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Make Way For Change!

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This is the first year that my family and I have ventured into the exciting and uncertain world of "interest-led learning." My oldest son prefers to call it "free-form schooling." And my younger son doesn't even mind throwing around the controversial "unschooling" term. (I refuse to let him use it around our more judgmental friends and family members) My sons are technically in their eighth and tenth "grades", and I'll admit, it took me this long to get to the point where I was relaxed enough to trust my sons' educational instincts.

Like a lot of first-timers, we had a sort of "school-at-home" approach to homeschooling when we started out. We did all the classical kindergarten rituals such as saying the pledge of allegiance to begin our day, setting up "centers" for exploration, and using those crazy sentence strips to teach writing. My kids could have easily made the transition into any traditional classroom in the country without batting an eye.

By the upper elementary years, that approach was getting a little stifling, so we turned more toward a literature-based curriculum, and focused more on a unit-study style of learning. This was definitely more appealing to my boys, as we were getting to explore some wonderful books and we kept very busy with the hands-on activities that were prescribed to supplement our learning. But something still felt a bit "forced" with this approach. We found ourselves doing activities that we had very little interest in...just because they went along with what we were studying.

Because my sons were always drawn toward flashing things with buttons and lights, we made yet another transition in the middle school years. Our educational focus turned toward online learning, where every lesson had an audio/video component to it, and education was fully interactive and engaging. Everything from keyboarding to world history could be accessed via online lessons. My sons thrived on the visual and audio support of multimedia lessons and entertaining activities that supported what they were learning. What could be better than an online homeschool curriculum, I wondered?

But as high school approached, that familiar restlessness cropped up again. What could possibly be missing??

We discussed it at length, and our family realized that each of us had really strong interests in very different subjects. Subjects that we wanted to delve into much deeper than most curricula would permit. My oldest son has a passion for programming, and the average homeschool curriculum doesn't offer much help in this area. My younger son is bananas for biology and zoology. While he can definitely get a good base of learning in this subject from a curriculum, in order to really learn all that he wants to learn about the animal kingdom, he actually has to dig deeper for himself. The conclusion we came to was that all of the methods we had used for homeschooling had served a purpose for a particular time, but that now, it was time to trust the boys to create their own learning paths. And that is just what they are doing.

While they are still using online curricula such as Time4Learning for their math and language arts studies, the rest of their days is given over to following their own interests. Our oldest son is now busy learning his fourth computer language, and our youngest son is happily compiling data for a project on dog behavior. The truth is that our homeschooling methods have evolved over the last ten years to bring us to this point, and looking back, I feel so blessed to have experienced so many different "ways" to homeschool.

What about you? How have your homeschooling methods changed over the years? Or if you are starting out, where would you say you are right now in the process?


  1. 's Avatar
    Topsy, what a great post! It's so timely considering the questions I asked recently on the Unschooling board! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    You actually got me all excited about continuing to homeschool. As you said, we are doing school at home a lot of the time (OK, probably most of the time), complete with reciting the pledge every morning. I deliberately did this because I wasn't sure how long I would homeschool, and since Noah has always been homeschooled and is apprehensive about change sometimes, I wanted to give him the tools necessary to a reintegration into the p.s. system if need be. My original plan was to homeschool through 5th grade and then re-evaluate (i.e. I was thinking that he would want to go to p.s. at that time since it's an intense period of socialization and let's face it, I'm very introvert IRL so I wasn't sure how many friends he could make while homeschooling in our small town). But I started my own group, and while it's still very small, he has made new friends his own age throughout the area, which is encouraging. Moreover, in talking with people like you who have successfully homeschooled through middle school and beyond without necessarily the support of a large religious homeschool group, it's given me renewed enthusiasm for the years ahead and confidence that even if I can't teach him 6th grade math, there are online programs (and others) that do just that. One of my group members' oldest daughter is 15, has always been homeschooled, and describes herself as an autodidact. She totally directs her own studies and can talk to me about existentialism, algebra and other subjects. This is inspiring to me and I hope to be able to point Noah in that direction... and that he has enough enthusiasm about the learning process to be able to find those interests on his own. I want to be able to help get resources to support those interests, but not necessarily spoon feed him information from a premade curriculum at some point.

    4 computer languages? Wow.
  2. Topsy's Avatar

    You also might get a little encouragement from my son's blog, which has sort of catalogued his experience in the world of unschooling this year. It's been a hit or miss effort (he's an unpredictable teen, of course), but I still think it is an interesting insight into what the process is like for the student themselves....
  3. 's Avatar
    Hey there, I just visited over there. I had read his latest post a few days ago, probably following a link from one of the blogs posted on SH without realizing he was your son.

    Sigh... I'm so envious. How old is he? He sounds so mature and proactive and smart. I love my kids, don't get me wrong, but my soon-to-be- 16 year old son drives me nuts with his apathy. He excels at playing his trumpet and enjoys being in JROTC, but apart from that... he needs to be pushed for everything and I wonder when he's going to "snap" out of it. Anyway, I bookmarked your son's blog and look forward to reading him more. You done good!
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