holiday un-school

This past summer I made a decision, a discipline really, to homeschool year round. That meant summer school, with quite a few breaks mind you for vacations and such. But I never did a full stop until the end of August when I wrapped up our 2009-2010 year with our assessment. We started the 2010-2011 year a couple weeks later in September.

the kids playing old-fashioned school with their dolls

It's really hard to make a statement like "homeschool year round" without explaining what I mean. After all, we homeschool because of the freedom it affords to learn all the time and to focus on our family values. So what do I mean by homeschooling year round?

To answer this requires that I share a little bit of our homeschool journey and philosophy. (I love talking homeschool if you haven't noticed)

We decided to homeschool our children before they were born. I was convinced, from research I did while completing my Bachelor's degree in Education, that homeschooling was an academically viable option. This helped assuage any fears about my kids growing up to be dunces.

Fast forward a few years to when my children were toddlers and pre-schoolers. I returned to my homeschool research to prepare for the upcoming elementary school years. It was at this time that I truly met the unschool movement and fell in love with the writings of David Albert, specifically his book And the Skylark Sings With Me.

I'm not sure that Albert considers his family unschoolers, so I don't want to misrepresent him (he's commented here once and I'd hate for him to come visit this post and say "she said that about me?") but his book was my first real taste of unschooling freedom and got me researching more about this particular home education philosophy.

I loved so many of the unschooling methologies but couldn't totally buy into the philosophy. There were things I wanted my kids to learn, definite goals we had for their education. They also needed to learn to contribute to our home life, not because they were intrinsically motivated to but because it is a part of living together.

From what I understand, unschooling in its purist form (many people call themselves unschoolers but I think they mean eclectic) is a complete hands-off approach to education. No goals, no structure, no overarching purpose - except those that are desired by the learner. Whatever the course of action is, it is wholly up to the student to decide.

Now I could be totally off my rocker with this assessment. Maybe I just have my definitions all wrong because our homeschooling looks a lot like unschooling, in many regards. What it comes down to is: while we heartily embrace a freedom, life-learning approach to education we also have definite goals for our children's schooling. Those goals require a certain amount of structured learning that is not necessarily initiated by them, though often it is.

Having settled in my mind a few years ago that no, we weren't unschoolers, I tried to figure out exactly what we were. And I don't know. I like to say we're interest-led learners since we are. The kids have hours each day to explore and discover what interests them. But we also have a bit of structure - chores, math, reading and writing - that they may or may not be interested in doing at the time. (Very, very rarely are they naturally "interested" in doing chores).

This little bit of structure in math, reading and writing evolved slowly and although we didn't have a pre-determined age it started for each child around 7 or 8 years of age. For math and writing that is, reading has been a different matter.

What we do changes with the seasons (of children's growth and time of year) and for the last few months our school routine looked something like this:

  • reading practice with Brienne (7) and Laurent (9)
  • typing practice for Celine (11) - we use Ten Thumbs
  • math - we use Math U See and everyone works on their own with my help
  • handwriting practice - Getty Dubay workbook for Brienne and Laurent. Celine "graduated" after learning cursive to typing.
  • writing - using life learning opportunities. Correspondence, product reviews, poetry, short stories, book reviews, etc.

Those defined activities make-up "school" in our home. All together it takes about 1.5 - 2 hours each time and we do it 3 times a week. So, 6 hours a week of school.

It doesn't seem like much but there is so much more to our day that is learning and requires my time. Especially with regards to reading. We read together throughout the day and I spend a lot of time looking for good books and preparing for our weekly library visits.

The kids have definite ideas about what they want to learn and spend all their "free hours" (ie: not chores, meals, family activities or school time) playing, researching, reading, building, drawing, crafting, sewing etc. Some of these activities require my assistance. And that's my job - to support their eduction.

Our life of learning, creating, and exploring together makes for full days. And I knew that come the holiday season I would want a break.

And that's where we're at right now. On the second week of a six week break from school. I'm loving it! It's amazing how much mental energy I put into our children's education, even though the "school" part is only 6 hours a week. I'm finding the freedom from that to be very, well... freeing. 

No math, no typing, no handwriting or reading practice. I'm even taking a break from heavy duty library research. Let them read fluff for a bit. Celine is old enough to do a lot of book research on her own and recently we bought her a Kindle and downloaded a ton of old classics to read if she runs out of library books.

