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.

7 Reasons You Need To Rethink Your Strategy If Your Kids Are Asking, “Why Do We Have To Learn This?”

7 Reasons You Need To Rethink Your Strategy If Your Kids Are Asking, “Why Do We Have To Learn This?”

If your kids are asking you, “Why do we have to learn this?”, it’s time to rethink your teaching strategy…because you’re missing the mark.  And here are seven reasons why:

You’ve effectively put the cart before the horse.

You’ve given your kids the “what” – multiplication tables, spelling words, handwriting dittos, whatever – before they’ve had a chance to actually see and experience why they need to know it.

You’re making more (and unnecessary) work for yourself.

You can spend months, or even years, trying to teach a child something that, if you just sit back and wait for your child to recognize a personally meaningful need or desire for, your child can learn in days or weeks instead.

You’re fighting against human nature.

It is an indisputable fact that human beings learn things much better, more efficiently, and faster when we have a legitimate personal need for or when we’re interested in the material.  Children are no different.

                       

You’re displaying a level of disrespect for your kids’ wishes that you probably wouldn’t tolerate yourself.

This might be painful to hear, but it needs to be said.  How would you feel if someone else told you, “You must learn (insert topic you have absolutely no interest in learning right now)”?  What if that mandate took your time and energy away from something that was personally meaningful to you?  Would you feel like that person respected you?

You’re setting up an adversarial relationship with your kids.

This is another that might be painful to hear but still, needs to be said.  It’s probably plainly obvious, though, because unless you have a very compliant child, kids are going to dig in their heels and resist (sometimes loudly) your efforts to control them – and make no mistake, telling them that they must learn X, Y, or Z because you said so is seeking to control them…even if your intentions are loving and good.

You’re creating frustration.

What happens when people feel disrespected and controlled, but they have no power to do anything about it?  They get frustrated. What happens when people aren’t developmentally, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or physically ready to learn something and someone else with more power insists that they do?  

They get frustrated.

What happens when you think you’re doing what’s in the best interest of your children and they actively resist (sometimes loudly) you at every opportunity?  

You get frustrated.

You’ve placed yourself and your agenda for what they should learn squarely in the way of their learning.

There’s nothing sacred about the scope and sequence of a K-12 education in a public school.  It completely baffles me why any homeschooler would seek to duplicate that at home.  There’s a staggering opportunity cost to our young people (and thus society as a whole, and that’s rarely if ever, discussed) to having an authority figure’s agenda for what children supposedly need to know dictate what children spend their time and mental energy on.

As a society, we’ve been so thoroughly brainwashed into accepting the need for a teacher to direct student learning and a curriculum to guide the lessons that somehow many of us have come to believe that without the teacher or the curriculum, children will simply never choose to learn anything difficult or worthwhile.  

What could children learn, discover, and create on their own without structured lessons led by an authority figure?  What connections could children make if their learning wasn’t divided into arbitrary subjects?  

If we step back and stop meddling, we’ll find answers to those questions…and while our children are learning, discovering, and creating on their own, they won’t be asking, “Why do we have to learn this?”  

Teach Your Children These 7 Fearless Ways Successful People Think

Teach Your Children These 7 Fearless Ways Successful People Think

You want your children to lead successful lives, right?  I mean, we all do.  As parents, we hope that our children’s lives outshine ours: that they will be happier, healthier, more financially secure, and all-around better human beings than we are.  We sink our hearts and souls into raising our children in such a manner as to maximize the odds of that happening.

What if you could do more?  What if the ways that successful adults think could be taught to your children?  

An article in the Ziglar Vault, titled “7 Fearless Ways Successful People Think”, highlights seven ways successful people break away from the fear that holds everyone else hostage to less fulfilling, successful lives.

These seven game changers are:

  • Move On
  • Keep Their Power
  • Accept Change
  • Take Calculated Risks
  • Applaud Others’ Successes
  • Remain Resilient
  • Earn Their Wins

So what do those mean for you and your kids?

