More Unschooling Thoughts


Back when I first started home schooling I latched onto what seemed to be a very successful way to home school (according to friends who home schooled and to a blog I regularly read at the time).  It was workbook home schooling using a very tight and regular half hour schedule.  For a good couple of years I tried to copy this family and this blog.  It wasn’t until Gary turned to me one day and said that we needed to find the Gary and Claire way of home schooling that I finally saw the light.  He said to me that God had given us (two very different and very individual people) three young children (who were also very different, individual people).  We had to find our way of schooling which would suit Gary and I and the children we were blessed with.  Since then we have very much followed our own vision for our children.

Over the last year or so the older children have become very opinionated about their learning, and I love it!  I had thoughts of sitting back and letting them take over their learning.  I mean they were clearly enthusiastic enough and always looking for learning opportunities, so I began to research unschooling.  As regular readers already know, this really did appeal to me.  However, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the reins completely.  So I compromised with one week of normal school and one week of unschooling.

So far we have done two schooling weeks and two weeks unschooling.  I had a picture created by our family as to how our school weeks would look and a picture in my mind of how the unschool weeks would eventually look.  The schooling weeks have turned out exactly as planned.  We work really hard; we are in a good routine and we all feel we have achieved a lot at the end of the each day.  In fact the four older children asked me to push them harder during our school week.  This may come as surprise to some but not to me.  I know my family.  And we are all by nature happier being busy.  Our school weeks are going very well, thank you very much!

Unschooling is another matter all together.  The first week I would have deemed successful.  I realise as an unschooler it is maybe frowned upon to make a judgement on the success or otherwise of the children’s week.  What really matters is whether the child believes it is a success.  But I am their mother and it is completely foreign to me to be completely hands off and thoughts off.

The first week I enjoyed the learning I was seeing.  In general the children kept themselves occupied and productive.  And it is important to me that they are productive.  They only have one life with a finite amount of time.  I don’t want to see them wasting any of it.  However, what really spoke to me of its success was their happiness.  They were so joyful exploring their own interests and setting their own goals and striving to reach them each day.  They had purpose and created meaning themselves whilst happily fulfilling that purpose.

This week has been different.  Now I am aware it is February so I am probably not seeing things through my generally rose-tinted specs.  But I think it is more than that.  It was when they referred to their unschooling week as their week off that I began to hear the warning bells.  And in deed they really have treated this last unschooling week as a week off rather than a week to explore their interests.  Screens (which I have honestly had a problem with right from the start) have been on continuously.  However, if they had been using them to learn things I maybe wouldn’t have minded (well, not so much, anyway), but they have been spending hours watching music videos and T has been on Ebay ‘watching’ a hundred and one Ipods to try to buy himself one.  Apart from chores and maths nothing of use has been done that I can see.  But more than that, my children are antsy, dis-satisfied and dare I say it, seem a little low.  Again, it could be February, but I don’t think it is.

We have, as always, chatted about it.  As we were chatting we revisited how all of us thought these unschooling weeks would work.  And without exception they all said that these weeks were to have time away from the restraints of a normal school schedule to explore their own interests.  But more than that, they all expressed a discontent with how little they did do when they were left to their own devices. I suggested that they needed to stop thinking about the unschool week as a holiday week but to think of the two weeks together as a two-week schedule which would be repeated.  The first week I would schedule and the second week they would schedule.  All three loved that idea and started to excitedly plan how they would plan.  I was asked to provide blank scheduling sheets and it was agreed that they would all hand in their proposed unschool schedules each Friday.

I asked if they would like something in place during which they could demonstrate their learning in their unschool week.  Again this was met with excitement.  T13 suggested they all did a short presentation to Granny, Daddy and I.  It was agreed that this was a grand idea to help with accountability but also would give a voice to the children’s learning.  So if a child shot a film we would all watch it; if they drew or painted we would peruse their art in a mini gallery they would set up; if they were practicing a song, we would listen to them singing it or  if they were writing a story, they would read it aloud to us.  They would have an audience, people who cared to bounce their learning off and with added accountability.

There is much excitement in our house this week over the next unschool week (we are in a half term holiday at the moment).  It had been agreed that the planning sheet would be given to Gary and I each Friday to go over.  They duly did so last week.  They were to include ingredients for any recipes they wanted to cook, kitchen time slots, any resources they needed.  T wrote a quick essay on why he wanted an Ipod and what he would be doing with it during his unschool week.  He put forward a good case for us contributing some money towards a second-hand one from Ebay, which we agreed to.  They all included special time with their little sisters, with L teaching the little ones how to trampoline whilst C will teach them piano and singing.

It was a useful exercise to see their schedules and how specific (or not) they are.  I will be returning one or two for more detail as I really do think the less open-ended they are and the more specific they are the more success they will see at setting goals and reaching them – a very important life skill.

This session, chatting everything through with the whole family, has been of huge benefit.  We were able to really consolidate what it was we all wanted from these non school weeks.  It was not to give them a week off.  It was not time to do as they pleased.  In fact, it was an opportunity for them to develop their gifts; time to pursue those things that might get lost under all the curriculum dead lines and most importantly  it was time to become more authentically themselves whilst there are no restraints put around them.  Really anything goes so long as they are able to demonstrate their learning during the fortnightly mini presentations.

