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!
I feel exactly same way as you do regarding Charlotte Mason. Thanks for helping me relieve some of the guilt I felt over not implementing what I think are great theories…just not great for us.
Thank you for your comment. There is so much to like about Charlotte Mason, isn’t there? But one thing I’ve learned is exactly what you said – just because something is great doesn’t mean it is great for my child. Personally, I would love a classical education but that isn’t for my daughter at all. So I look for what works for her. It’s her education after all! 🙂
This is pretty much how we did Kindergarten last year. My daughter was excited for school and loved the special time together we spent learning, going places and doing things.
This year, first grade, we are required to send an assessment in to the superintendent of our county schools, so I ordered an expensive curriculum and we sat down to it last fall to “do school”. We wasted half of the year before I could sit down and reflect on it and admit that this “academic” approach was not working for us. My daughter began to resent school, was fidgety and restless and dawdled a lot. It was taking *forever* to get through a day’s list of assignments (and this was a curriculum touted as flexible and supposedly fun). I was pulling my hair out trying to check off everything on the list. Neither of us were having fun and ironically we were learning and absorbing LESS than what we had by means of our casual, interest-based school approach last year.
So now, with a few months left in this school year (until our assessment is due) we have switched gears and gone back to the relaxed method and are making great progress again. I didn’t know exactly what homeschooling philosophy we fell under either. 😉 Since my 6-year-old daughter loves math, we do work our way through the Horizons math program with no trouble. We focus heavily on math, phonics, writing and reading. We pepper in history and science with whatever interests us and as it becomes relevant. Art, music, P.E., etc. are always on the program and used to illustrate the other subjects as we work on them.
I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off of my shoulders and my daughter is having fun and learning again. Really, at these lower grade school levels, they are not truly learning unless they are enjoying it. We found that the rigorous, structured curriculum was simply not developmentally appropriate for my 1st grader. Those things will come along in time. There can be a lot of pressure to demonstrate accomplishment and hurry through to finish a particular curriculum, but that is not what homeschooling is all about!
I found your blog through Pinterest and I look forward to browsing around more. It was just so nice to see someone else putting what I was also feeling into words. 🙂
I could relate to so much of what you wrote! Thank you for taking the time to share it. Isn’t it funny how when we do what we think we’re “supposed” to do, everyone ends up unhappy? When we relax and do what we “need” to do according to our own personalities and needs everything is so much better!
I’m also convinced that formal schoolwork before age eight is nearly pointless, but that’s a post for another day. 🙂
I am finding myself more and more like this as time passes. My son is in first grade now. I too, write down what we do after we do it! Although I do have spines to go by, we have not been using them. We’ll see where we end up by next year.
We work very similarly, except I have a loose rhythm that we do each day:
History includes language arts work (summarizing orally and written 2xs per week). My boys (4th and 1st) have a lot of input for what we cover in history. They help select our read-alouds and topics.
Science changed almost daily and they are given full choice over which articles/stories/websites to utilize for studying science.
Spelling is covered using written history summaries for a weekly dictation exercise. We like to combine where we can.
Even math includes some free choice- they can work on the iPads using Dreambox or we play math games from Right Start, or even monopoly or Yahtzee.
We have a lot of fun and “lessons” oy take an hour to an hour and a half. They use the rest of their time before lunch to pursue personal interests, like videography, sports, etc.
I do put limitations on video games- those are only available for an hour per day, after kids get out of school and they’ve had plenty of exercise. We didn’t allow them at all until only recently.
I find we make much more progress when we are more relaxed than when we’re structured. It’s hard work protecting that freedom bit worth it.
I am so glad I found this post. This is exactly the way our homeschool day is structured. Exactly! I sometimes feel like we are not doing enough, but this is what he needs. This is our first year homeschooling our 3rd grader, and after feeling our way around, this is where we landed. Some days this much is pushing it for him. I will have to read more about right-brain thinking. https://sallieborrink.com/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_idea.gif
This meets me right where I am at this very moment with our only child, a daughter age 8. I think we need to go this route. My question: Do you plan out your days/weeks with a schedule of what you will work on daily/weekly or do you just keep moving forward in each area?
Welcome! I am really open-ended when it comes to planning. This year we are using The Mystery of History (as part of our year) so that is the one thing I’m trying to work through pretty much every time we sit down to do schoolwork together. Otherwise I just kind of look at where we are, what we’re talking about in everyday life, and what I think she might be most receptive to at that particular time. The receptivity is a big one. If we’re not in a good place because one of us doesn’t feel well or something, I do the bare minimum that I can to get something done that day. I’ve learned that I can make up for it on our good days.
So I do hope to get through The Mystery of History this year but that is the only thing I’m planning on and trying to keep up on. I’m guessing as she gets older I might not be so open-ended, but it works now. We’re also working through writing issues and I’m holding back on some things until we get that sorted out so that factors in as well.
Stefanie @ Calledhis.com
So encouraging to see homeschooling mums who are more interested in helping their kids learn in the best way for THEM! I haven’t read that much about Charlotte Mason, but from what I have heard it sounds great – just not for every kid.
