Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christian Unschooling

I've met with some strong opinions 
regarding Christianity and unschooling.
Many feel it's not possible to be a Christian
and Unschool. Some folks seem to feel
unschooling is not biblical. Our church
and the sermons of our Pastor actually
opened the unschooling door to us.
And then God pulled us right on through it.        

Jesus is our ultimate example of love and 
kindness, teaching by modeling. Mindful,
loving, respectful, unconditional parenting
follows the model Jesus set. Radical
unschooling follows the model Jesus set
before us. 

Here are some great writings that have 
gone into depth to address Christian
Unschooling quite wonderfully.: 

Join this facebook group for Christians Against
Corporal Punishment.  

Read on the blog, The Path Less Taken.

I think the links provided have great insight
and I hope you enjoy reading them over. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Facing Self Doubt

I have been talking with a fellow homeschooling Mom, also new to unschooling and a proud Mom to many. We were recently discussing the intense amount of "rules" that seem to be implied for unschooling to be a success. Edited 1/11/12: I think the reason many (myself included) felt overwhelmed is that we are/were looking for a clear "do this approach" and it doesn't exist in this type of learning. It's the glimpses of what others are doing that give the unschooling picture. And that can be overwhelming to have so many "ways" tossed at you. 
I hope anyone interested in pursuing natural learning, life learning, unschooling or whatever term folks prefer,  does not let the model of anyone else deter them from doing so. When we used Robinson curriculum we did it our own way. We used Robinson as our base and made it our own to suit our own needs. We did the same when using Sonlight, which was all planned out for us, and even then we used it how it best suited us. It would stand to reason that with a method like unschooling, which has no blue print to be followed to begin with that any parent would do the same.
edited 1/11/12: While I would still say that anyone can unschool. I would have to admit that there are some things that do not make one an unschooler. I used to say we had an unschooling bent. By my definition that was we had a smidge of Mom required work and the rest of the day the kids were free to do pursue their own interests. Compared to where we are now, that was not even a mile close to what it looks like here now. How it used to be, was not even close to unschooling. 

Family rhythm, flow, values are different for everyone.
Unschooling is not a pre-designed curriculum to follow. There are no teacher's guides or boxes that must be checked to be "following" the plan correctly.
I'm posting this not as an expert on unschooling by any means. But as someone who has found a very broad set of guidelines to a method which really just added confusion and frustration for me. edited 1/11/12: I see now that it's easy for an unschooler to say "you are not unschooling" because it's so crystal clear to them after they have experience doing it. 

"All John Holt meant to do with the word unschooling was to find a more expressive and expansive term than deschooling or homeschooling, both of which gave the impression of abolishing or creating miniature copies of conventional schooling in the home. Holt created the word unschooling to indicate that children can learn in significant ways that don't resemble school learning and that don't have to just take place at home." 
 -Pat Farenga

I read in a forum archive on unschooling, where one unschooling Mom said all learning can't be fun and the belief that is what unschooling is proves you're not an unschooler.
It is common sense that as children get older, everything won't be (giggly and silly) all the time. Of course they would seek to challenge themselves as they get older and may not use the word "fun" to describe every such challenge, but who's to say, maybe they just might. Fun will always be in play in some way though. Life should be joyful and fun! My husband and I have fun as adults. We play games, we laugh, dance, sing, he rocks out in his band, plays golf. My job as a stay at home Mom is fun, of course it doesn't mean I don't face challenges. As a paralegal my job was fun, and there were challenges. Bry's job as a police officer, though dangerous, is fun, not in the run and skip through the meadow type way, but it brings him joy to be able do the job he does. And enjoyment is having "fun".

Reading, researching and reading more are just my things. I have found that there does seem to be things that will lend better to unschooling or make the road easier as I've found in my research. Again even if you don't feel any of it. But just feel pulled to learn more. Don't be discouraged because you can do it.
Such as:

