog, subscribe here and “like” us on Facebook.  If a particular post resonates with you, share it with others and leave us a comment or a question either here or on the blog’s Facebook page.  The Squirrel Hunter in particular loves getting feedback.  If you have a topic or an issue that you’d like to see us address, let us know!  Thanks so much.  

 

How to Talk to Your Child About Making Decisions

How to Talk to Your Child About Making Decisions

If I told you an 8 year old is perfectly capable of making her own decisions about what to learn, what would you think?

I’ve gotta be nuts, right?  It’s crazy to give a child that much control, right?  Unschooling is educational neglect, right?

A child that young is too immature to make such weighty decisions, right?

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.

And wrong.

I’m not nuts; this is by design.  My children all choose what they will learn about, when they will study or practice, how long to study or practice, and with which resources they will study or practice.  

I am much more concerned about having them learn certain life skills while they’re young and under my guidance than I am about when or how they learn anything academic.  I want them to learn:

  • How to make decisions, for there are far too many indecisive people in this world.
  • How to articulate what is important to them.
  • How to prioritize what is important to them.
  • How to locate and evaluate resources.
  • How to think critically about when, how, and why they choose to invest their time and energy into something.
  • How to determine when to stop using one resource or another, when to stop pursuing an endeavor, and how to do so confidently.
  • How to evaluate the pros, cons, and possible consequences of their own actions (or inaction), and acknowledge that not acting is, in fact, acting…it’s just giving control to someone or something else.
  • How to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction).

It’s not crazy to give a child that much control over what she’s learning.  She’s the one doing the learning.  It’s the perfect avenue for helping her develop those soft skills that I think are crucial for success, because it’s actually an authentic choice and meaningful to her.

Unschooling is not educational neglect.  As you’ll see in the video below, Jillian isn’t being thrown to the wolves or left entirely to her own devices.  I’m very engaged with her, asking her questions, challenging her, getting her to think.  

It would be much easier in some ways if I just handed her a workbook and insisted that she learn the material.  Instead, I choose to keep engaging.  It’s more work with Jillian because she is younger and less mature than her siblings, but it is still definitely worthwhile.

A child that young is definitely not too immature to make such weighty decisions.  I want all of my children to have had years of practice making meaningful decisions before they grow up and leave home.  The only way children can practice making good decisions is to be empowered to make decisions.  

Real decisions.  Not ones where the options have been carefully whittled down to what is acceptable to an authority figure.  Not ones where nothing is really at stake.  Real decisions.

I’m inviting you in here, for a behind-the-scenes look at how this looks with my youngest.  

I promised someone in a Facebook group that we’re both a part of that the next time I talked to Jillian about “doing her school” I would capture the conversation on video and share it with her.  Jillian has chosen what she wants to study, and that’s her “school”.  The conversation is about a typing program I bought a subscription for after she asked what she could do to learn how to type.  It has turned out that she hates it, so this isn’t the first conversation we’ve had like this about typing.  It is the first time she has made the decision she ended up making.  

The video is 10 minutes long, but if you watch it all the way through, you’ll get to see her whole decision-making process and the questions I ask her from start to finish.

 

 

A Relaxed Homeschooler’s Guide to Unschooling

A Relaxed Homeschooler’s Guide to Unschooling

The relationship between relaxed, eclectic homeschooling and unschooling is interesting.  A lot of families, myself included, come to unschooling through relaxed, eclectic homeschooling.  As you relax more and more, straying further and further away from the sort of structure and style of a classroom, you realize loosening the reins has some unexpected benefits.  

  • Homeschooling is less stressful for you.
  • Homeschooling is more fun for you and your kids.
  • Your kids are enjoying their learning time.

As a relaxed homeschooler, you’re taking advantage of some of the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling offers.  You pick and choose your own curriculum, supplementing with books from the library and documentaries from Netflix.  You go through the lessons with your kids at their own paces, pausing when they need more time to master a section or accelerating when they have.  Maybe you even hit stop and take the time to go explore something particularly interesting in greater depth than the curriculum does.

Maybe you have a set time for schooling every day, or maybe you’re a more “go-with-the-flow” kind of homeschooler.  You’re keeping one eye on state standards.  You still believe there are certain subjects your kids must cover.  You expect they learn certain things. You’re just more flexible about how that gets done than teachers are in school.

Jenny Chauvin has a bustling blog called The Relaxed Homeschool and a thriving Facebook group supporting it for folks interested in relaxed homeschooling.  Relaxed homeschooling works very well for a lot of homeschooling families I know because it combines the freedom and flexibility offered by homeschooling with some of the structure and subject-focused education most of us are familiar with.

