In Part One of this post I talked about what Virtual School is and a traditional method of homeschooling I refer to as "curriculum-based homeschooling." That is how our own homeschool adventure began but, in time, we moved on to a more eclectic approach.
Eclectic schooling is taking bits and pieces of everything and creating a unique style for yourself.
I imagine our school year like a cross country trip. We're in Michigan now. We need to get to California. The goal is to get there by June, but there's always some leeway if needed. We can drive, walk, bike, fly or sail. We can go fast or slow. Take breaks or do marathon stretches. We can veer north, south, east and west and visit as many stops as we like along the way... as long as we eventually get to California.
Our "California" is based on the Michigan State Grade-Level Expectations. We will use some online tools and games, library books, local clubs and classes, Khan Academy has been a lifesaver for us when it comes to math so we will stay with them again this year. Our daughter will continue her music education through the homeschool association's band and she will also be taking band as a "drop in student" at the local public school (one of those perks of living in Michigan, I mentioned earlier). She's in a theater class at a nearby college and she'll do archery through the local conservation agency. Art and volleyball are through the homeschool group. No doubt there will be numerous field trips. Those are always the whole family's favorite days.
There is a ton of freedom in eclectic schooling. Our daughter drives her own education. We set some parameters and goals for her and provide her with the tools she needs but she figures out how she wants to get there. If she wants to read, she can read. If she wants to watch documentaries that's OK too. If she decides halfway through the year that she has a burning urge to learn about the human skeleton she is welcome to follow that bunny trail as far as she would like. Last year she spent November writing a book (which she actually published!) and then caught up with her other subjects again in December. She hates worksheets. HATES them. Loathes may be a more appropriate word. So she does her math online and on scraps of paper. You know what... she can multiply and divide and has a basic grasp of fractions. As long as she keeps moving forward I couldn't care less if she never fills in another blank for the rest of her life. Whatever works.
My best friend has a wild passion for color coded spreadsheets and 3-ring binders. I'm pretty sure that she would absolutely lose her mind trying to school her child the way I school mine. And that's OK. The joy of homeschooling is the flexibility it provides to create the ideal educational environment for YOUR family. Keep in mind, as I said in part one, that each state has its own requirements regarding testing and reporting. In some places you may find that the further you move away from the more conventional models the more difficult it is to provide the proofs of education that the state requires.
Our eclectic school definitely has one toe in the unschooling pond, though we are not "true" unschoolers.
Unschooling is allowing your child to learn through living life. Period. You don't provide a curriculum or lesson plans. You don't make them sit down and do math lessons. They choose what to learn and when to learn it and your job is to help them find the tools they need to teach themselves the skills they wish to have.
Look at a child from infancy through pre-school. In those 4 years or so a person learns an extraordinary amount of information and they master new skills almost daily, even though there is no formal instruction. The idea behind unschooling is that people will continue to learn in just that way if you don't put artificial boundaries on them. As the student grows and develops and their academic needs become more complex, so does their desire to learn and so they will seek out knowledge and teachers and find ways to learn.
It sounds counter-intuitive to everything we consider "normal" in our society but, in 2012, Dr. Peter Gray did a large-scale study*, published in Psychology Today, of grown unschoolers. The concept first became a trend in the 1970s so those children are now adults with families of their own. Of the Unschoolers surveyed, 83% went on to some form of higher education. Most of those who went to college did so beginning at a Jr. College around age 16. Dr. Gray notes that, "The most frequent complaints were about the lack of motivation and intellectual curiosity among their college classmates, the constricted social life of college, and, in a few cases, constraints imposed by the curriculum or grading system."
In the same study, Dr. Gray shares that, "we found that most of them have gone on to careers that are extensions of interests and passions they developed in childhood play; most have chosen careers that are meaningful, exciting, and joyful to them over careers that are potentially more lucrative; a high percentage have pursued careers in the creative arts; and quite a few (including 50% of the men) have pursued STEM careers. The great majority of them have pursued careers in which they are their own bosses."
These men and women, schooled in an unconventional manner, often went on to unconventional careers. They became circus owners, aerial wildlife photographers, Greenpeace organizers, owners of engineering companies, inventors, community organizers and more. Interestingly he notes that almost none of them worked in "middle management." They earned a living on their own terms. They became creators and bosses, hardly ever "regular" employees.
I'm sharing all of this because, of all the homeschool routes, my experience is that unschooling is the most misunderstood and widely criticized. There seems to be a belief that it's just lazy parenting. The reality is that unschooling parents are just as much, if not more, involved in their children's lives than other parents. They are constantly aware of the environment they are creating - and that creation is very intentional. I've heard unschooling parents talk about "strewing:" Purposely leaving something such as a Monopoly game on the table so that the kids will find it and say, "Hey! Let's play this!" All of a sudden their children - through their own choice and with no text books involved - are learning to count and add, make change, read and so on.
In it's most "radical" form, unschooling reaches into every part of life. The child eats what they want, when they want. They sleep when they are tired and get up when they are rested, etc. They will learn to wake to an alarm when there is an activity they want to participate in that requires them to do so. They will learn to eat healthy when they realize that a carton of ice cream gives them a belly ache.
Again, just as with the other types of homeschooling, those who unschool rarely fall into the "all or nothing" categories. Most homeschoolers have SOME aspect of their lives that is "unschoolish." Only a tiny fraction of unschoolers fall into the "radical" category. I indicated that my own family "dabbles" in unschooling. Our lack of designated curriculum and willingness to follow the lead of the children's' interests are distinctly an unschooling thing. Forcing our daughter to do math even though she hates it... not so much.
At the beginning of this whole series I made the statement, "Ask 100 homeschoolers what their day looks like and you'll get 100 answers." When trying to figure out what YOUR homeschool is going to look like, keep that in mind. It's YOUR homeschool. You need to make it work for your family. Does your child crave structure? Test boundaries? Love to be around other people? Thrive under pressure? Crumble when pushed? What about you? Are you the kind of parent who takes great joy in finding cool craft projects on Pinterest and then sitting at the table and showing your little ones how to re-create those projects? Do you love to dialogue with your kids about what they are seeing or experiencing? Do you enjoy reading to them?
If you don't find a rhythm that works for YOUR family then you aren't going to succeed. Also, keep in mind that what works when you are teaching one first grader is probably not going to work when you are teaching 2 middle schoolers and a 4th grader. Your homeschool will need to evolve as your family moves forward and your children grow. Don't be afraid to be flexible and change and "try on" different styles. You may be surprised what you fall in love with!
* This is the link to the post that I originally read from Dr. Gray. Some of the statistics mentioned came from the other posts he released, based on the same study. All links are available within this article.
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