What Does Unschooling Look Like? A Week in the Life
“Today most people think of childhood and schooling as indelibly entwined. We identify children by their grade in school. We automatically think of learning as work, which children must be forced to do in special workplaces, schools, modelled after factories. All this seems completely normal to us, because we see it everywhere. We rarely stop to think about how new and unnatural all this is in the larger context of human evolution and how it emerged from a bleak period in our history that was marked by child labor and beliefs in children’s innate sinfulness. We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, we deprive them of freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.” -Peter Gray, Free to Learn
In our family, school plays no part in childhood. Our four children have never been to school, and don’t seem interested in going any time in the near future either. Does that mean they’re not getting an education? Of course not. But, most people have a lot of trouble imagining what learning looks like outside of school, having known no different. Not to mention unschooling! We don’t do school-at-home, we don’t use a curriculum, our life looks very different from school. So how does it work? I think the best way to explain is to show people.
The following is a week in our life as unschoolers…
Today feels like our first day of really getting back into our rhythm for the year. We had holidays, and then some sickness, and that delayed things getting back to normal. This is our first week with our normal rhythm of home days, homeschool meets, and dance classes. We sat down together and worked out all the things the kids wanted to fit into the day and what that might look like.
We’re starting Monday’s with a walk! We packed up the cart with nature journals and drink bottles, and headed down the road to the girls ‘sit spot’ they had picked out. The term ‘sit spot’ comes from these awesome nature journals they got for Christmas. They are really enjoying them and want to make more time for nature journaling this year. They were prompted to find a spot to sit and enjoy nature regularly and they also plan to journal the changes they see. This was a really nice way to start the week!
After they had finished we took some quick photos. Where we live, today is also the first day of school for the year. So today we are celebrating NOT Back to School day! I usually take a photo of each of them and we try to work out what grade they would have been in. We don’t go by grades so it’s pretty meaningless, but we always end up talking about it and how lots of kids are off to school, and how grateful we are that they are not and that their classroom looks like this instead!
After we get home the girls cut up some fruit for morning tea and I read to them as they eat. We’re continuing with this Shakespeare book this year because we’re so into it! It’s not an interest I ever expected, but everyone finds it so fun. Today we’re memorising a passage from Twelfth Night. We talk about what it means and it doesn’t take us long to memorise this short one!
If you want to know more about what other Shakespeare books we’re using, and how, head over to my Instagram page and click on the Shakespeare highlight.
After morning tea it’s project time! This year we’ve moved this to earlier in the day. This is the girls favourite part. They each work on whatever they’re into at the moment and I’m there to help with everything (sometimes a juggle!). We also have a project fair coming up with friends at the end of this week so some of the girls are working on finishing some things to take to that. Miss 8 has been into mosaicing lately and is finishing off a couple of pieces.
Miss 12 is making a costume for Book Club next week. She loves a good dress-up event! She’s embellishing a pair of overalls to look like one of the characters in the book.
Miss 10’s biggest interest right now is cooking. Today she wanted to make pierogi from a recipe that came with our Universal Yums subscription. We are loving this subscription box that delivers snacks from different countries each month. This month was Poland!
She was very happy with her efforts!
Miss 6 found these instructions to make a carboard box projector in a book a couple of weeks ago and I ordered a magnifying sheet she needed for it. It arrived and today she got onto making it!
“If given the chance, kids will find meaningful projects in which to engage. But we can also encourage meaningful work with the way we teach them. By giving them a chance to shape their own education, helping them develop healthy habits, and showing them how to find answers, we can help them create something beautiful and engage with a topic in a way that sticks.” -Ainsley Arment, The Call of The Wild and Free
Projects lasted the rest of the day until it was time to get ready for dancing! This year the girls have moved to a different dance studio that is more challenging and they are feeling so good about it. It means we have dancing every weekday from 3.30pm, which cuts our day a bit short. We are trying to get going earlier in the mornings to make up for it and ensure everyone has time for the things they want to do.
Everyone is straight back into projects this morning! Miss 8 has mixed up some grout for her mosaics.
Tomorrow we’re having a party with friends, so Miss 12 and Miss 6 are baking a cake to take!
Miss 10 is busy working on her etsy shop.
Some dance practice and acro tricks while the cake bakes.
Miss 6 is finishing her projector and it will be ready to test out tonight!
It’s Miss 10 and Miss 8’s turn in the kitchen now! They are making some brownies together for poetry tea time this afternoon.
Everyone is finished project time for today and we decide to do a chemistry experiment from one of our MEL Science kits.
This one was about acid rain.
Afterwards, it’s lunchtime and the girls ask to listen to a podcast over lunch. They like the Short and Curly podcast and today it’s a very relevant episode about if you should be able to have the biggest slice of cake if you’re the one to bake it!
The girls then decorate their cake for tomorrow. Miss 12 has drawn the design she wants to do and they make a lot of icing of different colours.
Poetry teatime! One of their favourite things in the week. As much for the hot chocolate and sweets as for the poems. They love this book, and also always choose funny poems by Shel Silverstein to read.
We’ve done a trip to dance to drop off the older girls and now the little ones are playing outside where they discover this interesting caterpillar! They spend a while observing him and finding a place in the yard for him where he seems happy.