So what are we doing instead for these six weeks? 

  • Celebrating birthdays - Brienne's last week and mine this week (I'm 35 today).
  • Making Christmas gifts - for the last month or so I've collected ideas and now it's time to get crafting! 
  • Taking Christmas related field trips - caroling, a tour of the Victorian Mansion in Portland (oh, the kids are so excited about this one!)
  • Baking cookies, having tea and visiting with friends - this one I am especially looking forward to. Homeschooling can be somewhat isolating, especially when you're a homebody like me. I need this downtime to get together with friends and hang out. 
  • Reading seasonal stories - we are always reading but this time of year we focus on the birth of Christ and other Christmas traditions. 
  • Journaling the season with this sweet Christmas journal from Gadanke.

And later this month when we've had our fill of at-home holiday goodness we'll load up the car with our handmade gifts, a few treats, and our winter wear and travel to see family for Christmas and New Years.

To say I'm excited about all the un-schooling going on this month is an understatement. Bring on the season. I'm ready.

How about you? How do you take time off (from whatever your normal routine is) to enjoy the beauty of this season?

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  • Natalia

    Natalia on Dec. 2, 2010, 1:37 p.m.

    Fantastic post, and great to see someone else with an approach like mine! While much of the unschooling ethos appeals to me, I also feel that Willem needs 'organised' learning, and regularly, as well as the stimulus and opportunity everyday life brings. He enjoys many maths concepts, but would never have thought to learn them if I hadn't presented them, for example. We have anywhere between one and two hours of 'lessons' in the afternoon, and it varies but it could be anything from three to five afternoons a week.

    We are actually now on a six week 'block' of learning, as come mid-January we need to take break for family reasons. Then we are going to have to take a large break in either late April or early May until July, when I have decided we will start our new year. I am not 100% sure what my approach will be re. breaks next year as I am not sure what our family situation will be and when we will be taking holidays. But that is one of the freedoms of homeschooling - I can schedule to how it suits us - both in terms of when we have commitments or want to travel, or if I feel we need a 'rest' to recharge and refresh.


  • marcia at Child in Harmony

    marcia at Child in Harmony on Dec. 2, 2010, 2:20 p.m.

    Everyone has to do what is right for THEIR family and what's in their own HEART. I don't think it matters so much what label people use, as to answer the question "Is my child happy?" "Am I happy?" "Are our days joyful?" . Because learning CAN be joyful and fun and exciting. It never has to be drudgery, And if it is, then people do need to know they have a choice to change it, to take small steps to make life happy,peaceful and joyful.

    That said, we are unschoolers.. .(radical unschoolers actually,in which it involves parenting as well, mindful parenting).

    We replace "I teach", with "they learn". Learning and life become one and the children's freedom to choose is paramount...from what they want to read to what time to go to bed. We believe that if a child is given the freedom to make choices at an early age, he will grow up knowing how, and will continue making the choices that are right for him through to adulthood, and not be swayed by anyone or anything else.

    We feel there is learning in EVERYTHING and every experience, good or bad.

    I don't just sit back though. I find what my children need and want and am always providing new experiences, new resources and information with encouragement. I also offer my opinions constantly.

    I think the main difference is that unschoolers are ok if their children decide NOT to use something provided, whatever they may be. Unschooling parents provide information and opportunities without expectation. The child can choose to do it or not and we are ok.

    We also look at our children as partners in life and respect is the principle we live by. WE ask ourselves "would we saythat to another adult?". Children deserve the same.

    My two youngest have always been unschooled and my four oldest went the school route and have all graduated from college now. I can compare. Unschooling is a glorious way to live and learn.

    My son decided to try high school this year. He has never taken an exam nor done a curriculum in his life. It took him no time to catch up.

    You can read about him here. . .if you want.

    and his School Journey here ( click tag School Journey..there are 11 posts.)

    happy day!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 2, 2010, 3:13 p.m.

      Cool! Thanks for sharing this Marcia. I really like hearing how people define and explain their own experiences.

      I totally hear you on answering the questions about happiness and joy. I wouldn't structure our days the way we do if it didn't make us happy and bring joy to our days. That's the key I think.

