{Homegrown Kids} Reflections on “Unschooling”


Note: Today I’m participating in a “blog hop” with a group of parents and educators who write about homeschooling gifted children. For more details, see the bottom of this post.

I’ve joked before that our homeschool methodology is “dangerously close to unschooling.”

Yet I have learned that what looks like unschooling to one person to another seems too close to traditional “school” to be defined as such.

Let me explain our approach and let you be the judge of whether or not we fit the definition.

On the one hand, I pay attention to state standards and the Common Core, reviewing them at least once a year and keeping a core app accessible on my iPad. (Yeah, geeky, I know.) We utilize prepared workbooks and have designated lesson time 3 to 4 days a week in the mornings.

On the other hand, we don’t “test” using standardized testing materials. I use the core as a benchmark, a reference tool to help keep in my head “about” where our kiddo would be grade-wise in school. Our workbooks, while educational, are primarily used to nurture executive functioning skills as they are tied to a reward (30 minutes of game time on Gamestar Mechanic or Minecraft–enough time to buy me a quiet shower). We do not follow them in a linear fashion but rather I pick and choose assignments based upon skills that he shows an interest in developing and is developmentally ready to learn.

The bulk of our educational time this year is divided between the arts (music, theatre, and performing arts classes), science camps, karate, LEGOs, and social skills development through playdates (coops and large unstructured groups don’t fit either of us well). There’s some carschooling because of all the drive time, of course–and with a little help from NPR. We’re also big fans of Lori Pickert’s project-based homeschooling concept, as we come out of the Reggio Emilia preschool tradition, too.

So, tell me, do you think that we are “unschoolers?”

Your answer will depend upon your definition and how wedded you are to any one person’s definition of it. Other families similar to us call themselves “eclectic homeschoolers,” and that definition holds appeal to me, in part because I just dig the word “eclectic.” (It makes me feel that I should wear more bohemian outfits, though.)

For me, too, the word “unschooling” isn’t about a formula but about a spirit, one that allows for dynamism in the curriculum–something that is the antithesis of drilling and testing. I draw inspiration from so many sources that it’s hard to pin any one down and say “ah, yes, that one word sums up exactly what we do.”

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to do that anyway–to have any single dominant, overarching philosophy drive our approach for twelve years. We may have come to homeschooling for a pragmatic reason (severe food allergy), yet we have embraced the freedom to be as intellectually rigorous or as relaxed as we need to be at any given time. It’s about both of us learning to nurture what is within us, what needs expression, expansion, and fine-tuning.

Come to think of it, our philosophy is a way of learning–a way of life-long learning–that I’ve believed in all my life.

You see, back when I was a little girl, I once told my mother that “I am not so much sure that teachers ‘teach.’ I think they just figure out how to draw out of us what we already know. Then we practice it with them.”

The older I get, the more that I learn and watch other people learn–the more that I think little ol’ me was probably right.



More posts on this topic are scheduled to appear on March 18, 2013. The times of publication may vary so not all links may be “live” when my post is published. Expect more links to be added to this list:

For more information in general on homeschooling gifted/2e kids, see Gifted Homeschoolers Forum


  1. I attended a meeting a few months ago that was supposed to be an info session on homeschooling preschoolers. The problem was that virtually no one there had preschoolers aside from me and about 2 other moms and no one would talk about preschool level homeschooling. So I left completely overwhelmed and confused.

    The impression I got from this was that you don’t use a strict “curriculum” per se, but you use a variety of educational sources, including some workbooks, while keeping in line with state standards as a guidepost. Amirite?

    • Depends on what works for you and your kiddo. There are a couple of different ways to go about it, but it all comes down to individual teaching and learning styles.

      We can talk, J. DM me. =D

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