I realized we were relaxed homeschoolers around the beginning of Caroline’s second grade year. Prior to that, I struggled to answer the question of what kind of homeschoolers we were. This was primarily due to trying to determine how to best teach Caroline according to her specific needs as opposed to any uncertainty I had regarding a specific philosophy I might have held before I became a mother.
There is no doubt that we are relaxed homeschoolers now. But along the way I also wondered about unschooling and Charlotte Mason. In the end, relaxed homeschooling is clearly the homeschool philosophy that best describes how we do homeschooling both by choice and by necessity due to my daughter’s specific learning needs.
We do incorporate small aspects of unschooling and Charlotte Mason into our relaxed homeschooling. But we find the relaxed approach the best choice as you’ll see below.
Relaxed Homeschooling Versus Unschooling
For quite a bit of kindergarten and first grade I wondered if we were going to be unschoolers. 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. Even the fun and only moderately structured things didn’t work with her which left me confused.
But I never could quite embrace the idea of unschooling. I wasn’t willing to give complete control over to Caroline nor did I think it would work best for her. So even though I found the idea of unschooling very attractive, I intuitively knew it would not work with my child. Over time I would come to understand why more clearly.
Relaxed Homeschooling Versus Charlotte Mason
In some ways I wanted to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler because I like so much of what she has to say. I appreciated the Charlotte Mason ethos and approach to education. But although I find myself strongly sympathetic to the Charlotte Mason view, it was simply too much work if I’m going to be completely honest.
I didn’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. It was far too detailed with way too many expectations. I always felt defeated whenever I even looked at it online. I wasn’t willing to spend a significant amount of time educating myself so I could educate Caroline according to the Charlotte Mason way. Additionally, I honestly did not see her thriving under that kind of rigorous curriculum.
Choosing Relaxed Homeschooling
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.
What Relaxed Homeschooling Looks Like
Let me give you an example of how our time together might go. 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.
We usually start with Bible because Caroline really likes our current curriculum (Grapevine Studies) and it gets things off on a good note. We sit on the floor together in front of the whiteboard and do our lesson. We 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. (Update: I later learned Caroline has dysgraphia.)
Next is usually math. We’ve been doing lots of mathematics and very little formal arithmetic. (I wrote about our relaxed homeschool math.) 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 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 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 Animals. 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 Caroline 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. I highly recommend it!