I think one of the most terrifying parts of homeschooling is wondering if your chosen path is the best for your child. After I sat down to look at all the homeschool methods, I made a frightening choice. I decided to unschool Kitt.
Some subjects are easy to unschool with Kitt, and others… not so much. I’ve broken down our process, and reasoning, below:
When I first sat down to look at curriculums, I decided to try a few trial sessions with the popular paid (and free) courses. Kitt immediately froze up. Writer’s block is real, and she was firmly in its thrall. She has a great grasp on vocabulary, and already looks up words she doesn’t know, so I understood her frustration with ‘time-wasting spelling drills’ as she put them. I agree.
What to do, what to do?
You see, she is above grade level in language arts. She also loves reading, writing, and creating her own worlds. She writes fan-fiction for fun, and makes up stories for her friends to act out in World of Warcraft. She also creates mash-up roleplay stories- combining WoW with her favorite series (Warrior Cats by Erin Hunter).
Although frightened by the prospect of setting her free (unschooling), we decided to give it a trial run, too. We discussed the purpose of learning language arts (improving grammar, spelling, and trying new types of writing) with Kitt, and set some goals:
1. She has to email me a portion of her written roleplay materials each week. If I find errors in them, I gently point them out, and she corrects them and sends them my way again. (Some of the corrections she sends back are advanced for her age, with very little nudging from me.)
2. She has to read at least one book of my choice per study unit. Sometimes I will give her options to choose from, sometimes the choice is set. She usually reads a chapter each day, and then she must discuss with me what happened. We debate, dissect, and think out plot/theme/etc. orally. At the end of the book, she has to give me a ‘book review’. Again, I let her give this orally since she types around 10k words per week on her own (yes, I checked- it’s crazy how much she does when she isn’t bogged down with busy work!).
3. She must produce one type of each written work from the core standards for the year. For sixth grade, that means she must provide me with a poem, a fictional story, a persuasive letter, and an informational report. In the month since we started this path, she has already bombarded me with fiction which dips into many genres, and without further prompting, sent me a spooky poem. For her informative writing, we helped her narrow her focus with a bribe. She wanted a pet BAD. So we told her to research pets and we could decide as a family what we would allow her to have. We narrowed it down to a rat or a hamster. She had to research both (just reading some books from the library at that point), and debate with us orally on the benefits and drawbacks of each. We took her to a pet store and had her hold each, gauge the smell and size needs for her choices, and pick her ‘winner’. She chose a rat. Now she has to write a detailed informational report, and then write a persuasive letter to us. On top of that, she has to calculate the math for the expenses involved. The prize- a little bundle of joy to call her own. (Bonus points to me for including math, science, and computer training to get her sharing Google docs to me. Go mom!)
On a side note, while I’m not using a curriculum per se, I am following the core curriculum guidelines for my state. This isn’t a requirement for our state, but it helps keep me on track. I looked up what type of words, grammer, and punctuation her peers are studying and incorporated those into my suggestions for editing. It’s subtle, and it worked wonders. Her writing is evolving, and her enthusiasm has skyrocketed. For vocabulary, we picked up a few word games/cards and pick one each morning. We try to use the word/phrase/fact in as many ways as possible throughout the day- often leading to some humorous and outrageous statements. You can find our choices here:
If there is one subject I have zero worries about, it’s art. Kitt loves to draw. She has also spent considerable time learning how to animate her art on her tablet. She understands poses, perspective, and color theory in ways I can’t even begin to grasp. But she also rejects learning anything new in this subject, so…
Momma is taking art lessons (on the TV) while she draws in the same room. We both have the same program on our tablets, so I just casually watch a tutorial at the start of our day, without pressuring her to do anything with it. Then, while we watch all our other lessons, we draw (she has ADHD, so keeping her fingers busy actually helps her concentrate on the material. This took some trial and error to discover). I see you watching and trying it out, Kitt. So far, she has learned how to use layers, masks, and play with layer settings- all without me ‘teaching’ her a thing.
Ninja tutoring for the win!
Social Studies/ History/ Geography
Kitt has absolutely zero interest in learning these subjects, even though we discussed how important they are for her chosen career paths. Allowing her to unschool on these subjects would be a disaster. She also prefers to watch simple cartoons (sorry Gumball, Steven Universe, and Teen Titans) that lack educational backbones. But… she also struggles with memorizing dates and facts. Although dates and facts are important, at this stage, I’ve decided not to test her on them traditionally. We discuss the facts using comparisons from her favorite games and books, and use a timeline project (see the review portion of each unit study for an example) to keep the dates relevant.
Since Kitt is also a visual learner, this means a ton of homework for me. Although there are many pre-packaged unit study programs out there, I wanted to personalize Kitt’s learning experience. I also want her to explore multiple perspectives on certain historical events and individuals. Plus, there are tons of videos out there that present the information in differing ways.
It’s a good thing I love researching things and learning!
These subjects presented the most deviation from the state core curriculum standards. I was very upset (thanks for listening to my rants, hubby) to learn that the school was bouncing from one period of history to another to plug facts into my child’s head for the sake of standardized testing. For example, to learn about types of government, they would bounce from Greek democracy to Roman republic and all over the map making comparisons- without getting into depth on the cultures behind the governments. How can anyone learn anything like that? (Rant over, I promise.)
I printed out the core standards for sixth through eighth grades and highlighted what she needed to know for each culture/period of history. Then I spent a month organizing these topics under their respective cultures. We aren’t going in the same order as the public school system, but by the time she reaches high school, she will have covered each topic. Thoroughly.
Since we are going so far out of ‘order’, I decided to get some random facts going, too. We picked up a few more card packs (I can’t really call them games), and we select one card each day to learn a random thing or two. For the Brain Quest cards, I let Kitt ask me the questions she doesn’t know in our very own game of ‘Are You Smarter than a Sixth Grader?’ Here’s a hint- not always!
Conveniently, Netflix released a remix of Carmen Sandiego. What a flashback to my own childhood! We decided to watch it together as a family, much to Kitt’s dismay.
Same as the above lessons, Kitt had zero interest in pursuing the sciences. I have to nudge her by including related projects from the public school curriculum within our units. She was reluctant at first, but she has gotten better. We watch a lot of videos, often falling down the rabbit hole of clicking another title on YouTube that catches our interest when the planned video is over. We’ve done a few random projects at her request, often some that are well below her grade level (but she never explored in school). In the past few months, I’ve slowly seen that inquisitive spark return to her eyes when something she barely understood clicks for her with a simple video or project.
We’ve picked up a few games and kits to help with these topics, but I’ll save them for our Favorite Games post.
Kitt doesn’t just hate math, she LOATHES it. We spent several weeks in tears trying to find a curriculum that worked. It took some trial and error, but I finally (think) I know what is holding her back. She seems to have a lot of the traits of dyscalculia. I haven’t had her tested, but switching to the suggested learning methods (and using the learning aids) has helped so much I don’t see the point in teaching her any other way. She has sensory processing issues regarding touch, so I can’t use most manipulatives, but I have found that games work well. I’ve gone into more detail on our Favorite Games page.
What are your thoughts on unschooling? What worked for you (or didn’t)? Feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear about your journey, too!