Somewhere along the way…maybe after a vacation or an illness interrupts your normal routine, you figure out that your kids learn anyway…even if you don’t do any “school” with them.  Perhaps someone has mentioned unschooling in passing to you sometime.

Regardless, you’re intrigued by the idea.  Curious about what it is and how it works. 

Unschooling confounds many of us because it flies right in the face of conventional wisdom about education.  It just doesn’t make sense.  But, for some, its siren call is compelling.

You’re excited about the possibilities unschooling could open up for yourself and your kids…if you could do it.  So it happens, not infrequently, in groups like The Relaxed Homeschool Community Page that relaxed homeschoolers ask questions about unschooling.

If that’s you, this post is for you.

This is a really long post.  Much longer than blog posts typically are.  And I’m not going to distract you from the information with a bunch of images to make it look pretty.  

Additionally, this post does contain some Amazon affiliate links.  If you purchase anything from my affiliate links, I will earn a small commission – and you will earn my gratitude.  Doing so won’t cost you anything.  You can see my privacy policy here.  I do not get anything for promoting any of the other resources, materials, or blogs I mention here.

I’m answering, from my perspective, the questions most commonly asked by relaxed homeschoolers about unschooling.  I’m also providing you with links to other resources I have found valuable to use as you research unschooling at the end of each section.

WHAT IS UNSCHOOLING?

“Think back to when your children were infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  How did they learn back then?  Did they need a curriculum, a lesson plan, structured sit-down-and-learn time, and tests in order to acquire the staggering array of knowledge and skill all healthy human beings amass in their first three years of life?

What was your role in their learning process?  Thinking back to when my children were all small, I was a cheerleader, a guide, a mentor, a facilitator, and a resource provider.  

Everything I did originated with their unique stages of development and their personal interests.  I bought toys I thought they’d like playing with.  I borrowed or bought books I thought they’d like listening to or looking at.  I rented movies I thought they’d like watching. I took them places I thought they’d enjoy visiting.  None of that was ever forced, and I was always open to their feedback, doing less or more of this or that.

Incidentally, those are the same roles I fill as an unschooling parent to an 18-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an 8-year-old now.  I’m still a cheerleader, a guide, a mentor, a facilitator, and a resource provider.  

Miraculously – and really, if you stop and consider the enormity of the accomplishments children have made by their third birthdays, it is truly miraculous – all healthy children learn to sit up, to walk, to manipulate objects in space, to recognize themselves as separate beings, to feed themselves, to talk, and so much more.  

By three, children have developed interests of their own and have acquired additional knowledge and skill relevant to them simply by pursuing those interests.  Without a curriculum, a lesson plan, structured sit-down-and-learn time, or any exams.  

Additionally, if you were paying attention for it, you would have seen your little children choosing to tackle difficult, frustrating, boring, and unpleasant tasks if they saw those tasks as necessary to achieve whatever goals they had in mind.

Now shift to how you learn as an adult.  As adults, we first recognize a need or a desire to learn something.  Then we locate the resources to learn it.  With resources in hand, we study or practice until we’re satisfied, and then we move onto the next thing.

Our own lives, our own needs, and our own desires guide what we choose to invest our time and mental energy in.  If we have a teacher, a lesson plan, any structures sit-down-and-learn time, or any exams, it is because we have freely chosen that format ourselves.

When the end is personally compelling enough, we too will choose to do difficult, frustrating, boring, and unpleasant tasks along the way.

So what is unschooling?  

Unschooling is simply allowing human beings who are of what we deem “school age” to learn naturally.  As they learned with remarkable success prior to age five, and as they will begin learning again in adulthood.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UNSCHOOLING AND RELAXED HOMESCHOOLING?

Hang around any relaxed homeschooling community long enough and you will eventually hear someone say, “I do a little bit of unschooling” or “I do a mix of (insert styles here) and unschooling” or “I unschool everything except (insert subject, which is usually math, reading, writing, or spelling, here)”.

People who make statements like that are relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers, not unschoolers.  

One isn’t better or worse than the other; they’re just different.  Supporting those statements are some very schoolish beliefs about education that unschoolers simply do not share.

Unschooling isn’t something you can “do a little of”.  

Unschooling is a philosophy about life and learning, freedom and empowerment, trust and faith that you either embrace or you don’t.

Unschooling demands that you reject compulsory, authority-led (even if that authority is you) education.  Unschooling parents fully trust their children to learn what they need to learn exactly when they need or want to learn it.  Unschooling families don’t separate learning from life.  Relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers haven’t (yet) embraced those beliefs and may choose not to do so ever.

The distinction between unschooling and relaxed, eclectic homeschooling can be a subtle one that is difficult for those new to the idea of unschooling to grasp.  The very best illustration I’ve ever read of that distinction can be found in the resource section below.

