Category Archives: Unschool

6 Questions to Ask When You Are Choosing a Homeschool Program or Co-op

 

If you homeschool, you may consider joining a program, co-op, or school that partners with you to educate your child. Gone are the days of all homeschool students sitting separately at home with no other options. Today, homeschool students can choose from part day, full day, online, or co-op programs taught by multiple parents, depending on the subject area.

Many times, these options offer free, low cost, or moderately priced courses for students. As programs multiply across the U.S., it is important to ask questions before signing a contract, spending money, or allowing your children to attend a program like this.

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  1. Is the program secular, inclusive, or religious?

A secular program will include religion sometimes, but only as a historical or multicultural topic. An inclusive program may choose to celebrate a variety of multicultural holidays and may also choose to add religious information based on history and multiculturalism into lessons. Neither of these is guaranteed, though, because not all programs encompass all topics. If the program is religious, tenants of the religion may be included. There is, again, no guarantee of this and the program organizer may or may not include history or multicultural studies. It is important for parents to find out exactly what will be taught and from what perspective the lessons come.

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  1. How do the instructors handle discipline issues and is there a set of rules/expectations which is easily understood by students and families?

Discipline is tricky. Every parent and course organizer will have their own ideas about what a wise choice is in the classroom. Be sure your ideals line up with expectations during your child’s time in class. If not, then consider the differences and if they are deal-breakers or something you can accept and work with.

  1. If there is a contract, what are the terms? What happens if these terms are broken?

If there is a contract regarding behavior and/or money, be sure to read it carefully many times before signing. Check into the organizer’s reputation and don’t feel bad asking for references. If the person is new to the job, ask for personal instead of work references, if needed. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about background, where the program is headed, and other important topics.

  1. Are families required to purchase curricula or other items separately to bring with them to classes?

Find out if there are any fees. Make sure you know about fees on top of basic tuition. Sometimes materials fees, cancellation fees, or other fees find their way into contracts. Having fees is standard in most programs, but you will want to note specific fees, due dates, and be sure you understand your responsibilities before signing a contract.

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  1. What are the backgrounds and certifications, if any, of your staff and parent volunteers? Are they experienced with special needs?

While teaching certification is important to many people, it is not necessarily the only way to prove that you are qualified in a subject area and to work with children. For example, many times artists make great art teachers even without going to college to become a teacher. You may, however, consider being present if your child has special needs or if the program is new. Safety is important. Second to that is your child having fun while also learning. By keeping a consistent set of expectations and understanding student needs, instructors and parents can produce a developmentally appropriate environment where learning is constant.

  1. Find out what type of educational model is being used.

Generally speaking, students need hands-on activities to help them recall information later. This means games, science projects, discussions, books, and other similar tasks. Lectures should be kept to a minimum. Students should have ample time to learn together to separately depending on their needs and the topic. Make sure to ask which educational model is being used (unschool, classical, thematic units, eclectic, etc) and have the organizer explain what a typical day looks like before assuming they see the style of homeschool the same way you do.

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Joining a program, such as a co-op or school, can greatly encourage you and your children to reach higher and learn more. Finding the right program for your child’s needs and family’s beliefs is a large part of the success or failure when joining a program.

Ask questions, be sure you understand what is expected of you and your child, and have fun!

What Does It Mean To Deschool?

What is deschooling?

When people are new to homeschooling, they often go to groups and ask questions about how to begin. Inevitably, during this type of conversation, the topic of how to deschool comes up. Deschooling occurs when you take the time to relax, realize you are not going to operate your homeschool the way a brick and mortar school is run, and have a chance to recharge your and your child’s energy. Once you are finished deschooling, you and your child should feel energized, renewed, and ready to learn. Many people will not understand this concept of taking a break in order to better utilize future learning. You could explain it as a vacation or mental health break in order to have time to rest and renew interest in learning. Most people understand the idea of a vacation or time off from work due to stress. This is the same concept as deschooling.

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Deschooling can mean reading, playing with toys, or even traveling.

How long does deschooling take?