MOVE ON

Successful people don’t waste time wallowing in the frustrations and disappointments of the past.  Instead, they learn what they can from those things, and then they turn their time and attention onto what they need to be doing right now in order to achieve whatever goals they’ve set for themselves.

When my kids seem like they’re struggling under the weight of frustration or disappointment, I encourage them to:

  • Take a break

Sometimes, a change of activity or scenery is just what the doctor ordered.

  • Change their self-talk

If I’m hearing, “I’ll never get this” or “I’m so stupid” then I know I’m hearing words that won’t help them accomplish what they’ve set out to accomplish.  It’s time to get them to change the words they tell themselves. Sometimes, a simple reminder will do.  

Other times, and more so for my youngest than my teenagers, I actually explicitly give them the words to replace what they’ve been saying to themselves: “It’s hard work, but I will get this eventually” or “I’m smart enough to get this.  Maybe I need to use different resources or think about it another way.”

KEEP THEIR POWER

Successful adults hold fast to the old adage widely credited to Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  They aren’t controlled by their own emotions or swayed easily by the opinions of other people.

Let’s face it: kids can be mean.  Even if your kids are homeschooled, somewhere along the way, they’re going to have to deal with bullies and “mean girls” too.  When my kids seem like they’re overwhelmed by other people’s negative opinions of them or something they’re interested in, I encourage them to:

  • Remember that they can’t control other people

Other people, including their siblings and parents, are going to do what they’re going to do.  They’re going to say what they’re going to say.  What they say or do is usually much more a reflection of who they are and how they feel about life right then than of anything else.

  • Remember that they can control themselves

This is a big one in my house.  Like I tell my kids, I can’t control what you do but I can control how I respond to what you do.  Those aren’t just words in my house.  

If my kids are fighting, then there are two discussions that need to happen.  

We’ll need to deal with the initial insult, and we’ll deal with the subsequent responses that either fanned the flames or de-escalated the situation.  It usually takes the form of a debrief, with me or their father asking what they each individually could have done to change the course of their negative interaction.  It gets them thinking.

ACCEPT CHANGE

Successful people recognize that change is inevitable.  Sometimes it’s for the better.  Sometimes, the worse. Oftentimes, it’s neutral.  But inescapable.  Successful people power through their fear and embrace change.

Change is easier for some kids than others.  When my kids seem anxious about change, I encourage them to:

  • Think about the worst possible scenario.  Usually, when you think about the worst possible outcome rationally, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as what your imagination can whip up.  It usually helps my kids to have them slay the nightmare that their imaginations have created and replace it with a more likely result.  The worst possible result is that your friends will laugh?  Okay.  Can you live with that?  Can you laugh with them?  The worst possible result is that you’ll fail?  Okay.  What happens if you fail?  You feel badly about yourself?  Well, did you do the best you could?  Can you learn from a temporary defeat?  Is it the end of the world?  My kids oftentimes end up thinking this line of questioning gets pretty absurd…and that’s the point!  
  • I don’t just have my kids stop with the worst possible outcome.  We also discuss the most likely and the best possible outcomes, too!  With visions of those in mind, they’re better able to accept the coming change.

TAKE CALCULATED RISKS

Successful adults know that huge rewards – personally, professionally, financially, spiritually, whatever – are frequently on the other side of a big risk.  They’re not reckless.  They carefully weigh the pros and cons before making a decision, but they don’t let their fear run the show.

I don’t want my kids to ever allow fear to rule their lives, but I also don’t want them taking stupid, careless risks, either.  Long before they reach adulthood and move out on their own, I want my kids to have had lots of practice making decisions about things that actually matter while their father and I are around to guide them or help them deal with the consequences of their decisions.  That, actually, is a large part of the reason we have chosen self-directed homeschooling.