The easiest way to get a feel for what unschooling is and is not is to join an unschooling group or two, and just lurk for a while.  Read the questions coming in and the answers from veteran unschoolers.  Years into it myself, I am still learning from the other members.

This group is my favorite of all the ones I have joined.  Sue Patterson is one of the wisest and most experienced voices in unschooling that there is.

Complaints about unschooling groups being rigid or intolerant, especially from people who have not yet fully embraced unschooling aren’t uncommon.  Perhaps there are some unkind or judgmental people in these group, but for the most part, the reason admins are so quick to point out when a statement doesn’t align with the principles of unschooling is so newbies are getting accurate information about what unschooling is and is not.

Definitions matter.  Details matter.

IS UNSCHOOLING EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT?

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories: some lazy parents who just don’t feel like being bothered with their kids keep the kids home and call it homeschooling or unschooling.  

Or maybe what you’ve heard is worse.  Abusive parents who just want to hide the signs of abuse keep their kids home and call it homeschooling or unschooling.  

Either way, those poor children aren’t learning the knowledge and skill they’ll need in order to live successful lives from their parents – and those parents are the sort who give homeschoolers a bad rap everywhere.

Neglect and abusive aren’t just a homeschooling thing or an unschooling thing, though.  Neglect and abuse happen to kids in school as well.

It’s important to make a distinction between unschooling and educational neglect because they aren’t the same thing.  Unschooling should only be done in families with a parent or parents who value education highly, are very engaged with their children, and have the willingness to challenge deeply held beliefs about a lot of different topics, but starting with the distinction between schooling or teaching and learning, on purpose.

Perhaps it’s the “un” in unschooling that throws people off and makes them think unschooling means kids aren’t learning.  This misunderstanding happens because people think schooling or teaching and learning are the same thing.

People can learn through schooling or teaching, but just because someone has been to school or been taught doesn’t necessarily mean they have actually learned anything.

Don’t believe me?  Think about your least favorite subject when you were in school.

How much of the material do you use in your daily life now?

Even more damning, how much of it do you even remember?

Introduction to physical science, biology, chemistry, geometry, algebra two – I spent hours of my teen years in classrooms where I was being taught each of those subjects.  I did most of my homework.  I eventually earned passing grades in each of those classes.  

Surely I must’ve learned the material, right?

I’m willing to bet that I could not pass even the most basic exam in any of them right now.  So did I really learn anything?

I am much more concerned with having my children really learn than I am about making sure we check off all the boxes in the lesson plan.  To me, really learning something means my children have pursued knowledge or skill they’ve determined is necessary or important, and then internalized the knowledge or mastered the skill.  

That mindset led me directly to unschooling.

Make no mistake: unschooling is not for the lazy or disinterested parent.  While you aren’t lesson planning or actively teaching much, your job is:

  • to be engaged with your children
  • to support and encourage them as they pursue their interests
  • to follow them down rabbit holes
  • to help them define success on their own terms
  • to help them learn how to ask the right questions
  • to guide and mentor them
  • to provide them with the resources they need to keep growing as people
  • to show them how to effectively and efficiently locate resources on their own
  • to share your own endeavors with them

It’s very hands-on, but in a different way than a traditional or relaxed homeschooler who is lesson planning and actively teaching.

WHAT IS DESCHOOLING?

Deschooling has its place in traditional or relaxed homeschooling, especially when children have already been in a brick and mortar school.  Deschooling when you’re transitioning to unschooling, though, is really an overhaul of one’s thinking about education.  It’s the process of systematically dismantling schoolish beliefs about education.

The best piece of advice I can give to you if you are investigating unschooling is to give yourself permission to move slowly.  Do a lot of research.  Read blogs.  Listen to podcasts.  Talk to veteran unschoolers.

Click Here to Claim Your Free Copy of My Guide Full of My Favorite Resources for Unschooling, Entrepreneurship, and Success Principles on the Internet!

As you start looking into unschooling, you’ll likely experience some cognitive dissonance as beliefs about education that are deeply ingrained in the fabric of Western culture are challenged.  It can take years to fully deschool.  Just give yourself and your kids a lot of grace, and don’t give up too soon.  A lot of parents who say unschooling didn’t work for their kids actually just gave up too soon.  Keep confronting your anxiety and facing your fears.  It’s worth it.

As you take action and release limiting beliefs, your confidence in unschooling will grow.

MY KIDS AREN’T INTERESTED IN LEARNING ANYTHING…AND OTHER FEARS

My kids aren’t interested in learning.

My kids aren’t self-motivated.

My kids are “behind”.

My kids would just sit and watch TV or play video games all day long.