There is not one way to deschool. Each child or family will do things in their own way. There is no set length of time for deschooling, either. Instead, it is best to take your cues from your child. While you may not let the child make all choices, you can observe behavior and look for signs that he or she is ready to move from deschooling to home or unschooling. I suggest taking at least a week, but possibly several weeks or more depending on the situation. Always be aware of the requirements in your state, but if you are able to choose when your “summer break” is and begin your school year any time during the calendar year, you may choose to begin in a non-traditional month and to take your vacation at a time which is different than when public school students vacation. Again, keep in mind attendance laws and other rules in your state in order to be sure you deschool while leaving enough time to complete what must be done to meet state requirements.

What activities should we do during deschooling?

Many people are concerned about record keeping as well as how to provide an enriching environment while deschooling. This is a hugely important issue to address. Parents want their children to succeed and that is why homeschooling works so well in many cases. My advice is to make sure that you keep a schedule of some sort, for example wake and go to sleep around the same hour each day. Also, leave time during the day to explore toys, activities, documentaries, and play outside or attend local field trips. Do not plan set activities and do not force your child to stick to a rigid school schedule. Instead, leave the time you would normally use for homeschooling open in order to let your child find his or her interests while providing open ended options he or she may choose, if interested. You can, of course, play board games, draw anime, or create movies about your neighborhood if your child is interested in these activities, but they are not graded and have no deadlines. The activities can be completed or left incomplete. The key is to allow the child to have a break from the rigors and forcefulness of some educational models. Do not dictate the activities unless you must limit something, such as screen time, due to behavioral issues.

This is a great opportunity to let your child choose while you observe how the child learns best and, what activities are important to your child. If your child was bullied in school, use this time to work on self-esteem and how to be kind in the face of negativity. If your child found school difficult, work on self-esteem and consider where you may begin once deschooling is complete. Do not stress out if your child wants to watch television or eat junk food all day. If this is an issue again and again, then add a few rules which require outdoor time or the child to play with toys instead of only watch television.

You do not have to move from brick and mortar school directly to a homeschool curriculum. Take time to deschool so that when you do start, you and your child do not begin while being burnt out due to prior stressors. Do observe your child’s interests as well as what is easy or difficult. This will help you to know where to start when homeschooling does begin. Be aware of your state’s laws regarding attendance, work samples, curriculum, and homeschooling. Remember, not everyone has to deschool, but if you feel that you and your child need to take some time to reset your goals, ideas of what school looks like, or other concerns, then deschooling is probably a wise choice for your family.

If you would like more information about deschooling, homeschooling, unschooling, or behavior concerns, please contact me for a consultation. I am happy to put my years of working with students and families to work in order to help your family.

Homeschool Tips for Single Parents

There is a growing number of single parents who homeschool. It seems like I meet someone every week who has gone this route. Some folks have remarried while others are still single. But many have spent time as a single, homeschooling, parent. Because I am currently in the same boat, I wanted to share a few tips to (I hope) help make your life easier.

 

  1. Use a schedule. Yes, as in write it up and follow it. You don’t have to be strict about the schedule unless you need for it to be strict. Even a relaxed schedule can work.
I have included an example schedule. Remember that unschool parents do not insist on certain lessons at certain times so the schedule is a basic outline rather than a concrete schedule planned out by the hour. Also keep in mind that my family is not considered radical unschoolers. As in all groups, there are sub-groups. Though radical unschooling is a wonderful way to live life, it is not the unschooling model my family uses at this time.

I have included an example schedule. You can be as specific or open as you want to be. This schedule may for unschoolers and relaxed homeschoolers.

2. Plan ahead even if you unschool. Talk with your children about their interests and what things they want to work on during the week, month, or semester. Then, plan academic activities, child care, classes, and field trips around your work schedule and the interests of the children. If everything is prepped and on your calendar, you can see conflicts in advance and plan accordingly.

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3. Find a village of support. I am not joking. You need local people who support you emotionally and in person with actual, physical help like childcare and carpools. Look for other homeschool families with similar interests, values, and who are kind. Reciprocate as well. Perhaps you carpool on Mondays, and the other parent carpools on Tuesdays. Keep in mind that sometimes a nanny or sitter will be willing to also tutor or shuttle kids to and from activities.

