A blog where families who love and live the Catholic Faith can share, encourage and support each other.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Because... Unschooling Q&A

By Leonie

Some recent questions that I have received, about our unschooling homeschooling lifestyle. And some of my replies. Because there is never a new question or a dumb question and because blogging is all about sharing and because this blog reflects my unschooling mentality i.e. sharing bits and pieces.

What do you think are the positives of unschooling?
I guess I see some of the positives of unschooling to be rather nebulous, things like joy and an interest in learning; strong family ties; a sense of identity .Things that can’t always be measured but are with our kids for life – so, there is still that difference, for example, in my older sons, long term unschooling graduates.

In other words, you may not see the fruits of unschooling right now, this very minute, but instead catch glimpses of the fruits but over time. Just like the way our children grow. They seem to be little forever and then, one summer, we notice that they have shot up, their jeans are too short, their shirts too small , and we think, with wonder "How they have grown!" It is the same with unschooling. We worry today about that lazy son. about not enough reading and then, one day, we find a Shakespeare novel under a pillow ( "For night time reading, Mum") and a clean kitchen, cleaned by a son, upon your return from work. Maturity and growth.

Sometimes you don’t see quantifiable things – knowing history or art, for example – but you see, instead, their passions, how much the kids know about their passions – or simply, in the case of one of my sons who has no one passion, just a general happiness, a brightness and an interest in life.

But I see value in a classical education. How can I mesh this ideal with unschooling?

Can you let go of your agenda ( the classical education ) and see where God will take you and your children in learning? I think that is the first step to successful unschooling..no hidden agenda, trusting in a rich home and community experience, in your own influence, in living the Faith, in learning through life. For joy in life and learning, joy in adoring Our Lord, joy in family relationships has to come first, before we even talk about classical education or the tools for learning. We are more open to the goals of the education of "the free man" (to quote Plato and Aristotle) when we are in a healthy environment.

One can also strew a classical education rather than require a classical education. Via books, movies, excursions and outings, music, art, discussion. Living, eating, breathing the classics. Learning Latin or Greek yourself. Learning our prayers in Latin. Learning the Latin in Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Endless family discussions and debate and reference to logic. In other words, using the materials and resources of a classical education within your daily life and home.

One can also educate oneself classically – and then share this with the kids...as you share who you are.

A case in point here. Liturgy is my passion. I don’t teach the kids about liturgy but because I read about it, I blog about it, I talk about it, the kids end up knowing about liturgy. Recently , we had two priests over for a cup of tea. And, as often happens here, of late, we began discussing liturgy. The kids were strong in expressing viewpoints and discussing concepts and ideas – and one son said that this year, liturgy had become something of an interest for him too. Education via osmosis.

But I want my children to learn perseverance and self discipline and commitment.

In family life, especially within my larger than standard family, it is impossible not to learn self discipline and perseverance. We have to discipline ourselves to share, to take our turn, to pitch in and help with chores, to do something we don't want but which others want, to persevere through annoyance or irritability...and through the normal duties and strains and giving and taking that comes with the pleasures of family life.

Unschooling is not wrapping a child in a cocoon..it is opening the world to a child, sometimes warts and all...be it in family discussions on budgeting..or in volunteer work in our parishes or in the homeschool community, working with and rubbing shoulders with a myriad of people.

I have also found that one can pick just a single subject in which to learn perseverance ...and that academic discipline can be learned by consistently studying one subject formally, rather than "doing school" .... and we can leave the other subjects to life and strewing. Sometimes this single subject discipline has been Latin in our house, sometimes Kumon maths or English, sometimes Religion.

But my son's strength is maths but he is not interested in society and environment .

It helps me not to think of my kids in terms of education ( one son is into history, one doesn’t like writing, ) but in terms of virtues ( patience, prudence, fortitude, and so on ) and in terms of character traits ( friendly, quiet) and who they are right now as people. This kind of thought changes my mindset, away from school, and onto the idea of Charlotte Mason that children are born persons. Thinking of children as persons means we think of who they are and what they need; we encourage and acknowledge their input; we don't see them as blank slates on which to write.

Even at work, I see this in my students. I do not mould them; I work with them and guide and instruct and sometimes discipline. I get to know them as people, first.

So, how do we start unschooling?

My suggestion is to start unschooling by taking a vacation, a holiday – in your home, your suburb, your hometown. Act like you would on vacation – make yummy breakfasts, go for walks, play games, watch movies, cook, build Lego, go to museums and libraries, etc.

Don’t think in terms of education, just in terms of living and spending time - and keep a journal of what you do each day. I recently purchased a lovely 365 journal and I am writing brief notes of what we do, things we talk about and think about. It’s hard not to see learning after awhile.

