Since K is only 4, and since we’re following a pretty unstructured homeschool ideal, our routines look different each week.
The whole idea of “unschooling” is that kids learn by default. LIFE is an excellent teacher and there are plenty of ways to learn spelling, reading, writing, and math BESIDES sitting at a desk and toiling over worksheets or other busy work. For instance, cooking can be a great way to learn fractions and addition. Simply slicing an apple and having a discussion on the number of pieces as they are eaten covers basic counting and simple subtraction concepts. Reading together promotes letter recognition, phonics, spelling, and –whoa– reading skills.
Life provides plenty of opportunities to learn and as a skill or concept is needed, kids tend to be more ready and willing to learn it. When learning happens all the time, there is no separation of “this is schooltime” and “this is free time” – which, by the way, tends to promote the idea that learning stops outside the classroom and equates learning with work, which can make some kids dislike learning!
When learning is done spontaneously, when the child is interested and ready, it really flows much more smoothly!
I know, I know, K is ONLY 4 (5 in a few months) – so I can’t say for 100% certain that these ideals and what I believe will hold up in 5 to 9 years. BUT I’ve done plenty of research into unschooling and so far, I’m really not seeing anything I don’t like or that scares me.
AND let me just say, there is a HUGE HUGE difference between unschooling (life based, interest led, learning) and EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT (not taking an active role in your child’s education, not teaching or guiding them to learn anything). Unschooling parents are often incredibly involved. It takes actively observing your child to be able to identify where their interests are leading them at any given time in their life, and to help foster those interests and provide educational resources for them to learn from. Unschooling is NOT passive by any means!
So all that said, here’s what a week might look like for us:
K is currently taking gymnastics. She loves the class and it is helping her learn to follow instructions (listening skills), interact with other kids her age (social skills), work her body (exercise), do things on her own (independence). It’s also building confidence, and helping support her SPD/vestibular input needs.
I am a believer in natural wake times and slow starts to the day/week. Thus, we typically don’t plan much else for Mondays because as a sensory avoider, gymnastics actually takes a lot out of her system. I don’t like to make the mornings super busy so that she isn’t drained by the time gymnastics rolls around in the afternoon. But sometimes we might run an errand or visit a friend/have a short playdate.
I started teaching at a local homeschool cottage program this fall. Two days a week, 7 hours total. K is enrolled in the kindergarten program and only goes 1 day a week (4 hours). I love our cottage school, and I chose to be involved with this one in particular, because her grade level is interest-led. There is a routine to the day, but what they explore/study over a given period of time is determined by what the kids show interest in. Right now they are exploring building, and deconstructing, with various materials. They also do things like circle time, writing their names, and open play.
While radical unschoolers might say this isn’t unschooling, because she is indeed in a class setting, I say I make my own rules and K was interested in going to a class so she is. She loves it and it makes her happy, so we’re doing it. She’s learning independence, practicing her social skills, and getting to do other fun educational activities – WITHOUT the pressure to perform, pass a test, or meet any specific educational standard or milestone.
After cottage school, we go home to unwind and rest our bodies. Again, we don’t like to pack our days to the max. So cottage school is all that’s ever on the agenda for Tuesdays.
Since I do work from home, I’ve got to sit at my desk at least every once in a while. The good news is, I run my own business so my hours are flexible. I’m in the middle of re-working my office hours since my husband just started to work from home full time for his company. In the future, I’ll probably start working more in the evenings, but I have been setting aside a full day on Wednesdays to get stuff done.
Since K is an only child, this has been leaving her to her own devices for much of the day. This is the one day we usually let her watch more of her favorite shows or play on the tablet longer. I hate it, because I don’t agree with letting electronics be babysitters, but at least I know she is watching educational shows on PBS or playing educational games on the tablet (see my post about our current favorites here).
As far as what she is learning on Wednesdays: patience is a big one and something she struggles with (as any kid does). Being self-sufficient. Self-entertaining and self-soothing. Math and Spelling concepts via her game apps. And PBS kid shows cover a whole gamut of topics from daily routines, to friendship and kindness, to math, science, reading, and more!
On Thursdays I have to teach at the cottage school, but K isn’t enrolled for Thursdays. She goes to my parents’ house for the day, and honestly, this is probably one of the most educational days for her. At their house she gets to pretend play all day. They have chickens and she’s learned to feed them and collect eggs. She’s helped them plant a garden. She explores nature and goes on hikes and other adventures. She has a slew of toys and books, dress up items, her own bouncy house, and basically anything she could ever want. Like honestly, her days there are what I wish I could give her. But I’m not in the life stage my parents are, I’m content with our lives, and I’m just grateful that she gets to experience having grandparents in a way I never really did.
What’s she learning? Socialization with adults and family bonding. Since I know her time there is spent doing what she is interested in doing, I’m confident in saying that Thursdays are unschooling at it’s finest. She’s learning. I might not be there to see it, but she’s learning.
Fridays are our adventure days. We have a few places we like to rotate through, such as the library, the science museum, the gymnastics sportsplex, the art studio, etc. Sometimes we arrange play dates. Sometimes it’s just me and her. Sometimes we grab lunch at Panera or IHOP. We go with the flow on Fridays. It’s a nice way to wrap up the week, reconnect, and get ready for a family weekend.
What’s she learning? Spontaneity, flexibility, transitions, and whatever else we talk about during the course of the day. Depending on where we go, she’s also likely learning something related to reading, spelling, math, engineering, art, science, music, etc.
And that’s it. I don’t sit down and plan lessons. I don’t write out learning objectives or goals. I’ve consulted a “kindergarten readiness checklist” and a few other educational milestone charts and she’s on par, if not ahead, of where she would need to be in a public school setting. I mean, the girl does addition/subtraction with digits up to 10! She’s beginning to show more of an interest in spelling and is catching onto some sight words. She can write her name (with some guidance on the letters) and she even knows some Spanish.
So I’m not worried about being more structured or having formal lessons. The best thing about homeschooling/unschooling is that it’s flexible. We’ll do what works for us, for as long as it works for us. If it stops working, we can change it! We can explore any subject for as long as we want to and we can skip any subject that we don’t feel particularly inclined to explore. We can integrate fundamentals into nearly any situation.
Some people hear unschooling and ask, “But how will they learn math?” or “How will they learn to read?”
To them I say that I highly doubt she’ll be 18 and unable to do any math or reading. It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE in this day and age to go your entire life and NOT learn anything. I understand there are exceptions and I am privileged, so sure, this method might not work for everyone. But for us, it makes sense.
If you’re interested in learning more about unschooling, I highly recommend looking up Sandra Dodd. She’s written quite extensively on the subject. Warning, she does talk about RADICAL unschooling, which is applied to other areas of life outside of education. I do not subscribe wholly to those ideas, but here and there we take a little and apply it as appropriate for our family.
If you’re unschooling, leave a comment below! Always happy to connect with other unschoolers!