If I had a dime for every time I heard each of those fears expressed, I’d be a very wealthy woman.

There are very wise and gentle ways of addressing those fears, and I’ll share some in the resource links at the end of this section. Sometimes the gentle approach doesn’t work very well, though.  Sometimes the better course of action is a little shock and awe, something more aggressive and in-your-face.  Are you ready to have your fears challenged?

MY KIDS AREN’T INTERESTED IN LEARNING

For 99% of the folks out there, what you really mean when you say “My kids aren’t interested in learning” is actually “My kids aren’t interested in learning what I want them to learn or what I think is important for them to learn.”  You just don’t say that.  Maybe you don’t want to admit it, because, well, it sounds kind of controlling, right?

The distinction between “My kids aren’t interested in learning” and “My kids aren’t interested in learning what I want them to learn” is huge…and an important one to make.  The remedies for each are wildly different.

If you have children who genuinely are not interested in learning anything, those kids need medical or psychological help.  Those children aren’t engaging with anyone or anything.  You need to take that seriously because they could be suffering from depression, anxiety, or something else.

If, however, your complaint is actually more accurately represented by “My kids aren’t interested in learning what I want them to learn,” the problem (and therefore the solution) lies with you.  

Your children actually are interested in learning things.  You just don’t see the educational value in them.  You have more deschooling to do, and you can help the process along by doing two things.

First, just for your own enlightenment, quietly observe what your children are interested in and are learning.  It’s important to note that doing this is for the purpose of gathering information and calming fears, not so you can leverage or judge those interests later. Set aside your judgments and personal biases, and just observe.  Ask yourself some questions.

  • How are they actually spending their time?
  • Why do those activities seem to be so engaging for them?
  • What is it about these activities that ruffles my feathers so much?
  • What could they be learning in the process of pursuing these interests?

Oftentimes, the answers you’ll get to questions like these when you’re watching simply to observe rather than evaluate and condemn are quite eye-opening.  Children can learn an astonishing amount of information and acquire new skills from very unlikely sources.

Case in point, here: my son.  I remember him wowing me with a set of facts about Ancient Egypt when he was very young.  I asked how he knew all of those tidbits.  He replied, “Scooby Doo.”

Yep.  Scooby Doo.  Apparently, there was a movie or an episode that took place in Ancient Egypt.  I had written Scooby Doo off as mindless drivel that lowered my kids’ IQs a point every 10 minutes they watched…and then…that.

In that moment, I learned never to automatically dismiss the value of anything my kids were interested in again simply because I thought it was dumb.

Second, put yourself in their shoes.  My post, “Would You Do It?” covers this step in more detail.  I encourage you to go read it and ask yourself the tough questions.

Human beings are born with an innate curiosity about the world around us.   Look at any healthy child who hasn’t yet reached the age of compulsory schooling.  His love of learning hasn’t been snuffed out by someone else’s agenda for what he should learn (yet).  

Oftentimes we say that our kids aren’t interested in learning because we equate schooling with learning, and many kids hate schooling.  We have to bribe them with gold stars and As, or sticker charts and a prize box.  Or, we have to punish them by withholding recess or leveraging something they love.  Or, we nag.  We have to do this because our kids aren’t intrinsically motivated by what someone else has deemed important.

And who is?  

More on that in a minute.  

The fact is that very few of us know what kids are like in pursuit of their own knowledge, where an authority figure of some sort isn’t guiding or directing their courses of study, where there isn’t a lesson plan they have to follow.  We assume that kids aren’t interested in learning because that’s what we see.  But if we change the lens, if we look at kids who are unencumbered and empowered to live and learn naturally, an entirely different picture of children and learning will emerge.

MY KIDS AREN’T SELF-MOTIVATED

We’re back to that “More on that in a minute.”

So, your children aren’t self-motivated to do something they don’t want to do that you want them to do?  Am I the only one who sees the absurdity there?  Of course, your kids aren’t going to be self-motivated to do something they don’t want to do without a compelling personal need to do so!

Are you?

I mean, really?  Are you motivated to do something you don’t want to do without a compelling personal need to do so?

Yes, there are times in our lives when we all have to do things we don’t want to do.  Recognizing that is part of the process of maturing.  However, those usually come with a compelling personal reason to do them.

Maybe it’s money.  Maybe it’s keeping a roof over your head and your home out of foreclosure.  Maybe it’s safety and hygiene.  Maybe it’s maintaining your employment or striving for a promotion.  Whatever the reason is, I’m willing to bet there is one.

When was the last time you did something you didn’t want to do without a compelling personal reason for doing so?  I challenge you to come up with one.

I’m drawing a blank when I consider my adult life.

But let’s just say you can come up with one.

