by Kathy Oaks
We’ve got three boys aged 6 to 15, and we have a lot of fun homeschooling. We’ve been homeschooling for a long time—really, since our first son was born. What else is it we’re doing with our kids but helping them learn about life? We do our best to unschool, that is, to follow the interests of the kids and not force them to spend a lot of time doing things they don’t like. Having learning be an exploration, to be fun and exciting, is what we try for around here. We do find that combining some structure to the day with plenty of time for play and child-led learning works well for us. I like structure and so does our oldest, so our days evolved to put some of that in place. We wouldn’t count as radical unschoolers; we’ve tried a number of things over the years and this is what works best for us.
So what does our typical day actually look like? Well, we don’t really have a typical day. Every day is different. Some days the older kids sleep in, other days they get up early. I’m just as happy that they’re not all up at 6am ready to go anymore, although there are days I would prefer that they got up a little earlier. Say, before noon.
We don’t actually have specific times for working on particular things, although that did work for the kids when they were younger. We tried to get everything formal out of the way early so there was more time to play. Now that’s all changed with the teenagers sleeping in whenever they can. Our oldest prefers to do his math late at night when it’s very quiet instead of sitting with me in the mornings, so it’s an ever-evolving dynamic.
One or two days a week we might have nothing scheduled. The younger two boys picked out workbooks to work on for the year; we’ve often used BrainQuest workbooks, but this year they chose different ones. After workbooks and chores are done we have free time to hang around the house and watch videos and learn Japanese on Duo Lingo. Maybe we’ll go to the library or a park, but often it’s nice to take a break from an otherwise busy week to just be with each other and have a down day. Sometimes we get together with a friend or two and go hiking or play board games. Our oldest plays piano with a passion, and is always heading to the piano to play a piece or two.
Our middle son is working on NaNoWriMo this month (National Novel Writers Month) so he writes a little something every day, and on Tuesdays we go to a homeschool NaNoWriMo support group to share novels and learn a little something about character and plot development. He also loves to compose music, although he isn’t as interested in playing pieces on the piano, so he spends a little time most days playing with Garage Band on the iPad.
On Wednesdays the two older boys go to strength training class, and then our oldest takes a math class. He’s also intensely interested in math, and while our husband is perfectly capable of teaching him anything up through differential equations, he prefers the structure of a very small homeschool math class. At least he has dad to help him out if he doesn’t understand something!
Thursdays could be a down day or LARPing (Live Action Role Playing, make believe for big kids) or a day to hang out at home. Our youngest loves to make things, especially mechanical and electrical things, and he spends much of his time working with Lego or Snap Circuits or breadboards and LEDs. He loves science and would be just as happy having us read to him about computers at bedtime (or anytime he’s not immersed in a project) as a book with a plot.
YouTube is our friend. There are so many great educational channels out there, and plenty of things that don’t seem educational on the face of it but are great fun. And the kids learn so much when they’re having fun! TedEd is one of our favorites, as is SciShow, Crash Course, Extra History, Minute Earth and Minute Physics. Half the time when I think the kids are just goofing around online I check and see they’re watching Numberphile or learning about the Japanese samurai dynasties.
Fridays are the busiest days for our older two because they take classes at the Planet Homeschool co-op. While they do take occasional serious courses (and PHS offers quite a few), they really enjoy the opportunity to try out new things. Fencing, ballroom dance, theater and art classes are just a few of the things that they’ve taken over the years we’ve been attending PHS. I teach photography classes at PHS and my husband teaches chemistry and Lego design classes, depending on the semester. This fall we are both teaching, so I bring the boys in early and teach my class, then have some special one-on-one time at home with our youngest while my husband teaches in the afternoon and brings everyone else home at the end of the day.
We have reading, games or movie time in the evenings, and I try to read out loud at least a little bit every night. Sometimes it’s bedtime stories and computer books to our youngest, sometimes it’s novels and non-fiction with the older two. I often read a section or a chapter of whatever non-fiction book we’re working on first before diving into the novel for the night, otherwise we’d spend all our time immersed in novels.
There are plenty of other things that we intersperse throughout our lives. We go to see plays and music, we volunteer, we take workshops and go on field trips. And we travel. We started taking road trips to see family when our oldest was seven, and now we try to get one in every year if possible. The kids bring workbooks and fun activity books, but often we don’t get very far in them. Those are mainly for if they just can’t think of anything else to do. We try to learn as much as we can about the states we’re traveling through, and visit as many state and national parks as we can manage. Then we get to see family, too!
That’s our homeschool experience in a nutshell – a really big nutshell, because it’s so fluid. And it’s ever-changing as the kids mature into different needs and interests, so this synopsis will be completely outdated by this time next year. I just make sure to check in with them frequently to see what’s working and what’s not working, and see what we can do to adjust things so everyone (parents included) get what we need to thrive.
Kathy Oaks is an author, photographer, and secular homeschooler who has been working with children since 1993. She and her husband have been homeschooling their three children since their oldest was born in 2003, and have been MHA members since 2006. Find Kathy at HomeschoolersNotHermits.com and check out her book “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits” on Amazon.