Eclectic (un)schooling

I am officially labeling our homeschool model as eclectic schooling. We use a mix of structured workbooks, Charlotte Mason style literature, and now, reluctantly, unschooling.

I have been hesitant to embrace unschooling. It seems too unstructured. That may seem obvious, but I was concerned about how they would learn if left to decide. I’m seeing now that unschooling need not be totally free, but can be guided. Give them appropriate choices and let them choose what to learn in what order. This is our new approach to literature and science for Richard.

So my grand science plan this year has turned more into guided unschooling. Oh well, at least it’s getting done even if it’s not in the fashion I planned. In some ways this is better. Since he’s the one picking the lessons and experiments, I know he’s  interested and actively learning. I just provide books, materials, and support.

He’s really enjoying the God’s Design series. The experiments go along with it very well after doing the reading. I never use the tests. I have him keep a science journal of his experiments. The journal, experiments, and questions he asks tell me how well he understands the material.

Richard got a set of 15 hardcover chemistry books about the elements for Christmas. This afternoon, he decided to read some in the book about hydrogen then my husband set up a charge generator to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.

He has also become unschooled with literature, picking his own reading choices. This fall he dug out my husband’s Oz series and has now read all of them at least twice. Everyone got new soft throws for Christmas to snuggle under, perfect for reading on the sofa. Richard got 3 Winnie the Pooh chapter books (Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and Now we are Six) which he already loves. There’s several chapter fiction books in his history program that he’s enjoyed already out of order. I’m planning on making a list of books I’d like him to read, then let him pick from the library. He can then design his own project based upon the book.

I don’t anticipate unschooling for language arts or math, but it seems to be working for literature and science. These subjects lend themselves to unschooling well since there are no hard and fast rules or order like math where you first learn to count then add, then multiply and divide. Another good reason is that both kids can learn the same things rather than each separately in their own grade.

The biggest things with unschooling is providing access to quality materials and taking advantage of your child’s interests. It doesn’t work well if all you give them are traditional textbooks. Unit studies work well as long as the child chooses what to study.  For instance if they like bugs, give them books and activities about insects then perhaps other biology subjects. If they like taking things apart to see how they work, perhaps elementary physics. Chemistry and cooking go well together, especially if a child likes to mix things together. A rock collection is a good entrance to geology.

So like no one style will work for all children, I’m learning that no one style will even work for all subjects with the same child. My son needs structure for the 3 R’s and more freedom for everything else. I figure as long as he does at least a lesson and experiment a week in the science books we’ll be on course. Since I usually have a hard time getting him to put his literature book down after bedtime reading, I’m not worried about him not reading enough.

This mix of teaching styles lends itself to our homeschool district’s learning levels very well. As long as they finish all levels in every subject in 12 years, it doesn’t matter when each individual subject level should be completed. This means he can do third grade language arts and math, fifth grade reading, and junior high science at the same time. If he wants or needs to spend more or less time on certian subjects, that’s fine. You can advance levels at any time throughout the school year as long as you show competancy of material for the level you’re in.


3 Responses

  1. The science sounds more like guided practice or self study. I have taught several students who were “unschooled” and/or in Montessori approaches through middle school. Unfortunately, they really didn’t have much structure, content or concept of finishing a task. By allowing Richard to pick the lessons from a text you can still ensure that all required skills will be taught.

    Literature based and/or whole language approach to reading and literature has been an acceptable approach for many years. I have taught several programs that used trade books rather than text books. I prefer that approach. After all, AP and honors classes often uses books rather than a literature text. Using the history novels is also great because that allows you to use integrated curriculum methods.

    I had a supervisor who had me use Dr. Seuess books with a group of struggling readers. The rhyming allowed me to teach word patterns which also became the core of their spelling/vocabulary words. The books were certainly more interesting than the readers.

  2. Dee,
    We did a Montessori style preschool with Richard. However after touring the Montessori K-8 district school, I decided to keep him at home. It seemed very haphazard with plenty of gaps. He’s a very hands-on learner which explains why when I tried a totally traditional classical approach he rebelled and we both hated it. I’m not sure what skills you are specifically referring to, but do agree that totally unstructured learning has drawbacks unless the child is very self motivated. We have a whole shelf full of Dr. Seuss.

  3. By skills I really meant scope and sequence cycle for the curriculum that ensures you have met the required objectives. Sorry my mistake.

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