Unschooling: Our Summer Rhythm
I love the feeling of a fresh new year full of possibilities! As usual, the kids and I have been talking about plans and goals for the year. Along with the big things they want to do and learn, we also talk about what we want our days at home to look and feel like.
Over the summer holidays our rhythm changed a little and there were some things they were loving and wanted to keep going all through the year, as well as making space for new things that were important to them.
I wanted to share with you all what our current home days are looking like. It’s summer here at the moment and often things change a little with the seasons, so keep that in mind too.
The kids usually all wake up first at our house (around 6am)! They wander out and turn on the TV and just chill until everyone is awake (6.30-7am), watching their favourite shows. I’ve tried to change this a few times, thinking it wasn’t the best start to the day as sometimes it is hard to transition out of and get the day started and we end up just hanging around for ages, not really intentionally choosing what we’re doing but just kind of passively watching. It feels better and more connected without that, and the girls agree. BUT the thing is, it suits us too. Some wake earlier than others and the TV is at the other end of the house so they have something quiet to do which doesn’t wake people. And when I wake up I am definitely NOT ready to do things straight away, ha! I need a cup of tea and half an hour to sit and do nothing but wake up properly!
The solution? Instead of trying to get rid of the TV part, I’ve just worked on an effective transition into starting the day instead. I used to just make people breakfast whenever they were hungry and they would come and eat it at the table and continue watching TV and then head back to the couch after. Now what we try to do instead is have breakfast together. When everyone is getting hungry I ask if they’re ready for breakfast and they give me their orders, turn off the TV, and we sit at the table together. They are 100% on board with this and it’s an idea we came up with together to ensure a start to the day that feels good. So now we get the best of both, that chill time in the morning to wake up properly and catch up on fav shows (or social media/blog for me), and then also starting the day with connection and not distraction.
After breakfast everyone gets dressed and I clean up the kitchen and put a load of washing on quickly.
Then I put some oils in the diffuser, picking some depending on the mood of the house and what’s going on. Peppermint and Wild Orange are a favourite. Think energising and joyful.
(Read more about how I use oils throughout the day here).
First up we do stretches. This is new! After the term of dancing finished at the end of the year the girls decided they wanted to use the holidays to get more flexible. After finding some stretching routines on youtube they were keen to practice every day so we made a time and all of us do them together.
After stretching, everyone is tired and ready to sit (mostly me, ha!), so we do ‘circle time’ now. Sidenote, this is a name for read aloud time that they invented because we sit in a circle usually, but I find amusing because circle time is actually a thing they do in schools, isn’t it? I’m not sure what it actually is but our morning time is for reading books and talking about plans for the day. The kids pick some picture books which I read first because the younger ones (6 and 4) are most interested in those and if I left them until they end they would miss out because they can’t sit for that long of course!
After picture books we read a bit from each of the non-fiction books we are currently working through. These are on a range of different topics! They might be on one of the girls interests, something they found at the library, poetry, or something totally random I’ve found and wondered if they would like. Everyone loves being read to and will listen to pretty much anything (which is why we make time for it daily), so it’s a great opportunity to introduce new ideas and perspectives.
Currently in our basket:
The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales
The Big Book of the Blue
The Element in the Room
Treasury of Egyptian Mythology
Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum
Big Ideas for Curious Minds
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
The Jesus Storybook Bible
Some original stories written by the kids
We might read a bit from all of these some days, or just a few other days, however we’re feeling.
After reading we talk about our day and what everyone’s plans are. If they have anything they really want to do, what dance classes are on, what everyone wants to do at project time, etc. We have a whiteboard on the wall where we write down the plans. I recently printed these cards for the younger girls to use as well so they don’t need to be able to read in order to check in with what’s happening next. They also get to change the day, season, and weather each day.
This is the perfect balance of freedom and predictability for us. Everyone feels more comfortable knowing what is happening and having a regular rhythm. Predictability feels safe and dependable. But, we also value the freedom to choose and create a life that suits each of us. A little bit of planning, where everyone gets a say, meets both of these needs.
Everyone is now ready for some morning tea. Usually we have a fruit platter to share, or smoothies when it’s super hot.
We’re usually having morning tea outside and so it’s natural for people to continue playing outside when they’re finished. Everyone is ready to move after listening to books for a while too.
Eventually everyone drifts in and we have some project time. This is a time of day when everyone is working on their own things. You can read more about what it entails and how it came about here.
So far this year some projects they have started on include: calligraphy, a drawing course, sewing, fashion design, learning french, cooking, and rock tumbling. I can’t wait to see where these interests take them! The reason these ideas come to life is because we specifically make time for them.