When my kids are faced with a weighty decision to make, I encourage them to:

  • Think about who they are right now, who they want to be next, and identify whether or not Calculated Risk X is in alignment with who they are right now and if it moves them closer to who they want to be next or further away.  Sometimes, that’s enough and the answer is obvious.
  • Measure the opportunity cost.  You cannot do all things all the time and do them all well.  I have drilled that into my kids’ heads.  Choices must be made.  Evaluate the trade-offs.  Go back to the steps in Change.

APPLAUD OTHERS’ SUCCESSES

Successful adults don’t view success as a finite thing.  One person’s success doesn’t take away the opportunity for another person to be successful.  Success also cannot live alongside an envious, covetous spirit; they’re incapable.

There aren’t really any steps that I go through to encourage my kids to applaud the successes of others. That’s just what we do in this family.  When Jarrod wins a prestigious award at Sea Cadets, we all celebrate. When Erica scores highly enough to qualify for the national archery competition, we all celebrate.  When Jillian demonstrates a natural affinity for math and numbers, we’re all proud of what she can do.  There’s no room for petty jealousy.  

REMAIN RESILIENT

Successful people bounce back from tragedy, defeat, and failure.  They don’t allow what happened to them to define them.  If their goal is worthwhile, they stay the course, learning the lessons that defeat or failure teach along the way.

When my kids seem like tragedy, defeat, or failure may be threatening to crush them, I encourage them to:

  • Understand and accept that these things are part of life, but they aren’t permanent.  Tremendous joy, triumphant victories, and wild successes would actually be pretty hollow if that’s all there ever was.  They’d go from tremendous, triumphant, and wild to mundane.
  • Remember that they aren’t anybody’s victim!  The real failures are the people who either never try to begin with or stop working the solutions when the obstacles appear.  Steel that backbone.  Take charge of what they’re telling themselves, because self-talk is powerful stuff.  Get angry if they need an extra boost of that “I’ll show you” spirit, and get moving!  

EARN THEIR WINS

Successful people make stuff happen.  They roll up their sleeves and dive into the action.  They don’t wait for someone else’s coattails to ride in on.  They don’t expect hand-outs or prizes for showing up.  They work hard and earn what’s theirs.

When my kids are working hard toward achieving a goal, I encourage them by:

  • Getting out of their way.  This is yet another reason why we have chosen self-directed homeschooling. They “own” everything they’re doing.  Because what they’re doing has meaning to them, they don’t need any external motivation.  
  • Being available if they need me.  I don’t hand my kids their wins.  They chase their dreams, and I am here as a resource provider, a guide, a mentor, a facilitator.  I make sure that what I do with them when they’ve hit an obstacle and need help doesn’t diminish or overshadow their own investment in the end game.

Teaching your kids to think the same way that successful adults think is a process.  It must be modeled.  It must be repeated, over and over, across different settings and different circumstances.  It takes diligence, but it’s worth it.

 

How to Eliminate the Clutter on Your Calendar

How to Eliminate the Clutter on Your Calendar

My calendar was packed.  Each person in my family had his or her own color for scheduled commitments, and I’m telling you, my calendar looked like a coloring book.  Each square was loaded with colorful scribbles that sent me this way and that way, ferrying children from one activity to the next.  At home, I had shelves of books and bins of craft supplies that I’d bought and held onto, thinking that someday we’d read this and create that. It was suffocating and awful, a recipe for disaster once it sent me into a full system meltdown.  

My first big clue that something was amiss was when I started dreading a Friday commitment on Mondays.  I was hemorrhaging time, energy, and money, and I didn’t know how to stop the bleeding…because everything we were doing was supposedly somehow beneficial for my kids, if not right now, surely down the road.  

An article written by Jonathan Milligan, titled “How to Immediately Eliminate Clutter in Your Life” provides a path out of the overwhelm.  He’s relatable right from the start, because he places himself in his garage, standing in front of a huge pile of stuff that he had no idea what to do with because he might need it someday.