How do you feel about it?

How do you feel about the authority figure who forced, manipulated, or coerced you into doing something you neither wanted to do nor saw a good reason to do?  Now pause.

Is that how you want your kids to feel about learning?

More importantly, is that how you want your kids to feel about…you?

Rather than trying to force, manipulate, or coerce your kids into learning something they aren’t interested in learning simply because you think it’s important for them to learn, the unschooler’s solution would be to wait.

If the thing you want them to learn is actually interesting, useful, or necessary in the real world, there will come a time when your kids recognize that.  Armed then with a personally meaningful need or desire to learn said material, they will.  And if that point never comes, did they actually need to learn it?  Was it worth the frustration, the tears, and the damage to your relationship with your kids?

MY KIDS ARE “BEHIND”

Behind what?

Seriously.  I’m not being facetious.

Behind grade level?  Behind what your neighbor’s child who is three years younger is learning?  Behind where you’d hoped to be in the lesson plan at this stage in the school year?

We in Western societies have been brainwashed into believing that learning is linear and sequential.  We’ve been brainwashed into accepting this absurd notion that somehow all children can and should learn exactly the same things at exactly the same time to exactly the same degree with exactly the same resources.

Relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers will reject the notion that they must use the same resources as everyone else does, and may grant some flexibility in when the material is learned, but still believe in the power and benefit of state standards for grade level education. Unschoolers reject the whole thing outright.

The mindset most of our society has makes sense inside of compulsory, institutionalized education.  It exists for the convenience of teachers and administrators as they heard children as a collective from one grade level to the next, not because it’s actually beneficial for children or because it helps kids learn better.  

Frankly, the idea is bizarre.  We don’t expect all babies to crawl or walk at the same time.  We don’t expect all children to be the same height, the same weight, or have the same IQ.  We don’t expect all people to have the same interests, talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

We don’t even expect all adults to share the exact same knowledge base.  And yet children are all expected to learn the same things at the same time.  If they don’t, there’s something wrong and that something needs to be fixed immediately.  It makes no sense to me.

Outside of schoolish settings, a wide variation in when children acquire new knowledge and skill is both normal and expected.  There isn’t anything wrong with a child who learns to read later than her peers.  That child doesn’t need to be fixed with worksheets and phonics programs immediately.  Since homeschoolers are free from the shackles of institutionalized education, we can and should be embracing that diversity among our youngsters.

MY KIDS WOULD JUST WATCH TV OR PLAY VIDEO GAMES ALL DAY

In the interest of full disclosure here, I don’t have that problem, so I will let the resources I share at the end of this section answer your questions and help allay your fears.  

My kids like TV as well as the next person.  They have days where they binge watch something and days when the TV isn’t even turned on.  None of my kids are big gamers, either.

That said, the one point I would like to make to you is to be careful not to disparage, demonize, or marginalize your kids’ interests – even if they’re TV shows or video games.  There are real benefits to technology, especially in the world we live in today.  

Additionally, would you worry if all your kids wanted to do all day was read?  Write stories?  Bake?  Draw?  Ride skateboards?  Play board games?  My guess is probably not.  The question is why not?  Why are any of those any better than gaming?

I was the teenager who spent the bulk of her time at home in her room, door closed, in front of a word processor (yes, that dates me). I wrote short stories.  A lot of them.  It was my passion.  I’d have rather been writing short stories than doing anything else.  And it would’ve infuriated and frustrated me to have my parents decide for me that I should have been doing something better with my time.

I try to remember that every time I have an opinion about what my kids are doing.

HOW DO YOU UNSCHOOL READING, WRITING, SPELLING, AND MATH?

The short answer is you don’t unschool reading, writing, spelling, or math.  

Unschooling isn’t a technique you use to get your kids to learn something you want them to learn.  

Unschooling is a mindset that frees people from the ideas that life and learning are separate and that learning is best done by segmenting knowledge or skill into discrete subjects like reading, writing, spelling, or math that is then taught by an authority figure.

Since compulsory, institutionalized education has become so deeply ingrained in Western culture, most people struggle to imagine how children might learn the sorts of things we’ve deemed important for kids to learn apart from the classroom-textbooks-and-teacher model.

Since the reality of adults having to prod, nag, beg, or bribe children to do their schoolwork is commonplace in such a model, many adults cannot imagine children choosing to learn worthwhile knowledge or skill on their own.  Many adults cannot imagine how children will ever learn to do difficult, unpleasant, or frustrating tasks if their childhood is not bombarded with such tasks.

Unschooled children learn to read, write, spell, and work with numbers because those things are all very useful tools for living full, rich lives.  At some point, not knowing how to do them will become an obstacle in their way of pursuing and achieving something else personally meaningful to them.  When the ends are meaningful enough, children will indeed choose to do difficult, unpleasant, and frustrating tasks throughout the learning and mastery process.

