Evolution of a Homeschool Family: Curriculum and Unschooling

I wrote this about a year ago (in 2012), at the end of one of my more zealous attempts at "traditional" homeschooling.

I got divorced back in 2007, when I had just two children--but it took me many years....YEARS...to feel safe enough and strong enough to raise my two older children in the ways that I knew were right for them, without the influence of their dad.

I was so worried, for so long, that my ex would somehow interfere and make our lives hell.

I no longer live with that kind of fear, and I find it wonderful to realize how far we've come since then.

So at the moment, we are taking a much-needed respite from all things "schooley".

Several weeks ago, I managed to create what I considered an uncommonly good, productive, well-rounded week--but by the end, the kids were fighting, cranky, and acting like next Monday's lessons were so abhorrent as to have already ruined their weekend.

Burnout had struck.

Even the most seasoned homeschoolers have to recognize that burnout happens with kids too, not just parents.

What to do? Well, I am older and more mellow than I was a few years ago, and so I didn't agonize over how to get them to focus on Shakespeare or math (or worse, try to force them to do it arbitrarily).

I just quietly told the kids that it was clear to me that we all needed a break from schoolwork for awhile. My analytical oldest child pressed me for more information:

"How long of a break? Do we still have to do math? Can we watch Netflix tomorrow morning?" and so on.

Now, I am much more of a "ride-the-waves-of-inspiration" type of person, and so I didn't set an arbitrary "back to schoolwork" date.

Instead, I tried to shift my focus toward joyful, cooperative living as a family, and figured we'd try books again once they no longer felt oppressive.

I realize this is probably where some readers may see my egalitarian, unschooling-style viewpoint peeking out from under the piles of books.

Shouldn't I be cultivating a respect for authority and creating deadlines for my kids to adhere to?

What if they never want to think about math again, and gorge themselves mentally on "junk TV"?

Well, first off, I think that's a load of bull, as evidenced here: "If I let that kid watch TV, he'd do it all day long."

Math is unavoidable, and sometimes pretty interesting, or just pretty...or just interesting.....I bet it's even on Netflix somewhere.

Anyway, what harm can possibly come from trying to consciously attempt to live more joyfully?

Everything else must necessarily stem from a place of joy, or else it becomes drudgery--if not worse.

Homeschooled or not, I don't want my kids to have uber math-whiz brains in exchange for even a week or two of rotten childhood memories.

Would you want that? Really?

Happiness is the priority, and as important as a good education is, our familial relationships should not suffer for it.

One of Charlotte Mason's key concepts was that of Habit Training. (For the uninitiated, here's a brief concept overview)

I'm quite sure we don't do this in the way that other, more religious/conservative homeschoolers might--but the core concept of habit training drives home the point that time spent on learning is about more than facts and figures, handwriting, and memorization.

It's about the cultivation of our minds, and the growth and development of our relationships.

We are not raising children, but adults--and so when confronted with a problem, be it burnout, or something more simple or serious, I try to co-create solutions with my children, instead of against them.

Today, with no limits or structure imposed, my 8yr old was talking about herds of bison in pre-colonial America, and happily working in a Handwriting Without Tears book.

My 11yr old was playing and laughing with his little brother, and yes, we watched some Netflix.

It was surely what Charlotte Mason purists would call "twaddle".

However, if Hello Kitty brings us closer as a family, I'm cool with that. People before things.