I realized we were relaxed homeschoolers somewhere along the beginning of Caroline’s second grade year (this year). I had kind of wandered in the wilderness of trying to figure out how to answer the question when people would ask what kind of a homeschooler I was. This was mostly due to trying to figure out how to best teach Caroline rather than any specific philosophy I might have held before I had her.
For quite a bit of kindergarten and first grade I wondered if we were unschoolers. I think because I had to be so unstructured with her compared to what it was like to be a teacher in a traditional school it made me wonder. But I never could quite embrace that idea. I wasn’t willing to give complete control over to Caroline nor did I think it would work best for her.
I really wanted to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler because I like so much of what she has to say. But although I find myself strongly sympathetic to the Charlotte Mason view, it was just too much work. Honestly. I don’t have the time or energy to read volumes about her views and how to correctly implement them. I also found the Ambleside curriculum to be too academic for Caroline. Too detailed. Way too many expectations. I always felt defeated whenever I even looked at it. I simply wasn’t willing to spend copious amounts of time educating myself so I could educate Caroline according to the Charlotte Mason way. And I honestly did not see her thriving under that kind of rigorous curriculum.
I came across a description of relaxed homeschooling and it just clicked. That is exactly what we are. I felt none of that, “Well, yes, but…” when I started reading as I had with other views. I guide Caroline’s learning and do plan some structure, but I offer her as much freedom as possible. I do believe there are some things she needs to learn, but I am very open-ended about when she needs to learn them and how that might happen.
Because I’m a relaxed homeschooler, I’m not a box checker. I don’t keep a running to do list of curriculum and learning activities we must do when we sit down together or even for the year. In fact, I do just the opposite. I have a rough idea of what we could do and I write it down after we do it.
So when I sit down to “do” school with Caroline for the formal part of our day, I have a pile of things we could do and I select as we go. Let me give you an example of how our time together might go.
Relaxed Homeschooling in Action
We usually start with Bible because Caroline really likes our curriculum (Grapevine Studies) and it just gets things off on a good note. We sit on the floor together in front of the whiteboard and do our lesson. We also review our verse work that I write on sentence strips and put in our pocket chart. At this point, I do not require her to memorize it and recite it to me. Like many right-brained children, memorization and performing isn’t her thing. We go over it many times, we scramble it up and unscramble it, etc. She’s hiding God’s word in her heart in her own way.
After we’re done with that we usually do handwriting or math at the table in the learning room. More often than not we do handwriting so we get it done. (Writing is not a favorite things for many right-brained children.) Sometimes she will work fairly steadily through the page and she does the whole thing. Other times I can tell it’s just not clicking with her that day and I’ll tell her to just do part of the page. I watch and read her. I’d rather have her do half a page well than force her to do more than she’s capable of doing that day.
Next is usually math. We’ve been doing lots of mathematics and very little formal arithmetic. (I wrote about that here.) We’ve been known to do anywhere from a half page (with much encouraging and prodding) or three or four pages/activities (before I have to cut her off and move on). The other day I had three activities for her to do from my America pack and she just kept going and going. She was totally engaged. I just let her keep working since she was having fun.
After this I’ll usually have Caroline read to me. We snuggle on the couch and she reads to me. Sometimes she’ll do all the reading and sometimes we take turns reading pages (if she’s less than thrilled about reading that day). Sometimes she wants to hold the book and do it all. Other times she’s so wiggly I hold the book and she reads. I do whatever works and makes it an enjoyable time together.
I also read to Caroline. Usually we’re working through a chapter book or we might read a book on a topic we’re studying. Sometimes I just let her pick a book or two out of the library basket. Whatever we’re in the mood for and seems appropriate at the moment. We’ve been known to read one short picture book and be done and other times we read several chapters.
Next we might write in her journal. She has a journal book with drawing space on top and primary lines on the bottom. She dictates her journal to me, reads it to me, and then illustrates.
After that is something like science. Right now we are reading books and doing a lapbook I created about Polar Animalss. I have her read to me from one of the books and then we do a couple of the lapbook activities.
That is pretty much all we do in one day. It might take us ninety minutes. The rest of the day she is learning through play, using the Kindle Fire, using the computer, watching a DVD, playing with a babysitter, doing crafts, playing outside, playing games, playing with Tinker Toys, going to the library, etc.
It took me a couple of years, but now I am completely at home with being a relaxed homeschooler. I am amazed at how much she absorbs and learns on her own. I still guide her a bit, but I’m firmly committed to giving her as much open-ended time as possible in her day so she can explore and learn in meaningful and authentic ways.