We’ve all been there.  If it’s not the garage, it’s the kitchen…or the schoolroom, for us homeschoolers.  His wife was able to break through that paralysis of indecision that kept him rooted there, surrounded by clutter.  She said, “I’d really like for us to just eliminate the what-ifs and the one-days.”

I found that to be a very powerful insight.  I don’t know about you, but if I eliminated all of the what-ifs and the one-days in my garage, I’d be able to park a vehicle in the garage for the first time in over a decade!

Now, how about this: what would happen in your child’s education if you eliminated everything you were trying to teach and all of the activities you had your child enrolled in because of all of the what-ifs and one-days that were working hard on creating fear, feeding greed, or building ego inside of your own brain?

A great deal of the scope and sequence of a child’s education these days justifies its existence by declaring that one thing builds upon another.  Furthermore, since kids need will need to know X, Y, or Z some years down the line, it’s imperative that we begin preparing them for those right now.  Children are over-programmed today because we start padding their resumes for college applications when they’re still in grade school. Embracing beliefs like those are creating that fear, greed, and ego that are keeping you enslaved to educational clutter.

The problem is even bigger than the disservice we do our kids by wasting their time by spending all of itget-rid-of-clutter supposedly preparing them for something in the future, though.  The problem is that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace and knowledge is growing at such exponential rates that it’s impossible to predict the future that we should be preparing our kids for!  Game-changers arrive on the scene with alarming or exciting (depending on your perspective) regularity, and this modern idea of a traditional childhood education simply does not keep up with it at all…no matter where the child is getting his or her education.

After my full system meltdown, I decided that I had to eliminate the clutter on my calendar and in my kids’ educations.  I hauled it all out and set it all on the chopping block.  No sacred cows were spared from scrutiny. Everything had to justify itself.  Nothing stayed on my calendar or in my home if it was only there because I was clinging to the what-ifs and the one-days.  

In the end, I made a sizable donation to The Goodwill, I bowed out of that standing Friday commitment, and my calendar no longer looks like a toddler armed with a box of markers laid siege to it.

 

 

 

10 Ways to be a Happier Homeschooling Family

10 Ways to be a Happier Homeschooling Family

Ever had a day when Mount Fold-Me and Mount File-Me both erupt…all over your couch and coffee table? The left-over cheese and enchilada sauce have crusted nicely on last night’s dinner dishes.  Six books and four DVDs are all four days overdue at the library.  Your budding scientist says, “Oooops” and you just don’t even want to know.  The smoke detector starts blaring, and you realize that you’d forgotten about the oatmeal on the stove top, and you step (barefooted, of course) on a Lego as you make a mad dash to the kitchen. You’re thinking public school sounds like a more peaceful, much better, option.

Take a deep breath.

This too shall pass.

In the meantime, here are 10 Ways to be a Happier Homeschooling Family*:

GIVING: serving others

It’s really hard to be depressed about the debris from Mount Fold-Me and Mount File-Me when our attention is focused on meeting the needs of other people who are less fortunate than we are.  It’s a blessing to be able to be a blessing to someone else.  It’s fun!  It’s deeply fulfilling.  One thing we homeschoolers have a lot of is time together with our children.  And one of the very best ways to spend that time together is in service to our communities.

RELATING: connecting with others

Homeschooling doesn’t mean locking our doors and snapping your blinds closed, shutting out the outside world.  We need friends.  Our kids need friends.  Make sure that we leave plenty of room in our homeschool schedule for spending fun, encouraging, and uplifting time with other people.

EXERCISING: taking care of our bodies

It’s easy to make excuses for not exercising, but we do so to our own detriment.  It’s hard to enjoy life with our kids if we’re too fat, inflexible, weak, or exhausted to join them in the fray.  Whenever possible, make exercise a family affair!  Hop on bikes.  Go for a hike.  My oldest daughter frequently joins me for my morning trail runs.