Then they run off to play some Minecraft together.
Miss 12 is home from dancing and inspired! She wants to write down a stretching routine to do every morning to improve her flexibility and strength!
When Miss 10 also gets home from dancing, we test out the projector! It needs some adjustments and troubleshooting but we eventually get it to work!
So far the girls have all commented to me that they are really loving our home days and that they feel good. They enjoy that we’re getting started earlier and feel really inspired. The only thing is that we don’t feel like we’re finding enough time for our read alouds. It’s taking us forever to get through books. We decide to test out doing it over breakfast in the mornings. That means we can even fit it in on days we’re going out with friends, as we are today.
NOT Back to School Party!! Today we are celebrating another year of school-free life with our awesome community! And the cake turned out so well!
The kids enjoy all the food everyone has bought and then run off to play. I don’t have any photos of the rest of the day as I was too busy enjoying time with my friends! I feel pretty lucky that I actually get to hang out with my friends two whole days a week too.
Then, you guessed it… dancing again.
I have to pick the girls up from dancing at 7.30pm tonight and everyone has to come with me as their Dad is at Hockey training. On the way home they’re remembering the Shakespeare passage we learnt earlier and also recite all the other passages they know. Then they come up with a plan to use the most recent passage when they get home. They’re going to be deliberately noisy to try and get their Dad to tell them to be quiet so that they can say to him, “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?” After a lot of noise, it works, haha, and they’re very pleased with themselves.
The feedback on reading over breakfast today is that they’re loving it! Everything over a meal is better right? It feels like a really nice connecting start to the day. Miss 8 commented that she likes when we all have breakfast at the same time. Often the kids are making their own breakfast whenever they’re hungry and eating at different times. This feels nicer and we’re getting through a lot more of the books and having some great discussions. This morning we talked about accepting all the parts of yourself, if God exists and if it can be proved either way, body systems, and the Permian-Triassic extinction.
This morning we had to go out to the shops for some extra supplies for project fair tomorrow. When we get home, everyone is straight into projects. Miss 8 decides to mosaic a coaster and wants to do a yin-yang symbol she has seen on a friendship necklace before. We look up the meaning of the symbol and talk about it.
Miss 12 is busy doing some tap practice in the garage.
Miss 10 is baking a lemon custard tart for project fair and works on that most of the day, having breaks for dance practice too.
The little girls are playing a game inside and out.
Off to dancing we go again!
This morning we’re up early and have breakfast and reading again! Then it’s time to get ready to go to project fair.
Lots of kids have projects to share and they take turns talking about what they’ve been up to. Some choose not to talk and just display their projects for people to look at. Everyone is able to participate how they feel comfortable.
Miss 12’s greatest interest right now is dancing. She brings along some trophies and medals to show and talks to her friends about what classes she’s doing and competitions she’s been in. Then she shows them some tap steps she’s recently learnt.
Miss 10 serves up her custard tart for everyone to try!
Miss 8 shows her mosaics and answers questions about how she made them.
And Miss 6 brings a solar oven that she made a couple of months ago and cooks smores for friends to try!
Everyone is so supportive and interested in what the others have to say. The girls are inspired by their friends and keen to try some of the things they have seen at home now.
The rest of the day the kids all play. They always enjoy running races at this particular park. Such an awesome day!
And that’s our week! It feels quite impossible to capture everything. The continuous play that happened in between all of these things, the conversations, the quiet times listening to an audiobook, everyone helping with cleaning and jobs around the house. There is just so much that goes on every day but I hope it’s clear to you that unschooling is a life filled with learning, freedom, connection, and joy!
Love this incursion in your unschooling life! I’m curious: how did you end up talking about the Permian-Triassic extinction?!?
We read a couple of pages of a few different nonfiction books every day for read aloud time! Always ends up being fantastic discussions! lol
What a truly lovely and inspiring illustration of the home ed life! Although this time is passed for us now whenever your blog appears on my feed I’m always uplifted to read it over here in the UK as I’m sure others must be. You’re an inspiration! All best wishes. x
I’m curious about your process of choosing the read-aloud books. Specifically, the Shakespeare. (Not specifically which Shakespeare books, but why Shakespeare.)
Hop over to my instagram and you’ll find a highlight on shakespeare: https://www.instagram.com/sara_happiness.is.here/ I talked about it over there and how it came about. Not something I thought we would end up learning about!
Thank you for this wonderful insight into a week of unschooling. The concept of unschooling is very new to me, something I am now considering since my very active 5 year old is having such a hard time adjusting to kindergarten, especially all the sitting and listening involved. This was so helpful in allowing me too understand how it works and making a decision about if it will work for me.
I’m curious how you found your unschooling community? We are a non-religious home and i’m struggling to find resources on how to connect with others in our area. Thank you for your insights and sharing your days!
I have just found your blog this year and love reading about your unschooling life, I have read almost every article you have posted .Its great how much creative arts your girls do and i just love how your photos capture it, as a unschooling mum myself to 3 children in Tasmania, I love knowing there is others here in Australia on the same learning journey.
Enjoying your posts very much. Thank you for posting.