4. Take care of yourself. (I’ll wait while you stop laughing at this idea.) I have difficulty with this item on the list so I can understand those who think it is impossible. But, at the very least, we should try to do this. Our health, safety, and happiness directly affect our children’s well being.

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5. Ask for help. It’s okay to not know everything. It is okay to need assistance from time to time. Don’t be afraid to let your kids help out, either. My five year old is so very ready to be independent that he did the laundry last week. I had no idea that he could reach all the necessary buttons!

Remember, you can do this! If you choose homeschool or unschool you can create a fruitful, academic environment in which  your children will flourish. It takes some planning, some will power, and a healthy dose of being realistic. But, if I can do it. You can do it. 🙂

 

What On Earth Do Unschoolers Do All Day?

I am often asked what exactly unschooled students do all day long. After all, they are not forced to comply with a particular curriculum or program. State standards and Common Core are not chosen by the parents. So what do unschoolers do all day?

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Unschooling is the practice of student-chosen, student-led learning. The unschool educational model encourages lifelong learning rather than a race to a finish line or a race to a test score. A parent who allows unschooling encourages a child’s interests even if that means the child is not doing book work and tests.

So what does a day in an unschooled child’s life look like?

Some unschool students like to be outdoors playing, climbing, and exploring. Other students ask for worksheets and classes. Sometimes children choose to use a computer game to learn coding skills all day. However, most children choose a mixture of activities. The idea is that parents support a child’s choices rather than the parents choosing for the child. This not only gives the student power to follow his interests, but also enables the pursuit of learning without the constraints of testing or a one size fits all curriculum. Read on to see a few examples of unschool life.

Example 1

Joey likes to play Minecraft. He joined a club so he can learn to code. He wants to create his own mod for the game. He also joined a club where he works on pixel art. He wants to design graphic t-shirts and create his own website. Joey recently went to the library to check out books about coding. His mom cannot understand coding, yet Joey has already mastered Java utilizing books, his classes, and YouTube.

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Example 2

Elise wants to be a chef. She thinks about foods, recipes, and dish presentation all day long. She chose to take a class about making sushi recently. She then began a website with a blog. She now reviews restaurants, writes about new recipes she creates, and uses her blog to explain fractions to younger children. Elise found reading difficult when she was five years old, but by age eight she had renewed interest and read through several chapter books each day. Her mother chalks this up to waiting until she was developmentally ready and interested in reading. After all, everyone develops at their own pace.

Example 3

Trevor loves to be outdoors. He paints, sketches, takes photographs, and more. He also enjoys hosting small meetups with other students to discuss plants and animals native to his area. He often brings examples of leaves for others to try to name. He recently used his birthday money to buy a microscope and guidebook. Trevor now enjoys gathering soil and water samples, then deciphering what is in each sample. He hopes to be an environmental scientist one day. Trevor will begin dual enrollment courses at the local college once he is old enough.

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As you can see, there is not one way to unschool. Unschooling does not mean doing nothing. Parents may be involved in supporting the child any number of ways. Paying for classes, having discussions, driving a child to the library, and other similar actions are supportive of an unschool education. Students choose. Parents support. That is unschooling. Unschooling is not a lack of education, but a lack of forced education where a student cannot choose topics and activities.

 Feel free to contact me to schedule a speaking event, an unschool consultation, or

a Florida unschool evaluation.

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Stop Dilly Dallying! (Read the book!)

 

 Child Reading

Yesterday my son wanted to read (as usual) so we sat down with several of his favorite books. I asked him a question about the main character and he answered, then excitedly opened the book to the first page of text. I began to read, then paused to ask another question. He became impatient and stated firmly, “Stop dilly dallying. I WANT to hear the story.” I was taken back for a moment. After all, I am a teacher by trade and part of learning to be an “effective teacher” is knowing how to ask open ended questions and help children make connections while reading texts.