      Happy, peaceful, joyful - words for the season and words for living. 


    • Natalia

      Natalia on Dec. 2, 2010, 11:34 p.m.

      Just checked out your website Marcia - so inspiring! Thanks for sharing your journey. Much to think about.


    • Sofia's Ideas

      Sofia's Ideas on Dec. 3, 2010, 2:36 p.m.

      Marcia, I really loved reading your contribution here. I bookmarked both links for when I get a moment to sit & really read. Can you tell me what influenced your INITIAL decision to go the unschooling route?


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Dec. 2, 2010, 3:26 p.m.

    Yeah, we homeschool the way you do...but with lots more hours per week! :0) We do about 2-3 per day. But I take right now, nothing until after Christmas.


  • Julie

    Julie on Dec. 2, 2010, 4:21 p.m.

    Wow! What an excellent post! Your definition of unschooling sounds very similar to mine, and your explanation of how your homeschool operates sounds very similar to my hopes and dreams for our homeschool. Thank you for sharing.



  • Kelly

    Kelly on Dec. 2, 2010, 4:24 p.m.

    I thought of myself as an unschooler before we had kids (but never as a radical kids do not decide when to go to bed or what's on the dinner table) but I found that I needed more structure in our lives and have been drawn to Waldorf as well. I do see it as my job to provide lots of time, space, and help for my daughter to pursue her interests. And at age 3, we do not do any formal instruction, nor do we plan to for a few years. I don't know yet what we'll do when she hits school age about math and writing curriculum, but it is a relief to me to hear that it isn't all-or-nothing, that we can leave lots of time for projects and exploration and still add in some small requirements a few times a week. Thanks again for sharing your approach! :)


  • Shawn

    Shawn on Dec. 2, 2010, 4:58 p.m.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I hope your day is cozy and lovely.

    We also have a 5 week break from Thanksgiving through New Year's, as directed by our homeschool partnership. It is wonderful! We don't need to "check-in" with our teacher coordinator (though we love her and wouldn't mind in the least!) or do monthly learning reports during this time. It is a great time to catch up for a week missed due to vacation. Overall, it is reading under warm blankets, playing in the snow, baking, crafting, and playing with friends. I love our Decembers!


  • Shawn

    Shawn on Dec. 2, 2010, 5:06 p.m.

    PS- I was on vacation during your soap post and it looks as if my ipod comment didn't go through - I had a feeling something went wrong! (This is not a plee to be entered late - though who wouldn't love a beautiful soap!!) Regardless - I love all of your topics, but particularly I am inspired by your homemaking, time management and organization topics. I find that info. so useful! Overall I love the dedication to your blog and the consistent writings. I can always count on a new post every few days, which is fun! :)


  • Mel

    Mel on Dec. 2, 2010, 5:23 p.m.

    Happy, happy birthday!!

    I love reading about your homeschooling journey. I think a lot about what we are going to do with our kids as they get older. Even at 2 and 3 we do a lot of interest-led learning, and I want to keep that going. But there are some things I want my kids to learn, even if they don't love it. I think our homeschooling will end up looking much like yours. Thanks for being so open about how it all works for you!


  • Gina

    Gina on Dec. 2, 2010, 8:13 p.m.

    Happy Birthday to you! Thank you for this wonderful post. I really admire you and your husband for doing what feels right for your children and family life regardless of the "norm". We are not formally schooling at this time (my sweeties are 4.5 and 2) but I love the idea of taking family breaks from school to enjoy the seasonal happenings. We have decorated our tree and are having fun crafting and baking and reading books. I am looking forward to taking the kids out to see the light displays around town, I think they will really get into it this year. I am really happy to read about your homeschooling adventures. It is so nice to hear of other families with similar goals for education. I hope you guys have a wonderful celebration today!


  • Angie LaFrance

    Angie LaFrance on Dec. 2, 2010, 8:41 p.m.

    Happy Birthday, Renee! =)

    As a beginning homeschooler, sometimes I find myself getting swept up in all the pressures and comparisons... Am I doing it right? Will my kids be behind or lacking? Should I be doing something different? And then I read your blog and it brings be back to what's important. I read, saying to myself, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and I feel encouraged and excited to face another blissfully eclectic unschooling day! Thank You!