  • The belief that children learn through living their lives and yes through playing and having fun.
  • You do not feel a need to control the learning. 
  • You do not feel a need to control your children. 
  • You realize that it will be your way of thinking that has to change. You require "school" not them. 
  • The belief that humans are born to learn. It's the way God made us. To seek, to understand, to accomplish to pursue goals and dreams. To want to achieve! 
  • Belief that learning takes place all the time, not exclusively when following a set curriculum. 
  • You follow respectful / mindful parenting or aspire to be a gentle respectful parent and are willing to take the steps to be a respectful unconditional parent (which means showing love no matter what, highs, lows, success, defeat, your love stays the same constant). 
  • You realize you do not need to have set curriculum for learning to happen. Unless your kids choose to pull it off the shelf or you offer or "strew" it and they want to try it without any pressure. Much as you would offer a friend a drink when visiting your home. If they refuse you would not get angry, frustrated or be disappointed with them. The same should be said when strewing materials around. 
  • You trust that your kids will learn, without requiring proof in the form of tests, grades, scores or instant feedback of their learning. 
  • What you are doing may feel joyless and you are seeking a more peaceful and joyful way. 
  • You realize that we have them for so few years and you want to enjoy the ride and homeschool in a way that makes your partners in their learning, not the dictator. 
  • You want their learning time and memories of learning at home to be fun! 
  • You are fighting a child through tears to do a math page, fill in an english worksheet, and you realize that it's doing anything but cementing a good relationship with your child. 

There is no reason you cannot unschool if: 
  • You like to have structure/routines in your home. Everyone has some type of routine. It might be a day  you prefer for cleaning house, for doing laundry for running errands. 
  • You are a Christian. Yes, God is the ultimate unconditional parent. He waits, gives us time, welcomes us with open arms, despite our missteps on our way to him. But if you use God as a way to bully or guilt the kids into doing your will, that would be something important to get away from. 
  • Have a family with many children. 
  • Do not believe in unlimited access to TV, video games, etc.  You know what works best for your family and see how electronics effect your children. However I would add that "rules" and unschooling are somewhat at odds with one another. The "obey or face this consequence" type of rules are something which more than likely you will let go of in time. As someone who has done that myself, it's just a natural progression. Be willing to let go of your rules and restrictions on TV and video games over time. Let your children show you how they can shine when given the trust and the chance to set their own pace for these. 
  • Feel that God comes first, husband second and children third. Meaning you protect your time with your husband, that might mean putting the kids to bed early some nights. But a strong marriage is a wonderful model to give our children. 
Obviously I have not been in this for the long haul yet. But I feel it in my soul that natural learning is right for our family. 
Just the past two days so much great stuff has been going on. Maybe God was giving me affirmation when I was feeling weak. But I feel so renewed having been a part of such a wonderful few days. 
  • Skylar has been constructing all sorts of play structures with pattern blocks and math manipulatives. 
  • Summer pulled out the map of the US (from Sonlight I might add). And was laying on the floor talking to Skylar who was building nearby. They were talking about where Penpals and Grandparents lived in relation to us on the map and discussing how long it would take for each to get where and the weather in each place. 
  • Skylar read for several hours each day. 
  • Summer did flash cards and played math games on my Iphone. 
  • Decklin did a craft. He started to get upset when the girls didn't want to play but wanted to go do their flash cards or reading. I offered him a book of cut out crafts and he picked one. Summer came down while he was crafting and decided to make a Christmas tree craft and decorate it with stickers we had in my scrapbook cart. 
  • They did Christmas Tree and Christmas Wreath Crafts. 
  • I had been reading them a chapter book. Skylar liked it so much she read it twice on her own. And Summer then read it herself as well. 
  • They went to help us look at a house to see if it was the right one for us. 
  • Skylar helped Ember jump on the mini trampoline. 
  • Ember has potty trained herself. She's now wearing cloth pull ups, just in case. 
  • We spent our one on one time. 
  • Ember and Decklin have been creating with playdough. 
  • Summer and Decklin have been building with legos. 
  • We have all been playing Wii sports, Star Wars and some other fun games. 
  • My Grandmother sent a fantastic huge 5 book library of these big thick books on animals and insects. They came today and the kids all grabbed a book to look through. Skylar read us all interesting facts and she came upon them about from her book.

Record keeping for life learners

Record Keeping for Unschoolers by Sarch McGrath

Unschooling Record Keeping at Leaping from the box (free)

Learning Happens (free)

A record of the learning lifestyle by Notgrass

Unschooling a Lifestyle of Learning

Today I had the pleasure to read the book by Sarah McGrath: Unschooling A Lifestyle of Learning. Her tone is very gentle. She does not have the "It must be done this way or it's not unschooling" type of tone to her book. She encourages that each family find their own niche. 

Her definition of unschooling is Living and learning without the limitations of school. Essentially a life with unlimited possibilities. Learning by doing, wondering, and figuring things out.

Something that I really appreciated about her book was the alternative terms for unschooling, which I think more accurately do describe what unschooling is. Naturally putting the "un" in front of schooling and it makes people wrongly assume there is unlearning or no learning going on.  
The alternative terms for the unschooling style of learning:  
Life learners, Natural learning, Self-directed, interest-driven, delight-driven, whole life, and natural learning.

