When we started contemplating homeschooling, we, like many others, had a somewhat formed idea of what homeschooling was. Mostly it looked like this: kids sitting around a table with books spread; pencils in hand, listening to Mom teach and writing when instructed.
Are you nodding your head?
Before we decided to take the plunge, I was warned by an experienced school administrator that, “Most people who try homeschooling only last a year or two, before they come to realize that it’s too much, and the schools are better equipped to teach.” This was couched with an unsaid qualifier of “And take it from me, I’ve had years of experience with this and know this to be fact.” Or maybe it was actually said out loud. It’s been a long time.
This was one of the reasons we chose Clonlara as our vehicle of support. After all, we were getting a skills book and a contact teacher. Surely this would count as having our bases covered?
Now that I had that angle taken care of, I needed to figure out what I was going to teach. While I had heard whispers of other ways of homeschooling (surely, you jest!) my husband and I felt, based on our preconceived notion of “homeschooling,” that curriculum of some sort was required. Well, ok, he felt it more, and I was scared to fail, so it seemed like a some kind of curriculum or learning method was the best route to take; especially, since you know, most people send their kids back to school after the first or second year. Who was I to argue?
I knew above all, that should homeschooling not work for us, I didn’t want that time at home to have been detrimental and set them back because I wasn’t capable of teaching them what they needed to know. This first year, my son would have been in 2nd grade, and while my oldest daughter was not old enough to start school yet (she was still 5 and with a winter birthday, she completely missed the cut-off date for kindergarten), I figured kindergarten was going to be an extension of what we were already doing.
In my internet travels, I came across all kinds of articles on transitioning from the school to home environment. Enter the first bit of jargon: deschooling.
Deschooling. This is not to be confused with unschooling. We’ll get to unschooling later. Nope, deschooling most usually refers to the time when your child is making the adjustment from the confines of the formal school setting to the loosey-goosey home setting whereby he or she can go to the bathroom at will- without raising a hand and asking for permission and having all classroom eyes on him or her, thereby totally embarrassing him or her. This applies to getting something to eat or drink, stretching the legs, or reading a book or anything else that is strictly controlled or prohibited in the formal classroom setting.
There is no set time frame for deschooling. This mostly depends on the child and the level of trauma suffered by the child in the formal setting. Lest anyone think I’m joking, this is a very serious topic.
I know of one child last year whose parents made the decision to remove all three of their kids from our local public school system. By the time they came to my weekly class, it had been a few weeks out of the formal school setting already. The older two seemed to be adjusting pretty well; mostly quiet and reserved, but attentive. The youngest, who was 7/8, literally stayed outside the entire time, sitting by the door.
2 months later, he was still outside the room, sitting in the doorway, but would come into the class and sit on the floor near his mom. He had finally been willing to get outside on the playground with the others, but mostly stuck tight to his older siblings.
If you have never seen a traumatized child resulting from a school setting, it is quite simply heartbreaking. He had nothing to fear from us, but *he* didn’t know that. And it’s going to take a while for him to decompress and learn to trust again.
Deschooling. Decompressing. It’s an important time. Some people do nothing during this time. Some do just educational games. Some do nothing but reading. We took the summer off and it was a normal summer of fun. In hindsight, I feel really lucky that my oldest was only in the school system for 2 years because there was not a whole lot we had to undo.
While we were deschooling that summer, I was enrolling in Clonlara and attempting to gather information. It was during this time that my head started to spin with possibilities. I started learning and understanding the differences between the types of schooling options, and came to a grand realization: Because of my state’s homeschooling laws, the door was wide open for me!!
I had been reading a lot, too (as if that’s any surprise ), and my philosophy on homeschooling really started to line up better with my philosophy on parenting, and life in general. I had suffered through school; studying what was required of me by my parents and by the school, as one who was on the “college track.” The only thing that made school bearable was the extra curricular stuff I was involved with, and knowing that it couldn’t last forever. Once I was grown up, I could do what I wanted to do, and set my own schedule. This is where the irony caught up to me from my Why Homeschool? post.
Along my reading travels, I started noticing more and more terms that I was unfamiliar with. Terms like unchooling, unit studies, school-at-home, child-led learning, classical curriculum, and pre-packaged curriculum. Huh?
Some terms, like cyber-school, didn’t really exist, or at least not in the format we have today. Some terms made sense, like unit studies.
Yep, unit studies are just what they sound like- picking a pretty specific topic and then studying it. We’ve done unit studies on all kinds of things; Egypt, mummies (which was kind of part of the Egypt unit study, but there are so many places besides Egypt that have their own mummies that we felt we needed to do more than one study); pirates, gladiators, the Amazonian rainforest, etc etc etc.
Unit studies can be part of a pre-packaged curriculum, or they can be separate. They can be free, too, using libraries and the internet to supplement your activities. Unit studies typically incorporate all subjects around a central theme.
So, for example, if you pick mummies as your unit study, you could write a story about mummies (language arts). Your science would be learning what has to happen to make a body into a mummy (a good experiment is mummifying an apple, as one example). Your history and geography would be learning about specific places mummies are found (Egypt, for example). You could listen to music or study other cultural practices that revolve around the mummy’s country of origin. Your art could be drawing something related to mummies, or making a pyramid out of clay (that could actually be math, too.) The opportunities are endless!
You can do the same unit study with a variety of ages. Unit studies can be entirely child-led, where the child picks a topic they want to study and then they find the resources and materials. Unless they are driving age, this generally requires some parental involvement.
Pre-packaged curriculum is pretty self-explanatory, too. You buy stuff that’s already put together. You can get entire grade levels (which then, imo, puts you in the school-at-home category, which is not quite the same as homeschooling, again, in my opinion), or you can buy subjects/topics ala carte, and use them as unit studies.
Classical education has some debate. Some will say it’s based on the rigorous Trivium method of instruction; some will consider a Charlotte Mason education to fall into this category. Others will say that those reading the “classics” fall into this category. Still others will tell you that if you aren’t learning Latin, you don’t fall into this category. Either way, this was not our cup of tea, so to speak, and thank goodness it isn’t required! (A future post will delve more deeply into some of these options.)
That first year, we leaned more toward the child-led learning part of the home education curve. Generally speaking, child-led learning and unschooling often go hand in hand. Unschoolers typically believe that the world is the classroom, and using child-led learning, learning never stops and is an ongoing process. While I admit to occasionally giving a helping hand and giving learning material , by in large, this is the approach we have taken with our kids.
Before you go throwing stones at me for using some pre-packaged curriculum for the older kids while still claiming to unschool, let me just say that I’m not big on labels. I think labels are rarely completely accurate and are usually more confining and detrimental than helpful (can you see my eyebrow raised? ). Some might consider us relaxed or eclectic, and maybe even teetering on the edge of schooling-at-home with the oldest.
But let there be no mistake: we are homeschooling, even though at this point in some of the kids’ educational careers there is cause to do more school-at-home than in the past. Although there may be some curriculum being used, one could argue (certainly not me, though, because I never argue ) that we’re still unschooling because it was requested by the child, as part of his child-led learning interests.
The important thing to understand here is that labels don’t matter. Your child matters. Understanding your homeschooling laws and understanding how best your child learns can go a long way to finding a learning style that not only can you both live with, but actually enjoy!
There is, of course, more jargon. We haven’t even touched on cover schools, co-ops, portfolios, and umbrella schools. If you want additional terms and perspectives, here are some links to get you started:
Questions? Need more information? Feel free to leave me a comment!
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