Unschooling is highly customized for each learner, so there are undoubtedly as many answers for how and when children learn to read, write, spell, and work with math as there are unschooled children who have done it.  

As I’ve done in the previous sections, I’ll share some of my favorite resources for your further research.  I’ll start with how it’s all worked in my family with my own kids, who are now 18, 15, and 8.

I started homeschooling officially in 2003, a few months before Jarrod’s fifth birthday.  He’d missed the cut-off to start kindergarten the year he turned five, so I thought I’d give homeschooling a shot.  

Suffice it to say, that I began with all the same schoolish fears that many of you are probably feeling.  I bought a teacher’s lesson planner and way more curricula than we needed.  I had a schedule and a little table to “do school” on…and it wasn’t more than two weeks before I felt overwhelmed and completely inept.  I was also killing my son’s natural love of learning in the process.

I backed off, and we became very, very relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers.  We spent the next five years dipping our toes into unschooling and overcompensating back into brief spells of school-at-home when my fears got the better of me.  

It was the culmination of several years of research and the birth of my youngest child, who was a very difficult and demanding baby, that caused me to come out of the unschooling closet and embrace it fully.

READING

All three of my kids started asking me to teach them how to read right around their fifth birthdays.  To say that it wasn’t a smooth process for any of them would be an understatement.

JARROD, 18

After he asked me to teach him how to read, I dutifully bought a phonics program of some sort, and excitedly unpacked it with him.  He willingly did the lessons…until we reached words that were anything but phonetic.  Then, amid his howls of protest when “o-w” said “oh” in one word and “ow” in another, we set aside the lessons for a while.

I tried different books and programs over the next two years, all the while continuing the read aloud to him.  The year Jarrod turned seven, I gave up on phonics altogether.  Instead, we sat side by side and read together.  When he came to a word he didn’t understand, I’d just tell him what it was so he could keep his speed and fluency up.

Jarrod was at or above “grade level” within a year, and was reading adult non-fiction by the time he was 11.  He is my most voracious reader, who will read nearly anything he can get his hands on.

ERICA, 15

Fresh off success with Jarrod, but prepared for some bumps in the road, I hauled out the materials I’d used along the way with him.

Trying to teach her how to read was an absolute nightmare.  We started and stopped, started and stopped.  It was very frustrating for both of us.  Nothing was clicking or sticking, and I could not figure out why.  Somewhere in the midst of one of our stops, right around her 10th birthday, Erica figured out how to read.

I have no idea how she managed it.  Her descriptions of what it is like for her to read give me headaches.

It wasn’t until she was 12 ½ that Erica was diagnosed with dyslexia…and that diagnosis explained a lot.  After her diagnosis, the neuropsychologist recommended intensive reading remediation.  You can read more about why we have not done that here.

JILLIAN, 8

Following right along in the footsteps of her brother and sister, Jillian too started asking me to teach her how to read right around her fifth birthday.  And of course, it hasn’t been any easier for her to learn than it was for her siblings.

This time, though, I am more prepared.  I knew ahead of time that Jillian has problems with poor phonemic awareness, and that learning to read was going to be a challenge for her.  I don’t think she’s dyslexic, but we’re definitely working with some issues.

I’ve brought out the usual suspects again, and not surprisingly, none of them have worked well.  These days, Jillian is mostly working on her own on the computer.  She has subscriptions for Reading Eggs and Always Icecream.  We also found some instructional videos on Ron Paul’s site that she really likes.

Jillian is free to work from any or all of those resources or to opt not to work on any of them.  I estimate that she chooses to work on one or more of them ⅔ of the time.

Guess what else she is learning?  She’s learning how to prioritize her time, her needs, and her desires.  She’s learning how to make conscious decisions about what she is or is not willing to do, rather than letting life or circumstance push her around.  She is learning that action and inaction both have consequences.    She is learning to “own” her decisions and take responsibility for them.

Click here to watch Jillian, at 7, explain how to reach a goal and persevere through frustration.

From my perspective, those life lessons are critical to success as an adult.  Having her learn all those lessons naturally in the context of pursuing an accomplishment that is meaningful to her is more valuable in my eyes than having her become a fluent reader right now.  Many of our conversations about whether or not she’ll do her reading lessons on any given day revolve around those factors.

WRITING AND SPELLING

Despite having had very little in the way of formal instruction or time spent on handwriting drills, all three of my kids have learned how to write their letters…by writing.  Jillian, for example, is all of a sudden interested in being able to write legibly because her friend recently moved overseas and they want to be penpals.  So, I show her how to form the letters.  There’s no magic.