I’m a 22 year old fiancee, planning to homeschool our future kidlets. I’m also a homeschool graduate! We called ourselves ‘lifelearners’ because unschool didn’t really fit, either, like you. I think that as homeschooling becomes more known and accepted, there will be slightly less panic at the different terms 😉
Thank you for your response back. Finding you was an answer to tears and prayers. I can’t believe how much our daughters are alike; it is so helpful and encouraging to know I’m not alone on this journey. My daughter wishes she could meet yours. 🙂
I pretty much have gone through the same thing. Unschooling fascinates me, but I can not relinquish all the control without some kind of guidence. Plus, I live in New York, so we have strict regs as to what and how many hours, ect. So I adopted a relaxed and eclectic philosophy. We homeschooled for the last quarter of kindergarten last year after being in public school and are homeschooling this year and I hope through his education. I have a small dry erase board that I write our goals (what subjects we need to cover) for the day on that hangs on the closet door. We take our time getting up in the mornings (our favorite part of homeschooling) and get in the mood to learn. My son picks what he wants to start with. Sometimes I have things in mind to do, other times I ask him (especially with science) if there is anything special he’d like to do for whatever study we have picked for that unit. We’ll do a couple of our subject goals then take a break, have a snack/lunch or just some down time and then he’ll pick the next subject. As long as we complete our goals by bedtime I am satisfied. So far, it’s working for us and he is learning, some things better than others…lol. We did decide to try “unschooling Fridays” this year. The only regular goal I set on Friday is the weekly spelling test. Then we use the rest of the day to work on anything he needs extra help with, anything he wants to learn more about (he loves science) and often use this as one of our gym/art/music days so a good share of the day is just completing the more fun requirements. It’s not for everyone, but it’s working for us at the moment.
Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!!! This is sooo validating to where we are! I’m convinced my first grader is learning, yet I have trouble staying on task with our curriculum. We are quite relaxed! It was great reading this.
Thank you so much for this post. It has helped me to find the name for where I fit. I have struggled for a long time never knowing how to answer that question.
I’m so glad people are finding this post encouraging! Especially with the little ones, we can be much more open-ended and listen to what they need.
“Relaxed homeschooling.” <—- Finally, I have the perfect term for how we do it! I've always leaned towards the "unschooling" term, but, like you, it never was the right fit. It sounds so much better to those who are unfamiliar with homeschooling, too! I always hated having to explain "unschooling" and our style to non-homeschoolers who ask. For some reason, many people place a negative connotation on "unschooling."
I am so grateful I (randomly) came across your blog. I have really been struggling recently, feeling like I do not do enough when I hear from curriculum heavy homeschoolers, or I am not giving my kids enough freedom when I am around unschoolers. I even got ripped to pieces on a Christian unschooling page because I set a bedtime! You’d think after 7 years of doing this I would feel more secure in the growth I see in my boys. This post feels like a big deep breath of fresh air. I can continue with what I am doing with them, secure in my unique way of helping them learn and enjoying the blessing of each day I get to spend with them. Thank you so much!
Thank you so much for this post! I just stumbled across your blog via a pinterest link and I am so glad I did! I homeschool my 2nd grade daughter and every year we start off with the textbooks and unit studies (and me feeling guilty for not doing Charlotte Mason or Ambleside since I love their ideas but I just don’t have the time to research and make sure I am doing them correctly). About Christmas time we are both worn out and ready to be done. I would always overdo the prep work for the unit studies and the textbooks bored us both to tears. After Christmas this year I decided to just relax, go on so many more field trips and follow her interests more. It has been lovely! Between that and starting vision therapy (another topic altogether) she has been so much more eager to learn! We still use her math textbook because she loves math, but she is actually retaining everything we learn from conversations, field trips and books. Our “official” school day lasts about 90 minutes (thank you for sharing that because I was feeling guilty about it being so short) but afterwards, she listens to history CDs, reenacts stories, draws and explores nature. Thank you again for sharing as it has been such an encouragement!
Jessica, Jill and Mallory,
I’m so glad you found your way here! I apologize I’m a bit behind on comments. 🙂
Isn’t it great when we find what works for our family and our child? When we truly find what works it makes it so much easier. There will always be difficult days and challenging weeks, but when we let go of what other people expect… So much freedom there!
Great post! We are also very relaxed in our schooling. After all, one reason we homeschool is so we can do what works best for our children! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Lanna! Relaxed homeschooling can be such a great option for many families. 🙂
Thank you for this post, I just found it and it was very encouraging. My son just turned 5 and we are still deciding if we will send him to public school or to homeschool. We are very interested in homeschooling but I am very nervous about it. I feel a bit overwhelmed with the idea of single handedly taking on my children’s education. we do reading on a daily basis and he spends time reading by himself most days. how do you decided which programs to use and how much time to spend each day? thank you!
Mother of 3
Haha! Yes! ” 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.” These two sentences best describe what we have been doing for the past three years. It works beautifully too!
Love your ideas, however, educating at home in the state of NY….a bit harder to relax…:-)