I can sigh in relief.  We are all singing from the same hymn sheet, all on the same page.  I know I will not be disappointed during the next non-school week.  The children have big plans.  They are excited.  And so am I.

 photo 50ee37ee-4f60-43f2-83eb-bb7deb75fd49_zpsbacda61d.png  Homegrown Learners  


  1. Wow! What an honest appraisal. I say kudos for giving it a try. I found early on that my boys really do need a bit more structure than my daughter does. The boys like the idea of steering their own ships, but they are easily distracted and they finally recognize this in themselves. We have found that when life is crazy, or we are experiencing a move, our family needs more structure. There is comfort in it. When we find our feet in the new location, we reward ourselves with a bit of relaxation. This is a huge reason why I love homeschooling. I get to see what works, and what does not work, for our crew. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks Kay. I am certainly learning things about my children (and myself) through this experiment. And you are right, we are so blessed to home school and use these freedoms to work out what might work best for each child.

  2. I find that this is a struggle for Rose. Firecracker has enough plans, ideas, and things he wants to learn and do to last a lifetime. Rose, if I did not require that on most days we leave the television off, would spend her entire life in front of the television. She also designates days as “off” and “on” for school that is completely foreign to Firecracker and I!! LOL I find that much of the structure that I’ve crept in over the past year has been in response to my perception of her needs 🙂

    1. it is all just about tweaking and changing up things until they are the best they can be. Thing is the children change quicker than I can keep up! Schooling the littles now with the experience of the older three is so much easier than it was first time round!

  3. Great review of your process! I love how much input your children are giving – and how much thought you are all putting into the experiment.

  4. Brilliant! I think this is such a good idea for your family, self-structured, interest- led learning. Knowing our children and ourselves is key to schooling from the heart, education that is authentically us, an ever evolving process as we grow and learn. I think you might have hit upon a perfect balance.

    1. I am always so happy to see a comment from you. Thank you my friend for being such an encourager to us all.
      Looking forward to seeing you Tuesday!

  5. I believe kids have seasons and grow and learn while we parents do so also. My first year homeschooling was rather rigid in scheduling and location because I had to set a routine as a working parent there was no room for playing around. Now into year two, I know my kids and truly know – unschooling wouldn’t work for them. When we don’t have a set instruction day, my kids actually tell me they are bored. They don’t initiate learning, they expect and desire me to do it with them. We’ve explored their interest, but some core learning is always the center of it. I do a block system for them now that teaches a full curriculum – but in different ways (for my younger person). One block will be workbook based (which my son prefers) the next will be computer based, and the last is project based. Thinking that the foundation for futher exploration is working. Trying something new is a good thing, you learn what works best for your kids. *Visiting from Weekly Wrap Up*

  6. interesting. I think my kids are too young for this. Friday we don’t school (but to be fair, the public school has had about 5 or 6 days off that we did NOT take off, and we do stuff on saturdays sometimes, too)… and those seem to fluctuate between insanity and couch potato. Lol. I may have to revisit this. One day was a ‘snow day’ in which I made them write or draw (6 and 3 years) their ‘day’ out. And then do the activities and check them off. Sure enough, they wanted to measure the snow (math), already had to write/draw, and did a lot of outside activities that they hadn’t been able to do for a while, so it worked out well. I hope you find a balance that works for you!

  7. It sounds as though you are working your way to a brilliant solution. Talking seems to be the key to making all things work better. I’ll be looking forward to your next report on how it goes.
    Have a lovely weekend, Claire.

    1. We talk about EVERYTHING here! On a daily basis I call meetings for short chat! It must be very tedious for the children, although it is all they have ever known so I don’t usually get too many complaints. I hope you have a wonderful weekend too, Donnaxxxx

  8. Visiting from the weekly wrap-up…I love this idea!! I’ve thought on and off about unschooling, but am too fearful of ‘letting go of control’. But I do believe in letting the kids explore their interests and giving them time to do it, which is one of the reasons why I decided to homeschool. However, I do find that alot of the planned, structured learning takes so long (because of a highly distractable and unfocused child), that he rarely has time for pursuing his interests. I think I might try your approach! I like what you said, ” It was not to give them a week off. It was not time to do as they pleased. In fact, it was an opportunity for them to develop their gifts;” This is exactly how I would want to approach it…and limit the screens, because I’m SURE if screens were allowed, they’d play Minecraft all day long(and maybe some eBay stalking for Lego minifigures). I love the idea of them coming up with a plan for this, and not just let to go free-form, and for something to show what they’ve been doing. I might try it!

    1. The screen is my biggest hurdle with unschooling, because whilst I understand it is very educational and opens up a heap of learning for the children, I think it also breeds a selfishness which I really don’t like to see (and isn’t usually there). We will keep tweaking until it works because I think the concept of time to follow one’s dreams is really rather special.

      1. So I tried it this week- a week of unschooling! I’d like to try this alternating 2 week schedule. I posted my thoughts about it on my blog. Overall, pretty good experience, but we need to tweak it a bit.

  9. I posted something VERY similar this week. I have always been drawn to unschooling. I have always called what we do “Interest Led” because we rarely use a bought curriculum UNLESS Keilee asks for it. Keilee seems to be happier when she doesn’t just check things off a list. The thing is she is very motivated to learn. She is not the kind to sit around and watch TV. That being said, I know unschoolers who do that and they seem to turn out fine. 🙂 I just pretty much leave her alone and she does her thing. If she needs something she asks. Love this post Claire. 🙂

    1. I have always loved the way you homeschool. It always seems so fluid and organic. I will continue to tweak things until I feel we are working at our best. I’m popping over to yours right now!

  10. I’m glad you gave your dilemma some thought rather than just throwing out the baby with the bath water. Every family has their own way of doing things. We certainly don’t have to copy other families even when unschooling. There aren’t any strict rules that dictate how we must unschool! I think your plan is excellent! BTW, we have screen issues too.

  11. This sounds wonderful Claire – not the least of which because issues were recognized up from by you as well as the kids, and a plan of action already set and initiated! It’s going to be lovely when the kids demonstrate their learning. Can’t wait to see over the year how they grown more into themselves!

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