Our First Year of Unschooling, in Review

our first year of unschooling

The school year is winding down for kids in Canada.

Not that Lydia — now almost six — would know. We spent the year “unschooling.”

At the start of the school year (i.e. last September), I thought I might implement daily lessons or at least set aside special time for schoolish stuff every day. That lasted about a month.

I guess I could see that Lydia was learning plenty without my interference. She also started to really resist my attempts to instruct her on things. And since I really, truly believe that children learn best when they’re driven by their own interests, and that they can learn everything they need without formal instruction, I just let it go. At least for another year.

So we just continued to live life, the way we had for her first four years.

We had fun, we read piles of books, and I answered her questions or helped her find solutions when she came to me with them. And she learned and learned and learned.

We didn’t try to slice learning up into different “subjects,” but as I reflect on our past year, I feel we covered a pretty good range.

Here’s a bit of a recap of our first year of unschooling.

(Note on photos: most of these were taken with my cheap Android inside our darkish house during the darkish Canadian months of Sept-May. Apologies about the quality.)

Socializing

I know this is a big concern for a lot of people, and the reason many parents send their kids to school. I felt we got a great amount of socializing in without school.

Since we didn’t have to be anywhere in particular most days, we had lots of chances to just hang out with friends in the mornings and afternoons. We got together with a few other homeschooling families when we got the chance. We went to the park, met at the petting zoo, and went for walks in the forest. We visited the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch in the fall. Lydia and I stopped in at the local forest school a couple of times, too.

friends

picnic

forest school

One of the coolest things was that I was able to exchange weekly babysitting services with another homeschooling friend, meaning that twice a week, Lydia got to spend a whole day with a friend. They’re becoming like sisters (including the squabbling.)

dressup

Literacy

harry potter

To my surprise (and admittedly, dismay — I majored in literature for six years), Lydia showed little interest in learning to read and write this year. I tried a few lessons from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but she just wouldn’t have it.

So I didn’t push it. Dutch kids aren’t taught to read and write until about age seven, yet they scored at the top of educational achievement and participation in the latest UNICEF study. Waldorf schools do the same. So I’m not too worried. When she wants to learn, I’m sure she’ll pick it up no problem.

Sometimes she would want to write a note to a friend or label a drawing and would ask me how to spell it out. To her annoyance I just helped her sound it out until she had something readable. She knows what letters make what sounds, for the most part.

We also played with her moveable alphabet, figuring out how to spell names from her latest media obsession.

moveable alphabet - how to train your dragon

moveable alphabet - tmnt

Most of all, we read books. Stacks and stacks of picture books. We visited the library almost weekly. Before bed, I always read a few chapters aloud from a novel.

library(bringing home the library haul)

Eventually I know she’ll want to do it on her own, but for now I’m cherishing reading aloud to her.

Math

We learned a lot about geometry by playing with our Spielgaben set. We went through the learning guide that came with it, and she really enjoyed it.

spielgaben - symmetry game(playing with symmetry)

pyramid

geometry pizza - spielgabengeometry pizza

She enjoys counting and doing basic adding and subtracting, just in everyday life. She was so proud the first time she counted to 100 by herself.

We also went through a few Bedtime Math books, which she loved.

Science

microscope

Science has been one of Lydia’s favourite subjects this year, though she doesn’t know that. She just knows she likes books about bones, bodies, plants, and animals.

I also bought her a microscope which was a big hit (We got this one, and are completely delighted with it. A great price for a fantastic piece of equipment). We spent hours poring over slides and specimens. We were surprised by the appearances of kitchen ingredients and different fabrics under the microscope. And we were amazed the see the microsopic creatures swimming around in a single drop of pond water.

We went to a museum in the middle of the week when it was nice and empty.

museum

Art

art

Painting and drawing have been a huge part of Lydia’s life since she first picked up a crayon, and this year was no different.

I went through an obsessive phase learning about watercolours, and she watched every Youtube video with me that she could.

painting with watercolours

Time in Nature

mushrooms

This kind of falls under science, but I thought I’d make it a separate category.

Skipping the classroom meant we had plenty of time to spend outside. We took lots of walks around the neighbourhood and nature parks, looking at plants and animals. That was really important to me.

Practical Life

Staying home also meant lots of time to help out around the house. Since mornings weren’t rushed, she was able to make her bed and put away her laundry every day. She enjoyed helping in the kitchen, too.

dough

cooking

I think that covers most of it!

I didn’t spend a minute regretting our choice to unschool, or wishing we had done anything differently. I’m looking forward to many more years of learning together!

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Comments

  1. You are doing a great job and it sounds like it was wonderful!!!
    I like that you just started to learn together about things from reading books and such. That is awesome. Homeschooling can be tough but fun and hard but rewarding.
    Great job on your first year. You did really great!
    Victoria / Jutsice Pirate recently posted..10 Things I Love About MeMy Profile

  2. Thank you so much for these lovely images and descriptions, Kathleen. Brings back so many fond memories: the microscope, beginning knife-handling, open-ended time in nature. It’s been eleven years since my daughter graduated from home education. We unschooled all the way through. She, too, learned all the letter sounds early and seemed to then almost willfully resist reading. Your description of Lydia’s annoyance at having to “sound out” words to write notes really hit home! Keep up the good work and trust your instincts. With the encouragement of other local unschoolers, I was able to allow my daughter to bloom in her own time, actively protecting her from people who didn’t understand. I struggled with my own issues about it and thankfully found good support. Eventually, when she was eleven, she went from not reading to reading adult science fiction all in one Summer!

    • Thanks, Leslie! I LOVE hearing from families further along in the unschooling/homeschooling journey. Helps me to believe we’re doing okay! Thanks for being a trailblazer!

  3. This is really great.

    I admire a lot about you. I admire your beauty, creativity, simple living, and natural life.

    Take care

  4. Thank you!!! You basically summed up the way my school year with my 5 year old went, and it helped me breathe a sigh of relief. Except in my mind I was torturing myself by seeing the school books gathering dust day after day, and letting myself feel like failure when it came to being a homeschooling mom. But when I look at it through your eyes I realize that my child loves books and reading, science and history, cooking with me and learning about nature, art and music and most of all being with family and friends…so it looks like I did manage to teach my child quite a bit this last year, even without the schedule. (And it’s so obvious that Lydia had a lot of fun while doing all these activities too! Double win!!)

    You’re awesome for teaching your daughter so much and I’m so inspired by your perspective, because it will help me be much more reasonable and kind with my expectations of both my children and myself! I needed that reset to focus on the big picture before September when she “should” be starting kindergarten. Thank you!

  5. This sounds wonderful! I have very limited knowledge about homeschooling, as our Swedish laws and regulations regarding education make it practically impossible here. Reading your post, I realise that what you are doing comes close to my own personal ideas on how education really should be done, and for someone with virtually no experience of homeschooling it is really inspiring to see these ideas actually implemented. I look forward to read more abut your further progress!

    I found your blog some years ago, and have been checking in more or less regularly since then. I don’t think I’ve commented before, though I really should had for several reasons. One could be that I have not used shampoo for about a year now, much thanks to your posts about the alternatives. Another that you have been an inspiration in several ways, including your thoughts on overall minimalism, parenting, not wearing shoes, and the concept of creation care. Though there are many others writing about these things your pages have often been where I’ve first been introduced to them, or at least first took interest.

    Thanks!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Edvin! That really means a lot to me!

      I would feel very frustrated if I couldn’t homeschool! But I do hear good things about the Swedish education system, so hopefully it’s still satisfactory for you. THanks so much for commenting!

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