Insofar as composition goes, I waited on that too.  I waited until they figured out that knowing how to write a coherent paper was useful.  Jarrod was 12 when a merit badge he wanted to earn at Boy Scouts required him to write a composition.  He wanted that merit badge more than he hated the idea of learning to write.  So, I discovered IEW and I taught classes for homeschoolers (including my older two, since Erica had decided she wanted in on what her big brother was doing) for several years.  Jarrod is now an exceptional writer.  Erica is adequate, and if she decides she wants to improve more, I’m ready and willing to help.

Before I fully embraced unschooling, we tried a couple different spelling programs.  Each of those attempts were short-lived.  The only thing I learned doing spelling curricula is that it’s unnecessary.  

Jarrod’s spelling was awful as an elementary-aged boy.  It improved naturally and steadily as he got older, simply by exposure to print.

Erica’s atrocious spelling is actually what prompted me to take her in for an evaluation for dyslexia.  Her spelling has improved slightly as she has been texting her friends, but her preferred course of action with her poor spelling is to mitigate it.  If you want someone to proofread your paper, Erica is not your girl…and she’s fine with that.  We know lots of very successful adults who can’t spell worth beans.

MATH

I have two teenagers who absolutely despise textbook math, and one youngster with a natural affinity for numbers who absolutely loves math.

We’ve used math curricula at various points in time throughout my kids’ lives with mixed results.  We have learned to quickly abandon curricula that doesn’t work well for them.  That said, looking back, the overwhelming majority of my kids’ mathematical understanding has come from manipulating numbers in daily living.  Jillian, in particular, is better with mental math than math on paper.

Math is rarely a linear, sequential thing in my house.  Mathematical skills are acquired as each child recognizes a need or desire for them.

For example, Erica has amassed a large, intuitive understanding of a lot of geometry because she is an artist.  She couldn’t tell you on paper what she knows.  But without even realizing there’s math involved, she is using lines, shapes, shading, proportion, angles, and much more as she creates her masterpiece.

On any given day, Jillian is liable to have four or five tabs open on the computer, each loaded with one of the many math games she has bookmarked.  I’m considering a subscription for her to Prodigy Math.  She loves Zeus on the Loose and Prime Climb, which are both games.

This summer, we’re doing a weekly math and science club with some of her friends.  We’ll be doing projects and experiments out of The Math Lab and Science Things to Make and Do

Let’s face it: textbook math is boring and most people will never use more than consumer math, basic geometry, and basic algebra in their daily lives.

HOW DO UNSCHOOLERS GET INTO COLLEGE?

My short answer to that is one of the same ways anyone else gets into college if they want to go.

Unschooled kids can choose to take a rigorous, college-prep academic load and ace the SAT or ACT during the high school years. That is the route most people take when going directly to a university after high school.  Unschooling purists will probably say that those kids are no longer unschooling, which may be true, but from my perspective, the consent of the one doing the learning is the most important factor in education (and that is one of the reasons I titled my blog the Self-Directed Homeschooler, rather than using anything related to unschooling).

As homeschooling (and unschooling) become more commonplace, more colleges and universities are adopting increasingly flexible admissions policies and procedures for homeschoolers.  Many have homeschool liaisons in their admissions departments.  Contact individual colleges and universities for details.

Attending community college first and then transferring to a four-year university afterward is another option many unschoolers choose. The barrier to entry is low, and no SAT or ACT is required.

ASU’s Global Freshman Academy is yet another option with a very low barrier to entry.

One more thing to consider is there are other viable options out there besides higher education.  Not everyone wants to or even should go to college.  With rising tuition costs, mounting debt, and rising un-and-under-employment for college students and grads, it’s a good idea to rethink having college attendance as your kids’ default plan.

Click Here to Claim Your Free Resource List of 30 Posts Challenging the Need for College.

Mike Rowe is a staunch advocate of blue collar trades.  

Apprenticeship programs like Praxis and Apprentice University also offer attractive alternatives to college.

CONCLUSION

So there you have it: my answers to what I have found to be the questions about unschooling most commonly asked by relaxed homeschoolers.  This was by no means an exhaustive list.  If you have one that didn’t get answered, contact me here.  I will either answer your question, provide you with other resources to answer it, or both.

I believe unschooling will work for any child because it really is how human beings learn apart from compulsory, institutionalized education.  It may not, however, work for every homeschooling parent – and that’s okay.  Each family needs to do what works best for them in their own unique set of circumstances.

If the idea of unschooling is still resonating with you, I invite you to read my free e-book, “The Fast Start Guide to Unschooling” for more detailed information, by clicking on the invitation just below. 

