How we do it: 11 easy tips for the unschooling way of homeschool

So - if you have been thrust into the world of homeschooling... How is it going for you?

After trying to get a 6 year old complete her school homework, while trying to tend to a toddler and a newly invigorated cleaning routine, I found it just too much. Too damn much. 

It was not working for us. Due to the corona-crisis the situation we found ourselves in was so very different from a normal homeschool set-up, where you supplement your home-schooling with trips to museums or other places of interest, playgroups and leisure centres for socialising and so on. A further worry of mine was that by stressing about homeschooling I would become even more of a shouty mum and cause even more stress on my child, in a situation that is already stressful enough.

girl reading a book on sofa

In the end - I decided that we would be unschooling instead of homeschooling. And if you are struggling with homeschooling, you are not alone. Here, have my permission to give yourself a break. 

Unschooling is, in a nutshell, allowing your child to follow their own interests. It is NOT leaving your child to do it on their own - rather, it is facilitating their learning based on the topics they choose. 

The foundational idea of unschooling is that everything is learning and children learn the best if they learn things that interest them. And as children are interested in so many vast different things, they will learn all they need - although it may not be in the same timeframe or the same structure as you would do in a normal school. For example, a true unschooler would be relaxed about their kids learning to read - and believe that eventually their children will choose to learn to read because they will need to to learn more about their chosen areas of interest. 

In practice, the approach I've taken could be characterised as a mix of school homework and unschooling. The way I have done it is:
  • I prioritise reading, writing and maths. Reading and writing because it is essential to all other learning, and are my daughter's favourite things to do anyway. Maths because it is the foundation to so many other areas of learning and if you don't practice it, you lose it, and it is difficult to build back up. 
  • I ask my child what she would like to learn about. For example, she has chosen Ancient Egypt, Tudor fashion, marble runs, and creative writing amongst other topics. So we have covered lots of ground using these topics to guide learning. 
  • I check the school homework sheet weekly and pick topics I think my child would be interested in. For example, last week I did a lesson on Ramadan using the school resources. She has many muslim friends and enjoys learning about different cultures and customs - an easy win for me. 
  • I check the school homework tasks to get ideas. Sometimes the tasks and resources seem interesting and like they will support the topics we are already doing, so I use them. Sometimes I know my kid would find it too boring, too difficult or uninteresting, and I skip these.
  • Leave time for free creative and learning activities. So during "break time" (which we have a lot of) my daughter gets to do her own things - which often end up being educational in arts or writing or reading anyway. 
  • For "boring" subjects a roundabout way of doing it might work. Like I mentioned, unlike a true unschooler, I do choose to "force" my kid to do some topics she'd rather not. For her the dreaded topic is maths. I've used a variety of resources - open-flap books, maths games, The Maths Factor website and so on to make it more fun and enjoyable. We are getting there... 

homemade marble run from recycling

Here are a couple of examples for topic-based learning using the topics my kid chose:

1) Ancient Egypt: history by learning about Ancient Egypt in general; women's history by learning about Cleopatra; engineering by learning about pyramids and how they were built; arts by learning about hieroglyphs and writing them yourself; creative writing by writing a story of yourself sent to Ancient Egypt in a time machine...

2) Tudor fashion: history by learning about Tudor times; arts by making a paper doll and Tudor clothes for the paper doll; history by learning about clothes worn by royals and by paupers; creative writing by writing a story about a royal and a pauper changing places; arts by designing and creating a Tudor hat...

The opportunities are endless if you use your imagination a bit. 

I asked some of my fellow bloggers for hints and tips from their own unschooling journeys and some ideas were to:

  • Follow their loves and develop "work" around it. This gives them the independence to make decisions. For example, when her daughter became interested in orangutans, Kelly from The Rebel Tribe developed work around it with a big focus on play and discovery - they used books to learn more about them, drew them, looked for information how they live in the wild. She described it to be an amazing way to learn. 
  • Everything can be an education. As Sophie from Mama Mei discovered, everything from running a home to buying food, or playing shop / cafe, doing crafts, cleaning or even creating content can be a learning activity. 
  • It is OK to encourage learning through play. Children constantly learn through play, and while Jennifer from Rice Cakes and Raisins encourages the kids to try activities sent from school, she doesn't make it into a battle. Instead, she allows her kids to play to learn - and for example, one morning her boys, totally unprompted, made a museum featuring all their favourite books and later sought different bugs in the garden.
  • Let kids choose from activities provided by you. Jenny from Monkey and Mouse shows books and activities for her kids, but doesn't expect them to do them. She lets them choose - and often they like the look of them anyway!
  • For kids with special needs a relaxed approach may work well. As her son has autism, Eva from Captain Bobcat discovered he finds homeschooling a difficult concept as it is illogical to him. So while homeschooling they concentrate on life skills and educational games and programs like using money, or animal documentaries and educational apps. 

sisters playing with play doh

I hope some of these tips helped in making homeschooling or unschooling - which ever approach you prefer - an easier thing to do. And I would love to find out if you have any experiences of your own that have worked well! Let me know in the comments if you have tried or are planning to do any unschooling or homeschooling using these tips!

You might also like: How to talk to your child about coronavirus and What I've been thinking about the lockdown

How we made homeschool more fun by moving to unschooling - and 11 easy tips and ideas for unschooling.


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