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Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Home Family Parenting Advice Unschooling is an Option for Home Schooling

Unschooling is an Option for Home Schooling

Dear Dr. Debbie,
I have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. We started homeschooling for Kindergarten and Preschool last week and I feel utterly defeated. Before we even began, the five-year-old threw a full-scale temper tantrum about her breakfast. (She asked for scrambled eggs, I made her scrambled eggs, they weren’t scrambled enough.) That lasted over an hour.

When I finally started teaching, my 3-year-old was screaming for attention because I was working with her sister. My 5-year-old crumpled up her math sheet because, “I already know everything!”

After an hour we got through math and half of reading/phonics for the Kindergartner with one worksheet left. But I was feeling utterly defeated, depressed, and afraid that I made the wrong decision to invest in homeschooling. 

What Are We In For?

Dear WAWIF,

The choice to homeschool gives you more flexibility than you are taking advantage of. Homeschooling allows for total individuality for each student. For starters, if the kindergartener is in a foul mood—as evidenced by her displeasure with her breakfast order —you can postpone the school work or keep it very short.

It’s nice to include your three-year-old in this new endeavor. However, her participation in any type of schooling is not required by the state of Maryland until the September after she turns 5. Since she is younger, you should first help her get busy with something that she can do on her own before stepping away to assist your older child with a schooling activity. Or set up an age-appropriate “worksheet” for the three-year-old to work on next to her sister, as long as her interest allows.

Soon enough, you will establish a daily schedule that works. Your daughter’s input will help the schedule to be successful. There might be blocks of time for different subjects each day—interspersed with physical exercise and food—or a different subject for each day of the week. Then again, some families use a totally open schedule around meals and other family activities. This might include setting weekly goals for adding finished work to a student portfolio.

A planned curriculum, which can be a costly investment, can serve as a reference for topics and skills to cover, however, there is no reason to follow it lesson by lesson. I’m wondering if you are using a curriculum that is too dependent on sitting and writing to be appropriate for a kindergartener.

It is more age-appropriate for your daughter to be working with real objects including activities that involve movement, rather than worksheets. Instead of following each lesson as provided, skim over the content and activities to pick and choose what you think your daughter can handle. Then add some real objects for her to use as part of the lesson. Another way to approach a worksheet is for her to dictate and for you to write. By all means, skip past lessons that are unnecessary for her. You have the freedom to individualize her schooling based on her current knowledge and abilities. The curriculum package doesn’t know her as well as you do.

Maybe it’s not homeschooling itself that is wrong for your family, but your approach to it.  The Maryland Homeschool Association has strategies and resources to help. With online events for the present, there will be more opportunities for in-person homeschool gatherings once the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates. 

Some homeschoolers employ “unschooling,” which is the absence of any planned curriculum. Children learn from helping parents with laundry, going grocery shopping, fixing things, taking care of siblings, and lots and lots of play. Following the children’s lead, an unschooling family may read books, take walks, visit museums, go camping, create art, investigate the weather, garden, and or write a family history. 

Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, interviewed 232 parents who had used or were using unschooling with their children for at least two years. Among the enthusiastic and positive responses were reports of increased family closeness and harmony, psychological and physical well-being, improved efficiency of learning, and positive attitudes toward learning.

As a built-in opportunity, children may participate in their parents’ work and hobbies, leading toward their own work and hobbies in the future. This is a good example of the natural motivation to learn about something because you see your parent involved in it.  

Unstructured time in childhood is an excellent way to increase knowledge and improve skills. Children are naturally curious; they are naturally motivated to solve problems; and they take great pleasure in gaining and perfecting skills. Peter Gray and his colleague Gina Riley found that the long-term outcomes of unschooling were quite positive, too. From a survey of 75 former unschoolers, it was reported that unschooling had not hampered efforts to get into college or trade school, nor to enter the workforce. In fact, some had started community college by age 16 or younger, and many were employed in a field they had learned about through childhood interests.

When the Maryland State Department of Education approves your family to homeschool, in no way does it dictate a daily schedule nor direct you to stick to a curriculum. You and your child must cover the subject areas that school would provide (English, math, science, social studies, art, music, health, and P.E.). Keep a portfolio as evidence of your activities, and permit up to three reviews by a representative of your school district each year. Beyond that, the specific topics and approaches are totally up to you—and should include consideration for your children’s abilities, interests, and moods.  

With the freedom to school from home, trust your children to take charge of their own education.

Dr. Debbie 

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