APPRECIATING: noticing the world around us

One thing kids tend to be very good at is taking the time to stop and smell the roses.  Whenever possible, resist the urge to hurry them along.  Instead, join in alongside them in their awe of the creation around them. Call attention to the beautiful sunset.  Pause on the trail and watch the ants scurry in and out of their nests. Pet a cat, but this time, do it mindfully.  Really feel the softness of its fur.  Go find art in the community.  

TRYING OUT: learning new things

If you have followed my blog for even a few posts, you know that I believe learning is a lifelong endeavor, and that the best homeschooling parents are active and engaged learners themselves.  Learning new things keeps our horizons expanded and the doldrums at bay.  It’s hard to be unhappy when we’re digging into something interesting.

DIRECTION: having goals to look forward to

Besides being active learners themselves, I believe that the best homeschooling parents also have goals of their own that they pursue.  People tend to be happier with some purpose in their lives.  If our homeschools seem stagnant and our lives swamped by Mount Fold-Me and Mount File-Me, perhaps it’s time to take a good look at the vision we have (or, probably don’t have) for our lives.  We need personal goals.  We need goals to chase as a family.  We should also be helping our children define their own.

RESILIENCE: finding ways to bounce back

Let’s face it: sometimes life just doesn’t go our way.  Sometimes nothing is working.  What do we model for our kids then?  Do we hide in bed with the covers drawn up over our heads?  Do we collapse on the couch and watch episode after episode of Jerry Springer?  Do we grab a serving spoon and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s?Well, maybe. Maybe we do that, for a short while to regroup.  But regroup, we must!

EMOTION: taking a positive approach

Okay, so nobody likes Mount Fold-Me or Mount File-Me.  No one likes scraping cheese and enchilada sauce that has dried into a stubborn scab on the dinner plates off the dinner plates.  No one loves overdue fines from the library.  The word “Ooops” from a child brings dread to any parent who finds herself wondering what awful thing happened to prompt that “Ooops”.  It sucks having breakfast burn.  And well, there are no words for stepping barefooted on a Lego.  But guess what, folks?  Even mired in the daily grind where nothing is going according to plan, we can still hit the pause button and be grateful.  We can still choose to be positive rather than continue to fuel a negative cycle.

ACCEPTANCE: being comfortable with who we are

I know of no surer way to end up unhappy than to compare my own life, my own children on their worst days, my own homeschool when things aren’t running smoothly to what I see of someone else’s life, children, or homeschool.  If we want to be happier people, happier parents, happier homeschoolers, we must be comfortable in our own skin and comfortable doing things the way we do them.  If something isn’t working, by all means, look for alternatives and make some changes.  But do that to make things better, not to try to measure up to some imaginary set of standards.

MEANING: being a part of something bigger

This tip goes hand-in-hand with several of the others.  People indeed are happier when we live according to some purpose, when we’re looking outside of ourselves.  In my family, we find meaning in being contributing members of the family, our church, our homeschool group, our Sea Cadets battalion, and finding ways to make the world around us a better place because we are here.

The bottom line is that we’ll probably never have a full handle on Mount Fold-Me or Mount File-Me while we’re homeschooling children.  Last night’s dinner dishes probably won’t always get done.  This probably won’t be the last time we pay overdue fees to the library.  We’ll probably burn another breakfast.  

But there will come a point when we no longer have a small, budding scientist under our roofs who exclaims, “Ooops!”  And there will come a point when there aren’t any Legos to step on anymore.  Our children will be grown and out on their own, and we’ll think back.  

When we do, we’ll either be comforted by the knowledge that we spent as much of our time as possible in joy and contentment, or we’ll regret having wasted so much of it in irritation, frustration, and doubt.  The good news for all of us still in the fray is that we still have the ability and the power to make that choice each and every day.

Have you ever tried any of these ideas to turn around a bad day?  If so, what did you do?  Did it work?  If you haven’t, I challenge you to pick a couple of these ideas to try.  Then come and let me know here what you did!

*This article was adapted from Vanessa King’s article titled “!0 Simple Steps to a Happier You”.

 

Pin It on Pinterest