Key unschooling points she makes:
We all learn all the time.
All learning has value.
We learn best by our own motivation, in our own ways.
Effective learning need not cause difficulty or unpleasantness (if you've have a child crying over math or phonics, but you believe they should push on, this might resonate with you). 
Play provides a perfectly valid mode of learning.
An unschooling parent does not teach but helps children learn.

She talks about how they don't have rules but lots guidance in their home. How her children look to her as a "natural authority" because of the life experience she has. 
She has a nice chapter on Unschooling and Anarchy, learning styles and even homeschooling styles. She gives sample unschooling course of studies, and record keeping which would be a great help to someone in a state that requires documentation. There is a nice resource section. And she even publishes a Spiral bound unschooling journal with writing prompts for record keeping. 

What she had to say about how much interest and concern random people express for unschooling children:
"Just as you cannot teach unreceptive children, you cannot reach unreceptive adults. You need not defend your choices or prove yourself or your children.
Fears arise from things we don't understand, things we have little or no knowledge of or experience with. The majority of people in Western culture attended school and many believe children need school to grow into competent adults. They haven't imagined any other way."

In Sandra Dodd's book she refers to an Unschooling Nest. Ms. McGrath refers to this as the unschooling environment. She encourages the uniqueness of each family and that the environment be unique as well. Enriching the environment essentially. She goes on to say, this does not mean spending tons of money. It could mean putting out art supplies, setting up the computer in a safe way for the child to visit websites, having access to music instruments, sewing and craft materials, books, games, or whatever interests your child specifically.

One idea she shared that I really loved was to set up a blog that is only for my children to access. And use that as their internet home page. From there is where they will access the websites Mom and parent have picked together to save there. 
We have picked up Kindle Fire's for each of the girls for Christmas but we had concern over how we were going to make them child safe. Her suggestion was read in perfect time for us to address this. They each have regular kindles already but those are so slow and no web surfing is even worth the wait, but with the fire that would be an option and something we wanted to be safe with. Of course I know some might question why we'd get these for our kids. One reason being, they love using our Iphones to play games, and together we look things up. But them using our phones is not always possible. And really the price was wonderful for what the fire offers. So many great apps that can be shared from device to device and not to mention books and music. 

I do wish this was the first unschooling book I'd read. I'd highly recommend it be the first read to anyone looking into the unschooling, life learning, natural learning methodology. I do think it answers any question I've had being new to this myself. 

Happy Homeschooling. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Here is our daily learning Routine for the kids which has evolved from the one we first put together which had just four of five things. This is for the older two who like to cover everything on the list most days. Of course as with anything that's not always realistic but my kids love a good old checklist so this is what they asked to have on it. And the definitions are what they used to describe each item.

___Read Something
___Write Something
___Created/Made something
___Got some fresh air/sunshine
___Played a game with the family
___Played a DS/Wii game
___Used Math
___Watched some TV
___Read to younger sibling
___Prayed and said Thanks to God
___Daily chores


Directions on games
Penpal letters
Books / magazines / catalogs
Street signs
Words on TV shows / movies

Letters / emails
restaurant and other game play

Anything from building with blocks, setting up Barbie houses, car raceways, crafting, setting up instruments for church band, using varying art materials, craft kits, varying games

Fresh air / outside:
Play on swings
Family walks
Ride scooters
pick flowers / play in yard

Used Math:
Divide things up
count things
sorting laundry
following the calendar
doing puzzles
playing board games / ds / leapster / wii / Iphone games
Life of Fred / math workbooks on shelf

They also came up with a daily routine for themselves. As far as what flow they'd like their days to take.

Wake at 8 AM (this is a loft goal for her)
Take shower
Do chores
Eat breakfast
Tidy from breakfast
Reading 2 hours
Writing Wed and Friday
Eat dinner
Watch TV
Get in bed at 10 PM
Read until 10:30 PM

Wake at 8 AM
Breakfast tidy up
Clean up
CLE Flash cards (she said these are fun) and some pages of Explode the code (she also said these are fun)
Play with Decklin while Skylar reads
Watch TV
Get in bed the same time as Skylar

This is an addition as of 5/3/12 to answer the questions that Red Kitchen had shared in the comments section below:

Obviously I am far from an unschooling expert but I will take a shot at addressing your concerns based on my understanding of unschooling.
I'd also highly recommend reading at Joyce Fetteroll's site, which is . She has such a wealth of info there and covers such a broad range of questions that anyone new to the concept of unschooling has wondered about.