Click here to access your free guide!

I also recommend the following books as particularly good resources for people investigating unschooling.

One more thing: if this post was helpful to you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below and have you share it with friends! Thanks!

6 Things Ridiculously Productive Homeschoolers Do

6 Things Ridiculously Productive Homeschoolers Do

Ever had one of those days where you’re still in your pjs, the breakfast dishes are still in the kitchen sink, and you spent the last four hours binge-watching old episodes of Full House with your kids rather than accomplishing anything of any real value all day?

In my house, we jokingly refer to those days as “slug days”.

It’s my personal belief that every homeschool can benefit from an occasional “slug day”.  The key word there being occasional.  The rest of the time, to get the most out of our homeschooling, it’s important to find ways to maximize our time.

There’s no shortage of advice out there for maximizing productivity.  The problem for homeschoolers it that most of it doesn’t work very well for homeschoolers.  Homeschooling blurs the lines between work and family.  Additionally, so much of our days are dictated by smaller human beings.

That said, there are 6 habits productive homeschoolers successfully internalize.

Bookend Your Days With Morning and Evening Routines.

Productive homeschoolers know the way we start our day sets the tone for the rest of the day.

When I get up around 7 AM, get dressed in my workout garb, have a few bites of yogurt, and then hit the trail for my morning run by 8 AM, I am a rock star.  I’m unbeatable.  Things get done.

When I oversleep, stagger out of bed, and go check Facebook…yeah, I can kiss this day goodbye.  Nothing is going to get done.

The way we end our day sets the tone for how well we’ll sleep and which decision we’ll make when we open our eyes in the morning.

When I’ve determined in advance that I am hitting the sack by 10:30, I get my youngest tucked in at a more reasonable time.  I step away from the computer earlier in the evening.  In short, I consciously make decisions that move me closer to bed by 10:30.  I’m proactive.

When I don’t have a plan, my youngest is still wide awake (and not in her pajamas) at 9:30.  And I’m still mindlessly surfing the net at 2 AM.

 

Anticipate Future Failures

Productive homeschoolers quickly learn to attune to the times our plans predictably hit the skids.  Then we discipline ourselves to take proactive preventative measures.

Thursdays are our busy days.  There are several windows of opportunity throughout a typical Thursday for Murphy to stick his meddlesome nose into my plans and wreak havoc on them.

After some trial and error, I learned that my girls must have their archery bows, towels, and water bottles ready to go by the door on Wednesday evenings.  I started keeping a foldable chair and a blanket in the back of my van.  I know that breakfast must be quick, easy, and filling.  I’ve also figured out that if we leave our house by 7:10 AM, we usually arrive at archery practice by 7:45 (about 15 minutes before practice starts).  But if we delay departure by as little as 10 minutes, we typically don’t get there until 8:15.

As I’ve become aware of each potential snag, I’ve made the accommodations to avoid it.

 

Delegate As Much As Possible

Productive, happy homeschoolers know we can’t do it all ourselves, all at the same time, and do it all well. Trying is a recipe for homeschool burn-out.

At home, my kids all pitch in and help with the daily household chores.  

When a homeschool group I created and run topped 1000 members, I enlisted a few volunteers to serve as additional group administrators to take some of the workload off my shoulders.

Say “Yes” Less Frequently

Productive homeschoolers know that saying yes to everything leaves us overwhelmed, in chaos, and anything but productive.

2016-2017 has been the year of no for my family so that we can focus more clearly on just a few things that are important to us.  Swim team?  No.  Horseback riding lessons?  No.  A co-op at the YMCA that sounds absolutely amazing?  No.

Eliminate Distractions

Yeah, stop laughing.  

The life of a homeschooling parent is unavoidably full of distractions.  But here’s how to apply this principle to our lives: when we must (or want to) focus our attention on one thing, eliminate every distraction that we can.

Before Erica and I sit down to watch one of the films for her US History study together, I check with Jillian to make sure she doesn’t need me to help her with anything for the next 90 minutes.  If she does, I get it done before we click “play”.  If she says she doesn’t, I make sure she understands that we are not to be disturbed then unless someone is bleeding or something is on fire.  

Focus on One Thing at a Time

Productive homeschoolers know that trying to juggle two or more activities that require concentration backfires.

When Jillian and I work on her reading lesson, that’s all we do.  When we play one of her math games together, that’s all we do.  When Erica and I watch a history video together, that’s all we do.  When I write a blog post, that’s all I do.

Now when a “slug day” rolls around for my crew, all bets are off.  The morning and evening bookends just don’t happen.  Nothing gets delegated; it gets deferred.  Somehow, those “slug days” help us recharge our productive batteries, and we’re ready to be rock stars again the next day.

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