The other thing we do is just celebrate the liturgical year together – you would be surprised how much fun, how much learning occurs just naturally through celebrating the liturgical year. For example, this week we talked about St Martin de Porres, and Peru and looked for Peruvian dessert recipes. We prayed the De Profundis for All Hallows Eve and had an All Hallows Eve party. We went to mass and learned about the history of All Saints and made Soul Cakes. We prayed for the dead on All Souls Day ( and read about horse racing for our Melbourne Cup lunch !) and we talked about St Charles Borromeo, his influence on Blessed John XXIII and about Milan and made Milanese pizza. Who needs school ? And doing activities like this is a good way to fill in that gap that sometimes seems to happen if you stop school and wonder what to do next, what are our passions, what do we do as unschoolers?

But I panic without school!

I used to read unschooling books or websites or blogs, every day. No kidding, this is what I used to do.. read a little bit of unschooling wisdom every day, to help me keep on track when, perhaps, the rest of the world thought I was crazy or lazy. I would pray, workout, read about unschooling each morning.

So is unschooling like unit studies or thematic units?
Well, in a rabbit trail kind of way. Not a full blown you must complete x and y integrated units method but more like..hey, this looks interesting, let's go....The latter describes our unschooling rabbit trails.
For example, it was Harry Potter week and I suggested we do some Harry Potter reading and movies and related activities from a unit study that I found free online. Last year, we were going on a beach holiday to Wollongong so I used some ideas from a homeschool Science blog re a shell project and we did that together. Last year, or the year before, we did the growing tomatoes thing from the Canadian Space project and the Journey North as a family. Earlier this year, we were into the 1980s because we like 1980s music and movies and we went several times to a back to the 1980s exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. So, I downloaded some teacher resources from the website and we chose some activities to do .
Then we had our whole Legally Blonde/romantic comedy genre study going...and now are into C.S Lewis: Voyage of the Dawn Treader ( new movie coming out); Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters. And unit study ideas from a study guide ...integrating subjects in a Choose Your Own Adventure fashion.

Can you see how unschooling flows from life, is life, is learning?

So, unschooling is...

Different for everyone.. we have always been very influenced by natural learning, unschooling, delight directed learning, John Holt. And I have found that each of my sons have grown more into self discipline and into academics and continue this interest and inner motivation at university and work.

Therefore, for us, unschooling has lead to more rigorous academics, to learning how to follow a path, to perseverance.

Of course, our family home and family culture has a role – strewing, chores, family life, valuing self discipline and academics, our values and Catholicism . But these are hard to separate from unschooling. And that really sums up unschooling..it is who we are...and it makes us into open books for our children.. avid learners at all ages.
Please share more of Leonie's posts at her blog Living Without School


  1. This is very interesting, I must admit. It sounds like a dream kind of life - with less pressure. I don't think that in the state of Louisiana that we are allowed to "unschool." I have homeschooling friends here who must subscribe to a particular program to use in their homes. They have to take tests, mail them into the state, etc. Are there any regulations like that in Australia? On a side note, the principal at our school is from Australia! We love his accent! He's a great guy and leader too!

  2. Hi Dana, great to see you reading our blog! The homeschooling regulations are different state to state in Australia, and I am talking for NSW where both Leonie and I live. All children 6 -17 have to be either in a state or private school or registered as homeschoolers.

    Homeschoolers have to provide a program of study that correlates to a set of state guidelines. They also have to provide a method of assessing their children's progress and records to show they are actually learning. Registration periods are up to 2 years in length. The authorised persons who visit or read documentation, talk with parents, give approval for registrations etc are quite open to different syles of learning. We can unschool but need to record the learning activities and progress of our children. So...we can record discussions we have, books read, activities completed, outings, museums visited, any formal work we may do, outside lessons taken, community groups involved in etc Unschooling is the easy bit. Remembering to write down all the wonderful learning going on is a bit of a pain! There are no set tests required. It's the parents' responsibility to show that their children are learning and progressing.

    Perhaps Leonie will share her experience of registering her family.

    Where in Australia does your principal come from? I wonder if he ever came across homeschooling when he was working here. God bless!

  3. I don't mention the term Unschooling to the authorized person .. or similar, depending on which state we have lived in. I do log or journal so that fills the time and record keeping requirement. I do have a checklist of the outcomes for the stages of my Unschooling kid(s) so I can refer to these . I do write a programme based very much on current interests, listing resources and based on what we have done in the past...post programming this is called. So the paperwor side is fulfilled but doesn't drive what we do. And I am happy to describe what we do as child centred learning akin to some of that which happens in community schools, alternative pathways, Waldorf schools. So the AP has a handle and a model ie if these schools are approved then if what we so is similar, can show portfolios and programme and log, can articulate what we so.. then our approval for homeschooling should be granted. So far, in each state in which we have lived, we have had no issue with homeschool registration or approval.

  4. Also for unschoolers in the US there is useful info on meeting state regulations on Sandra Dodd's website and on Simply Rejoycing.

  5. Thank you for that info, Leonie. Our AP is unschooling friendly. She really is very easy to work with and doesn't mind the label unschooling, but I guess each AP is different. I journal and write a post programming document too. At registration time, I just change all the language into Board of Studies language, by writing up my kids' learning and progress in a way that is acceptable to the AP. I assume it doesn't matter how the progress is achieved, its the results that matter.

  6. Yes results and the obvious fact that the children are learning.