May 3, 2017

A New Approach to Homeschool

Many of you are curious about our new homeschool approach because it's been working out so amazingly well.

Basically, I threw all the curriculum out the window. Wait! What!?!? Let me explain.

I've always been fascinated by Maria Montessori and her approach. In fact, for the 3 years that we were in the public school system, Skylar attended a Montessori school. Here's a basic overview.
The teacher, child, and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, makes use of what the environment offers to develop himself, interacting with the teacher when support and/or guidance is needed.
Montessori education is designed to awaken interest and to allow children to pursue learning about issues that personally interest them. This is necessary to a system that is based on intrinsic motivation; a drive to action that is rewarded by doing the activity itself, rather than deriving some external reward from it. 
I wasn't ever quite brave enough to offer student-directed learning at home until now. Being the "Type A" that I am, I felt the need to have a specific curriculum for each subject that I could use to teach her. A checklist of sorts. The idea of student-directed learning led me to believe she would choose to play her iPad all day, every day. I wasn't having that. 

During our 3+ year journey of homeschooling so far, It has become apparent that Skylar's best teacher is actually herself. When left to her own choosing, she is surprisingly curious, inventive, creative, and thirsty to learn. Best of all, what she studies sticks with her!

Still, I was hesitant. Student-directed learning isn't traditional. Some groups call it "unschooling" and some people have very strong and unfavorable feelings about that word. Mainstream isn't really my jam and many of my life choices have been frowned upon over the years, so choosing to do something "alternative" isn't really new to me. If I am passionate about anything, it's advocating for my kiddo. I've always said we would continue homeschooling as long as it was a good fit for our family. The flexibility of homeschooling definitely works well for us but I had a sinking feeling that our curriculum-based approach wasn't the best fit for my girl. So I changed.


By now, you might be wondering what a student-directed homeschool day looks like. They look a lot like life. It also looks a lot like the book If You Give a Pig a Party. One experience leads to another and another and another. It's the "a spark creates a fire" mentality. My job is to offer materials that will create an interest and then fan the flame and watch her consume that subject/topic/experience. Rinse. Repeat.

There's a neat method called "strewing" that I've been using quite a bit.
Strewing is the art of allowing your child to discover something you have casually left out.
The basic concept is to leave interesting objects, materials, or combinations of things out as a quiet invitation to your child to notice it, touch it, explore it, use it and most importantly, have fun in the process.
There are no rules to strewing, other than to strew widely and diversely.
If I could add one other "rule" for strewing, it would be to strew with no expectations. The whole point is to get a child to bite off on something naturally out of their own curiosity. It shouldn't be forced or coerced. I put out a lot of things that she never even touches, which is fine. Because when she does find something that interests her, it takes over the day. I love watching her learn with glee!

I've been keeping notes in my same little homeschool planner about what we do each day. Much to my surprise, she is still covering all of the major subjects. Yes, including math. Here's a small sampling of the educational experiences she's had in the last few weeks.

  • Researched chickens and wrote a report on her findings.
  • Learned about the different types of dinosaurs and created her own flip book. 
  • Played with Snap Circuits. 
  • Read countless fiction books. 
  • Studied George Washington Carver. 
  • Completed two Life of Fred Mathematics books. 
  • Did a Geometry workbook.
  • Cooked dinner for us. 
  • Read poetry. 
  • Animal husbandry (chickens, dogs, birds, turtles, butterflies).
  • Created her own essential oil tick spray. 
  • Lots of crafts & art projects. 
  • Decided she wanted a gerbil and has been using fun facts to try and persuade me. Daily. 
  • Working her way through a book of at-home science experiments. 
  • Planted seeds in the greenhouse with our neighbor and has been checking the sprouts regularly.
  • Egg drop construction contest. 
  • Watched a documentary on abstract art. 
  • Taught herself how to play several songs out of an old piano book. 

I have been amazed at all she has accomplished of her own free will and imagination. It's truly fascinating! Looking ahead, we still plan to participate in our current co-op next year. She enjoys the elective classes and she's made a few sweet friends there too.We are also still with our original umbrella school. 

Back when we first decided to homeschool, my main goals were to 1) capture her heart 2) teach her life skills. That's it! Granted, we were in measly first grade, so I wasn't too concerned about "curriculum." It was more about learning to read and write. 

In the last few months, I've felt a renewed commitment to pursue her heart.  I feel like we are rapidly approaching the Tween years and it's more important to me that she feel deeply connected so we can have those hard conversations when they arise. It's also vital to me that she has a firm foundation for her faith. Truly, in the grand scheme of things, not much else matters. I'm serious! 

Now, the next obvious questions are about graduating high school, going to college, and getting a job.  I get it. I wondered about those things too. Here is a sampling of articles I discovered in my research that helped put my mind at ease. 

  1. How Do Unschoolers Turn Out
  2. 30+ Life Skills That Aren't Taught in School but Largely Affect Our Lives
  3. Hackschooling Makes Me Happy
  4. "Unschooled" Kids Do Just Fine in College
  5. Unschoolers Learn What They Want, When They Want
  6. How Self-Directed Learning Can Benefit Every Student
As always, we will continue down this path until it isn't benefiting our family and then re-evaluate, but I'm really excited to see how her knowledge and skills progress. After all, a custom-tailored education is the ultimate beauty of homeschooling.  

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