1) My older children are 9 &; 11, and they are used to schooling with Sonlight (which I know you're familiar with.) I don't know if we can "let it go." But, of course, they might choose to do it anyway, so then it wouldn't be a factor. ;)
My response: When you say let it go, I'm assuming you mean just tossing it all?
What I'd say is approach it differently. If your kids really enjoy Sonlight then it will not get tossed. But being willing to let them decide would be the key. I would suggest doing the summer vacation approach, which is just giving the kids off all the school work you had been doing prior. I'd also suggest you jot down in a notebook or journal for yourself what things they do in that time off without evaluating if it's “educational” or not. This will help you see what they enjoy doing, what they are interested in, what types of rabbit trails they want to go down. If you are in the middle of a book they like, ask them if they'd like you to read it to them maybe before bed or in the morning., minus the Sonlight guide of page number splits or discussion questions. Be okay with them saying no and not showing an interest. Strew or sprinkle the Sonlight books about where the kids can reach for them but be okay if they never grab for them. Places to sprinkle them might be in a basket near a bed, sofa, on a coffee table, in the bathroom : ).

2)Math...yikes!!! It scares the heck out of me to think about not doing it formally. I really don't have a problem with other "subjects" in unschooling, but math gets me! Of course since we've been using Saxon all along, they do know all of their basic facts and concepts and problem solving, etc. It just freaks me out to think that higher math won't be know, like algebra, geometry, etc. But I know that if they choose to go to college, then they would choose to learn what is required. It's just that giving up that control is scary!
My response: Math scared me very much initially too. But I have been happily overwhelmed with the volume of math that comes up in daily life that I never paid mind to before. This has given me such confidence. And now I can't believe that I worried so much about math or that I spent so much money trying to find the right curriculum to teach it.
Here are some great links on math to read over:

I respect it so much that you realize that giving up your control of the situation is what is scary. But think of it this way. Trust in your children instead. Trust that you and the children as partners will explore so many more wonderful things if you trust in the process and put away the schoolish glasses.
And then also Sandra Dodd has a page on trust:

3) What if they choose to watch TV or play video games all day? And not even educational ones? What if that's all they want to do? I know that they would probably grow tired of it, but what if they don't?
My response: Here is a great quote from Joyce's website that I love:
“What if your husband controlled your book reading (or something you love to do)? What if he only let you read books that he thought were worthwhile (regardless of what you thought was enjoyable to you)? What if he only allowed you to read for a certain amount each day and you couldn't read 3 magazines in a row? What if you had the feeling he was watching and judging you every time you picked up something to read to make sure you were making a"worthwhile' choice?
What do you think you'd do if he gave you free rein (as well as no other responsibilities) on Saturdays?”

My kids go in waves with TV, just like with Barbie's. Some days we just want to cuddle under warm blankets, snack and watch some TV, other days they want to get lost in Barbie world and other days we have video game battles for hours. Last night we played Plants vs Zombies for hours. We all took turns, talked while playing, talked about the cost of the plants and planned out where we were going to place them. Video games for us are social times much of the time. But there are times when one of the kids just wants time to go play a video game alone as well because they just want some peace and quiet or they may choose to do something else entirely in the same room with the family who is playing on the gaming system.
When it comes to TV or gaming, I don't think their time would be better spent elsewhere. It's my job to make our home and our lives interesting so that there is plenty to choose from, like a buffet. If TV or video games are the only choices, that's not a great set up for unschooling. But I don't place a higher level of importance over anything else in the house
If a child has had TV or video game restrictions they are going to binge on it because they might not know if it will be controlled on them again. Not judging during this I think is key. Was key for us.
Skylar (10) and I sat one day and went through all our satellite channels and we made a list of the channel name and it's number for her as a reference and we taped that under the glass on our coffee table. This is good for her or Summer (8) who are not channel surfers but just like to go right to something specific. During the day I am there to help when/if they want to watch something. But at night the list comes in handy if they can't sleep and come down to have a snack and watch to watch TV while doing so.

4) This is a biggie, even though it shouldn't be: family &; friends. I know I should get over that, but it's easier said than done.
**You know, as I type, I realize my biggest issue is control. I am a perfectionist & a bit of a control freak, so I need help in that area. So, help! :)
My response:
If you unschool you just go on interacting as you are. No one else has to know really. And they'd only know if you offered it up. Yes, we homeschool is all I've ever said and what I still stay. Joyce has great advice here:

Regarding the issues of control, Sandra Dodd has a great page on this:

With control, I just try to treat my kids how I'd like to be treated. I am always a work in progress.... Always : ). And I have asked them to tell me if I'm slipping into grumpy or bossy Mom mode. 

Hope this is of some help.