After project time we have lunch, and then while our tummies settle it’s quiet reading time. This is when everyone reads independently and quietly (so that no one is interrupted). The big girls (8 and 10) will read some of their current novels, while the little girls (6 and 4) will look at picture books or listen to an audiobook together. This is something new in the last couple of months, requested by the girls and you can read more on how it came about here.
After reading time the girls play for a bit, inside and outside. When they are ready we do an activity, depending on the day. While we were planning our year the older girls had some other things they wanted to make sure included in the week, so we decided we would make time for it in the afternoons. The little ones will either join in or do their own thing. A lot of their time is spent in imaginary play at this age of course. Sometimes they want me to set up something for them too, like sensory play.
On Monday they have decided to do cooking. Both older girls would like to learn to cook more things this year. We picked Monday for this as they will be able to make some food that we can use for snacks for the week too!
They also wanted to make more time for writing. They love writing stories and also playing writing games so we’ll fit this in on Monday’s too. None of this is set in stone and if people don’t feel like doing these things on the specified day then of course that’s ok! And if they feel like doing it all day then they do that too! The purpose of marking out specific times was because we wanted to know we had time allocated for the things they wanted to do so that we didn’t forget.
Tuesdays are for Poetry Teatime. This is one of the highlights of their week. We eat snacks, drink tea and hot chocolate, and take turns reading poetry to each other. Sometimes we also paint our impression of poems we like.
Thursday they do some art in the afternoon. They actually do some kind of art almost every day but they made a specific time because they wanted to do an art class every week. They are loving Masterpiece Society classes.
Wednesdays and Fridays are our days out with our unschool group. The kids play in nature all day long, and we also do a variety of different activities together. It’s so important to me to surround them with other inspired children so they can learn with and from each other.
Afternoon tea time! This is often a veggie platter.
The rest of the late afternoon is spent playing. The little ones are busy playing imaginary games together (which they have been drifting in and out of all day). The big ones will often jump on minecraft to play with friends. It’s currently holidays but soon our afternoons and evenings Monday-Friday will also be taken up with dance classes. The girls do a lot of different dance classes, depending on their passions.
Now it’s time for dinner, showers, probably some TV, read aloud time with Dad, and then sleep time. All the girls are usually ready for bed at about 8pm. We stay with the little ones while they go to sleep, and the older girls will listen to their audio book in their room for a bit before drifting off.
And that’s our day!
How did this come about? Very naturally! When the children were younger our rhythm generally revolved around meal times and nap times. As they get older there are naturally more things they want to do that we must make time for. With 4 children it can sometimes be tricky to make sure everything fits into the week. So we just chat about it regularly! Everyone is always keen to have a say and put their ideas forward. I will ask them questions about what things they like about our day, if there is anything they would like to change, and if there is anything they want to do that we don’t have time for? From there we make a plan.
My job is to support them to do all the things they want to do. That means helping them make time for things, which teaches them important time management skills. Yes they are amazing and have brilliant ideas and are incredibly self-motivated, but they still need an adult in their corner helping them make dreams a reality. Unschooling is a very active role.
How do we know if our rhythm is ‘working’? I know it’s time to change things up when no one is seeming very keen to do what they’ve planned for the day. When our rhythm is meeting their needs, they are excited by it. I am not the one reminding people that it’s time for x, they are coming to me saying ‘can we pleaaaaaase do this now!’ and ‘is tomorrow a home day because I really want to do x’, etc.
If you are wanting to add more rhythm to your days I would suggest adding one thing at a time and seeing how it feels, in collaboration with everyone in the family of course.
What do your days look like?
Love seeing unschooling rhythms! That is the beauty of this kind of life, every family looks different. I find it very encouraging, thank you so much for sharing!
I was wondering, how to incorporate math into this type of teaching? Also, how do the children get a diploma and when? I am thinking about doing this type of teaching with my 14 year old son who has social anxiety. Thanks
I love love this so much and I am feeling so excited, inspired, and re-energized by this – thank you!!! I’d love to know more about how your days look for YOU… I love the supporting your kids learning, so you set time for the things you enjoy to demonstrate carving out time for your interests too? That’s where I struggle! My interests and joys are from spending time with my kiddos! But I do love to sew and crochet and read. I can sit and help the kids learn or work on my own project but not both. I figure I have time to do “my” projects when my kids are older. But I’d love to hear your perspective as I value so much the way you do things. Thank you again so much for sharing your gifts.
This sounds wonderful! I can’t imagine there being such a predictable rhythm in our house, either because I’m not organized enough, or because I can’t imagine my kids suggesting ideas like this. But I would love to add more touchstones into our days so we’re not just doing our own things, and getting to the end of the day sometimes not having gotten to do what we wanted. I hadn’t imagined any way to add more rhythm to our days without me being the “enforcer,” a role I definitely don’t want!