I just put the finishing touches on our photo book for the 2013-2014 school year. This will be the second book I've made. As I was assembling the photos of the boys on field trips, doing projects, or doing their schoolwork, I was struck by how many of the photos included Lucy. She's right there alongside them in almost everything they did. I love that my children are able to be together all day long and learn beside each other. I hope their relationship with continues to grow strong through the years.
The kids learned a lot this year. They learned about the life cycle of several insects and animals. They learned a lot about ancient history and early American history. Both Tommy & Ben's reading improved greatly. Ben learned how to add and subtract and Tommy learned how to multiply. But I think I'm the one that learned the most. As I look back on the year, I can see how much I grew as a homeschooling mom. In fact, I realized that I'm a lousy homeschooler.
In the beginning of the year, I had great plans for how much the kids would learn. We started off with a very full schedule that included Spanish, typing, geography, art study, crafts, in addition to good 'ol reading, writing, and math. The schedule looked great on paper, but it left very little space for joy and freedom in learning. Instead, I found myself acting more like a drill sergeant than like a loving mother. Some of our struggles were due to the behavioral issues of our oldest. But the strict schedule certainly didn't help. And my attitude when I kept my little people on schedule really didn't help.
So a few months into the school year, I pared down the schedule down to the essential subjects. It helped a bit by giving the boys more time and a bit more freedom. But it still didn't change my dictatorial attitude and my need to rule school time with an iron fist. My relationship with them was suffering and I didn't know how to fix it.
Additionally, I didn't seem to be able to fit in to our schedule basic things like reading aloud. The boys were always so eager to get outside or to get to their Legos that sitting and listening to me read was the last thing they wanted to do. And for me, after a full morning of emotional wrestling, sitting down and reading was the last thing I wanted to do. We didn't have time for nature. We didn't have time for field trips. And if we did, it was always squeezed in after a full morning of lessons. This was definitely not the homeschool experience I envisioned.
Then I picked up a copy of Free to Learn by Peter Gray (via Last Child in the Woods). It was about giving children plenty of freedom and space to pursue their passions, trusting them to make decisions for themselves, and showing interest in and respect for what they want to learn about. This type of homeschooling is sometimes called unschooling, or relaxed homeschooling. I became very intrigued about it and so I read everything I could on the topic. I liked what I read. No, I loved what I read. I knew that this was what my children needed. But also it was what I needed.
And so in early April, with just two months of school left, I threw away our schedule and cleared out most of our workbooks. I only left math and handwriting on the table, which they only had to do 3-4 times a week. (They didn't have to do a formal reading lesson because they are both at the point of reading independently, which they do throughout the day). It took them all of 15 minutes to complete their assignments in a given day. The rest of the day they were free to do what interested them. Tommy usually used the time to bake something or build something, while Ben usually played with Legos. They spent a lot of time outside. We went for walks. I started reading aloud a lot more often.
It's been almost two months and I can see a big change in our home. I am no longer chained to my schedule of what I feel needs to get done. I have more emotional energy to focus on my relationship with my boys. I'm able to feed their interests and enjoy their passions alongside them. I feel closer to my boys than I have in a very long time.
I know that there are many other homeschoolers who are able to do 'normal' homeschooling and have a great relationship with their kids. They don't turn into a drill sergeant. They are somehow able to have the patience and energy necessary to keep kids focused and on track. But this past year I've learned that I am not one of those people.
And so we are on this journey of relaxed homeschooling (or unschooling) for as long as it continues to work for me and my children. You can read about our continuing adventures in unschooling here: