Can You Homeschool Four Kids and Not Turn Into an Unschooler?

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.

Happy 2011!

17 thoughts on “Can You Homeschool Four Kids and Not Turn Into an Unschooler?

  1. Suji, you are always so organized and inspiring, a line graph would have just made me smile. 🙂 I loved your planning post and hope to check out the links to some you mentioned. I have just gotten to the point where I’ve realized that with 4 kids and so many things going on, I’m never gonna be a pie chart kinda homeschooler. 🙂


  2. Sounds like a plan! We are (shock and horror) virtual schoolers, so not even homeschoolers in the true sense of the word. But, don’t I school at home? Don’t I make lesson plans and lapbooks and go on road trips and to the library? I even call myself an unschooler (some of the time) and it drives my unschooler friends crazy. Hey, I’m child led…..some of the time…..
    .-= liese4´s last blog ..Snow place like home =-.


  3. Serious??? Not even at my most anal have I done a pie chart! (Although now you mention it … lol)

    I err on the side of eclectic too – mostly unschooling, but I like to have an out 🙂

    And you are superwoman so who cares what you call yourself!!!
    .-= Kez´s last blog ..Happy New Year! =-.


  4. My new favorite thought for the day – school should follow life. Love that.

    We’re freestyle, interest driven, wandering unschoolers too and we have abandoned more plans than I can remember. There always seems to be a rabbit trail calling our names.

    Thanks for this post – it has me feeling inspired and energized for 2011 :0)
    .-= tara´s last blog .. livingroom light sabers =-.


  5. Great post! Thank you. I laughed out loud at the part about vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and bacon missing omnivores! Sounds awfully familiar…


  6. Love this post – love it, love it, love it!

    Not sure if I’ll ever be able to live it, though. PA is one of the strictest homesechooling states in the country. My son is only 9 months old, and I’m already dreading the paperwork. 😦
    .-= Katie Gregg´s last blog ..Happy New Year! =-.


  7. Thank you SO much for this post! I’m a very new homeschooling mom, taking the unschooling approach for this year anyway. There are some days when I have doubts on whether I’m doing the right thing or not. Then a day comes that my son draws a gorgeous picture unprompted or shares a very cool fact which makes me wonder where he learned it, I know it’s worth it. It’s helpful to know that I’m not the only one with these doubts and ups/downs of homeschooling. Keep up the good work! =)


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  9. loved reading this as I always feel like we are being pushed towards one label or another. And then if we don’t meet those expectations exactly we are ostracized. What is wrong with calling yourself vegan even if you try a bite of fresh caught fish on occasion? I’ve gotten picked on for that and it seems so silly. We all live by our own definitions and dictionaries.
    It looks to me like you are doing such a fantastic job raising and teaching your kids. They are so lucky to have you helping them through life and making them brush their teeth.
    .-= Krissee´s last blog ..Need a Baby! =-.


  10. So glad I just followed a link here from metropolitanmama. I was just having a floundering moment today as a new homeschooler and pretty-much-unschooling-but-label-despising-mama. Lots of pondering and reminding myself that indeed, the goal is not to look like we’re at school (despite what everyone else seems to expect)…but to learn. And lately, our learning is definitely not looking anything like a traditional setting. One baby, one toddler, one kindergartener = pure chaos…but good chaotic learning too. Thanks for the GREAT post.
    .-= Jeanine Ertl´s last blog ..In the Moment =-.


  11. thank you for this post. I’ve always believed homeschooling and unschooling worked best in tandem. I’m so tired of hearing that because your child was in preschool, they need 10 years to “deschool” the damage done to them. If a parent isn’t paying attention and allowing the child to watch hundreds of hours of Liberty Kids or play Playstation 3 to get over being told that “it is story time now, please sit on the carpet”. Thank you and keep spending time with your children.
    .-= happygirl´s last blog ..Yikes!! =-.


  12. Thanks for sharing your philosophy, Alicia! I love the flexible way that you approach education.

    Clearly, your children aren’t lacking academically…and you’ve given them a PRICELESS gift – the knowledge that learning is FUN. 🙂


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