Updated: Apr 21, 2022
When my daughter and I made the choice to embark on a home education journey we
talked about and looked into a variety of styles and methods, and the one that she
liked the best was unschooling. I have to admit the idea scared me. I was coming from
six years as a professional early childhood educator, and to me unschooling sounded a
lot like days with no structure, no schedule, and no goals. I did a ton of research and
after talking about the options we settled on doing at least some formal academics in
case sometime in the future, she wanted to go back to school. In the year and half
since she has been homeschooling we have utilized resources from a variety of
curriculums and approaches. At times leaning more heavily on “book work” and other
times letting the natural flow of our days lead us.
As you probably know, homeschooling has some pretty amazing benefits. There are
two in particular that have directly played into our relaxed eclectic approach to
learning. The first one is efficiency. Her lessons in the “3 r’s” are short and condensed.
If she is really focused (which at times can be challenging), she can complete her
academics in less than three hours. I don’t bother having her do any repetition, drills,
or practice work that she doesn’t absolutely need. Much of the material kids learn in
school is repeated year after year, with only a few new concepts being introduced.This
works hugely to our benefit. She can do a few problems or questions, and if it's
obvious she already knows the material she canwork ahead or be done for the day. If
it's a new concept we spend more time on it, but I can tailor the lesson in such a way
as to make it suit her interest. This leads me to the second benefit, which is the ability to
personalize your child's lessons.
One of my favorite teaching and learning styles when I was a professional educator was the Reggio Emilia approach. Based on the constructivist theory; the Reggio Emilia approach centers on the belief that children are constantly building on their prior knowledge through each experience they have. Learning doesn't happen independently of everything else we are experiencing in our lives, but as a direct part of it. This method of teaching and learning also
acknowledges that learning is often a collaborative process between the learner and the teacher or facilitator with the environment playing heavily into the process.
So what does this look like in practice?
Once we have covered our basics (Which no matter what we try to get out of the way by lunchtime often with at least one long break to get outside and explore), we move on to science or history in the afternoon. This usually means reading from quality books on a topic that interests my daughter, and then having a conversation about what we read and recording her takeaways in a notebook either by drawing, writing, or some combination of both. Like our morning work, these "lessons" are short, no more than 30-45 minutes of focused time spent in reading and discussion. To make this even more enjoyable, we often combine this with a temperature appropriate drink (such as tea) sometime in the mid afternoon.
The rest of day is left open for her to explore and expand upon whatever interests her. This doesn't mean I go off and do my own thing and she does hers though. Instead, I collect and offer her materials and resources, observe her as she works (from a bit of distance since she is older), interact with her as needed/desired, and facilitate. So here's a breakdown of how our days (sometimes) flow. In reality a lot is flexible and we are constantly adjusting and modifying what we are doing to make it even better.
Morning time: We begin with an hour of open ended time at the table where she can choose something that interests her to work on. Then we have three short segments where we practice the "basics" (math, spelling/handwriting, and grammar) we spend about 15-30 minutes on each subject.
I think of it a little like taking her to store and making sure she gets a chance to walk around and see whats on all the aisles. What she chooses to pick up and take home is up to her.
Outside exploration: 1-2 hours in the morning. Two days a week I keep our morning practice
work very abbreviated (or forgo it altogether) and I try to go somewhere like a local nature trail or park. The other three days we explore outside closer to home.
Midday open ended time: Once we come back inside we usually have about two hours where nothing specific is planned. We get lunch, read aloud, then she is able to work on things that interest her.
Mid Afternoon tea: We incorporate unit study style lessons for science and history into this time. We sit down to read or tell a story base don the topic we are currently studying, discuss it, and then create something inspired by it. This is usually around two or three pm. After this the rest of the day is left open.
To me personally, this approach to learning represents a nice happy medium between
traditional teaching methods and unschooling.To me it means making sure I am facilitating
my daughter in building a knowledge base that she can add to, and then making sure she has
the environment set up, and the resources at her disposal to learn more and follow her own
interests. I think of it a little like taking her to store and making sure she gets a chance to
walk around and see whats on all the aisles. What she chooses to pick up and take home is up to her.