I’ve never used the unschooling word to describe what we do. It does come awfully close to how we homeschool around here much of the time, but I’ve always preferred to call us “eclectic” and “child led” and “relaxed.”
It’s not only because I’ve been kicked off of unschooling lists (true story — twice!).
It’s partly because we’re not just child-led. We’re also mom-led and dad-led and “Hey! We’re in Sinclair Lewis’s hometown so we should study about him!”-led. We’re led by whichever way the wind blows, and that’s all of us, even if one of us would rather stay home and watch Sponge Bob.
So that’s one reason.
And I also just hate boxes and labels. I don’t do well with rules! So when someone tells me I can’t use worksheets or that I don’t count if I make my kids brush their teeth (even if I make it fun, for heaven’s sake), well, that just doesn’t sit well with me.
I tend to love unschoolers. They’re often my favorite families. I’ve met one or two unschooled kids that really made me want to go find the vodka, but I’ve found just as many of any other sort of schooling that had that effect on me. Many of my favorite kids and almost all of my favorite teenagers have been unschooled. That can’t be a coincidence.
Just the same, I have never considered us unschoolers. Until this year.
I am finding it more and more impossible to pretend to school my children now that there are four of them needing their proverbial buckets filled with knowledge.
Frankly, they do that themselves.
Sometimes they fill their buckets with Sponge Bob and physics games online, but then they wander out and surprise me by saying something pretty nearly brilliant and I stop thinking quite so much that I’m failing our family.
I’m stretched a bit thin these days.
I’m writing three columns and two blogs, mostly daily on all five counts (this poor blog has taken some hits though!).
I’m cooking from scratch, including meeting the culinary requirements of one vegan, one vegetarian, one flexitarian and some grumpy omnivores who miss bacon.
I’m doing a darn good job of avoiding cleaning a very messy house. This includes doing countless loads of laundry (with my trusty assistants) that never seem to even pretend to get us caught up.
I’m toilet training my last child.
I’m reading long (but interesting) books to review.
And I’m attempting to keep up with good parenting quotas — making play dough, reading stories, taking the kids outside on snowy walks, having talks, playing games…
Now where would the two to six hours each of educating come into this, times four?
It just doesn’t. Not this year.
Maybe next year I’ll go back to lapbooks and lesson plans. Heck, maybe next week. Maybe we’ll all gather at the kitchen table and learn about cellular biology as a group, despite the years of differences between all the kids.
But for now, we’re this close to unschoolers, even if they won’t give me a card to carry.
I still make everybody come sit and listen to “The Long Winter” and sometimes I say “do two math pages before you get online.” We talk about Japanese internment camps and how to make bonsai trees at the dinner table. I still make them brush their teeth, too.
Mostly, though, I get out the educational games, I strew the good science books, I get out the microscope and watch all the kids gather round to see what I’m looking at. I talk. I answer questions. I put the educational DVD’s on in the background.
And so on.
Lately, I’ve been reading blog posts about plans for the new homeschooling year. There’s a whole lot of planning going on for some people.
I even saw a pie chart. A pie chart of what the children would be doing, extracurriculars and all.
My resolution is not to read them.
I’m resolving to keep going with my unschooly, haphazard ways.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know a thing or two. And one thing I know best is to follow the seasons. When you have a new baby, you don’t worry about spelling tests. The baby is the lesson, and things work out. When your garden is full of things to put up, you don’t drill multiplication tables. When a parent has cancer, you cuddle on the bed and read books together. School should follow life, not vice versa.
There is a season for lapbooks and lesson plans.
There is also a season for trusting your children and making sure the books and microscope are out. I wrote about goals today (not resolutions) and had some advice about what sort to set.
Mine are easy:
- Read to the kids every day
- Get outside as much as possible, and when not possible (which is often, this winter!), still get lots of exercise together
- Do some sort of fun math thing every day
I’m still not sure we’ll meet those ones.
But you know what? My 12 year-old taught a friend of hers binary over the computer last week, for fun. My 10 year-old has been devouring historic novels. My7 year-old has decided he loves spelling. And my 3 year-old is obsessed with physics experiments. They usually involve a toilet plunger, the bathroom door, or blocks being catapulted across the room, but I’m pretty sure he’s a prodigy. 😉
Lesson plans are overrated.
Maybe next week I’ll decide to make a salt dough model of Florida or do 12 hours straight of multiplication drills (okay, not really). The only thing I’m consistent about as a homeschooler is my inconsistency.
But I know it’s all good.
You’re all good too, in case you’re worried about it.
Read a little, strew a little, play a lot and love a lot. The rest will fill in the gaps, despite your worries. That’s my plan.