  • Wendy

    Wendy on Dec. 2, 2010, 9:48 p.m.

    I so love reading your posts about homeschooling. After 11 years as an elementary teacher I'm a mostly full-time stay at home mom and I'm soaking in as much as I can about homeschooling before our youngest hits "school" age. "Unschooling" really appeals to me, but I'm sure I will have to find a way to balance this with my organizational, former teacher self. One of the things I still feel holds true from my teaching experience is that kids need structure, but how to balance it with their need for freedom and choices, as well? That will be a challenge for me.

    As far as relishing the season, I realized as I was reading your post that I've been winding tighter and tighter--time to reevaluate that and figure out how to let go! Thank you!


  • Maryam

    Maryam on Dec. 3, 2010, 2:12 a.m.

    What a delightful post! I love reading about your homeschooling ways :) On the Rock Pool (here if anyone's interested: we were just talking about what unschooling is/isn't (no decisions made, just that it's different for different families), what an educated person is, J T Gatto, John Holt, etc... It was a loaded little post and this one you've written comes at a good time for me. I love peeking into your family's path of learning.


  • Heather

    Heather on Dec. 3, 2010, 3:45 a.m.

    Happy Birthday!

    Awesome post!

    Thank you, as always, for breaking down your thoughts, routines, and approaches so clearly. As someone just starting down the homeschooling road your ideas and approaches always resonate with me.

    What kind of product reviews do your children write? Are they all doing this? I'm curious and intrigued...this idea had never occurred to me, though I'm sure it seems second nature to your children with your and your husband's adventure blog product reviews...


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 3, 2010, 12:35 p.m.

      Yes, exactly. They help with giving assessments to the products Damien reviews. Also, they like to write spoof advertisements for products. I was just listing a bunch of stuff our children do and missed many.


  • Sofia's Ideas

    Sofia's Ideas on Dec. 3, 2010, 2:42 p.m.

    I love all of the posts from homeschoolers across the blogosphere that share what they are planning during this season. It helps me with ideas, but also to gauge where we are. This is only the start of our second year, homeschooling 5 kids from 2-14 years old, and I feel like even though we are finally in a groove, where EVERYONE is loving it, I still question myself as the leader/guide. This is what I commented on another blog today...

    I was just sitting and thinking about the month ahead, as we planned out our advent calendar, and I was wondering if doing so was going against the idea of slowing down, and just going with the flow. I still havent decided whether or not to put formal academics aside this month, whether to simply practice weaving more teachable moments into our days as we head towards Christmas. We have a ton of winter & Christmas books already waiting for us at the library, many handmade gifts to create with love, and of course there is the baking of our goodie baskets for friends, both old & new & not yet made... I suppose, as always, things will unfold exactly as they should.


  • Francesca

    Francesca on Dec. 3, 2010, 3:01 p.m.

    Happy Birthday Renee!
    I always find your posts about homeschooling extremely interesting - they go beyond the kind of schooling approach you use, and talk about your believes and values in raising a family. Having said that, I also always also check out the resources and links you have, and today I was super happy to find something about typing practice! Thanks!


  • Amanda

    Amanda on Dec. 6, 2010, 1:21 p.m.

    Just wanted to wish you a happy birthday, a little belatedly! Hope you had a wonderful day. :)

    Although I steer clear of labels, I guess you could say we fit the "unschooler" model. However, that statement itself is a little misleading, since unschoolers frequently have no model! It's always interesting, to me, that some people think that if I don't present something to my child (in the form of enforced learning) that they will never choose to learn it. That has not been our experience (and granted, our experience is limited as our children are young). On the other hand, I am constantly striving to help them find what interests them, provide resources to delve into it deeply,and spend time nurturing those interests, whether the value of a particular topic is obvious to me or not. Before my son was even registered as a homeschooler, he was writing down long, drawn out mathematical equations. I have no idea why, either! He'd ask me to help him solve them.

    I personally am an organized person who loves structure. I used to organize my desk/room for fun, as a kid. It can be difficult to abandon this when it comes to my kids' lives - since they did not inherit this structure gene. However, they are voracious learners, and I am so glad we're doing things this way. When I think about my school experience (and what I have brought from it into my life today) I am often left with a considerable feeling of wasted time and things I no longer remember, although I was labeled a certain way and I fulfilled expectations placed on me. They really haven't served me well.

    Time to stop rambling...when I think of what I want for my child, it does not include following the will of other people despite loathing the topic or chore at hand. I am trying to live in such a way (and provide a life for them) that helps them not to "have to" do this.

    Fabulous topic, Renee! I love to read your homeschooling posts, and so much of what you do reminds me of our life and in a way, helps me feel like we're onto something here. It's nice to find people who do things similarly, helps me feel less isolated!


  • Amanda

    Amanda on Dec. 6, 2010, 2:20 p.m.

    Blah, that didn't come out right at all. It sounds like I feel validated that my young kid chose to write out math problems, and that makes it all ok. That isn't what I meant!

    Sometimes an unschooling child chooses structured learning. Sometimes they don't. My hope is that my kids figure out their goals based on what they love. That makes it easier to perform some of the (sometimes tedious or less glamorous) tasks that they understand may be necessary to achieve or learn something. The beauty is in the freedom to find what works and what fosters a love of learning and of life. The end. :)


  • nicola@which name?

    nicola@which name? on Dec. 9, 2010, 4:17 a.m.

    I am working my way backward reading posts. I have been horrendous about doing the rounds online and I feel particularly bad about having missed your birthday by nearly a week. Happy belated, Renee! I am bookmarking this post. I enjoy your homeschooling posts. I, obviously, have not homeschooled since birth. In fact, I still don't, but I like to read about it and learn more about how others do it. Our home learning (because we still do plenty of that, but our kids are also in pre and elementary schools) approach is very much like yours. I have always thought of unschooling as the definition you give and I know that is not for us, but I love being able to provide for the interests of our children and teach them to contribute to the family and home. Lovely post. Nicola


  • Rana

    Rana on Dec. 9, 2010, 2:09 p.m.

    I love it! I stopped saying we are "unschoolers" too. There are so many labels anymore. I just say we are living and learning through life. I do like you with the lessons in the morning with the kids 1 to 2 hours if that three to four days a week. Lots of reading and just now bringing in more structured math. My kids like to do the workbook thing. We do a lot of reading and I love the "Living Math" books.

    What you said about taking time off to read fluff. Sometime your brain needs that time to process all the "meaty" reading you have been doing. I do that. Your kids will be better people for it. Enjoy your break. I can't wait to see what the new year has in store for your family.


  • exhale. return to center.

    exhale. return to center. on Jan. 2, 2011, 9:03 p.m.

    i'm tiptoe-ing my way back into the blog world after a month-long digital sabbatical (which was my way of stepping back and savoring the holiday season with my family!!) and i really enjoyed reading this post a lot! thank you. and belated happy birthday to you!

    i love reading about how you approach life and learning. SO inspiring.




  • Gina

    Gina on Feb. 27, 2011, 8:45 a.m.

    Wow what a wonderful post. This is the first time I've seen your post. It's great to see how other people homeschool their children and to read how things are going and to get ideas. Homeschooling over here in the UK is on the rise and many towns now have small homeschooling groups for socializing etc.. My two oldest children went all the way through the school system,my oldest daugter is in Uni and my oldest son is in his last year. Though we wanted to homeschool, we didn't have the gust to be 'different'. Homeschooling at the time was unheard of in the UK. However our third child was not happy at school and he asked me to teach him at home. He had done three years in school by then and his confidence had taken a dive. We decided that, yes, I could teach my child, that I knew him and what he needed better than anyone. The journey at first was hard as I found we had to 'de-school' ourselves of all that, that is an 'expected education' from the state!! We now have two more children who are totally homeschooled and who have not been in the system at all which has made things a whole lot easier. We do reading, math and topic work in the mornings using workbooks, websites etc..we try to do 2hours 4x a week and the rest of the time do what we fancy doing. I tend to work around the school time table re holidays so that I fit in with my other children too. It is lovely when we are at home together. Though my children who have done school have done well we, my husband and I do regret that we didn't homeschool them. I think that we missed out on alot of family time and just being together. We haven't been the main influence in their lives which I believe we shoukld have been. Let me encourage anyone who is thinking of homeschooling to go for it. The bond between you and your children will becoming evermore stronger. HAPPY HOMESCHOOLING.


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