Even though we unschool, I still find myself going back to my old ways. Sure, it is okay for me to ask a genuine question for my information. However, my child just wants to hear the stinkin’ book and I really shouldn’t interrupt his enjoyment of reading. If I interrupt often, he may decide that reading is no longer fun or worthwhile. Truth be told, it really isn’t my right to interrupt a story. I would be irate if someone interrupted my favorite story! Why would it be okay to interrupt his favorite story? It isn’t. It just isn’t.

When I interrupt, even with the best of intentions, I am sabotaging a few things. I am breaking my son’s concentration which reinforces a short attention span rather than allowing a longer attention span to grow. No wonder children have such short attention spans even in upper grades. WE, teachers and parents, interrupt them constantly in order to meet our curriculum standards, our schedule, and our goals. (We also tend to use topics not chosen by students which means they may not be invested in learning the information, but that is a topic for another post.)

 

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When I interrupt, I cause a break in the fluidity of the author’s story. How can a child learn the ebb and flow of a story or chapter without hearing stories, or a chapter, from beginning to end? Yes, we can list the parts of a well written story, but children can and should learn to write their own stories through reading and hearing uninterrupted examples of stories. Plus, the author would have noted any breaks the reader should take when reading the text. Besides, it is a reader’s right to use his imagination to help him understand a story. My questions can throw this creative process off balance.

When I interrupt, I take the fun out of the story. My child will ask me if he has a question. He will let me know how long he wants to look at an illustration and when he is ready to turn a page. It is not my job to interrupt. It is my job to be here to read with him, answer his questions, and discuss the information when he wants to expand his knowledge.

 

This topic is a difficult one for me, personally. I spent many years teaching canned curriculum easily fall to old habits. (Canned lessons are the curriculum for each subject which is pre-written by a large company. Though I could scaffold lessons to meet the needs of all learners, I still had to follow the topics and standards listed in the lessons.) Going forward, I will work to catch myself before I interrupt a story to ask questions. Yes, my child will learn the conventions of language, reading, and writing. No, I will not interrupt his enjoyment of books in order to teach the topics I prefer to teach. I must trust my child to let me know when he has a question. He will learn organically if I step back from the bossy behaviors which have become my pattern and let it happen.

Yes, I will “stop dilly dallying” and read the story.

*If you want to do this, too, but feel you must also interrupt at times, then please read the book aloud at least once before interrupting the story to practice reading and comprehension strategies.

 

If you want more information or to attend a reading training session or to get more information, please contact me at the link found here. Let me put my experience to work for you!

 

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Yes, We Unschool. Yes, We Have a Schedule.

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I am going to share something that may make me “less” of an unschooler. It may not be the popular unschooling ideal, but this is what my family does and it works in our situation.

Yes, we unschool. Yes, we have a schedule.

Here’s the deal. I have to work. I am single. I have mouths to feed. Even with support payments, there is still a need for me to work. So I work and we have a schedule. The schedule is not meant to be rigid or to force educate. The schedule helps my children know who to see in case they want or need help with academic learning, a life skill, or any other concern. My children may need to speak with a sibling and work as a team or check with our fantastic sitter if I happen to be “on the clock”. We practice what to do and how to do it if I am busy with work. I make sure the children know when I am available and how to let me know if there is an emergency which cannot wait.

 

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Another issue is that each family member has classes, projects, and events. The children individually choose these activities, but the entire family often has to go out because I am the one responsible for transportation. By using a schedule, we each have an opportunity to plan around the times when we will be out. Also, if there are scheduling conflicts, there is a chance to correct the issue in advance.

 

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I would prefer no schedule. I would prefer to have a chauffeur for each child. But in reality, this will never happen. (Okay, there is always a tiny chance I could win the lotto, but I’m not holding my breath.)

Yes, we unschool. Yes, we have a schedule and we are happy with that fact.

 

I have included an example schedule. Remember that unschool parents do not insist on certain lessons at certain times so the schedule is a basic outline rather than a concrete schedule planned out by the hour. Also keep in mind that my family is not considered radical unschoolers. As in all groups, there are sub-groups. Though radical unschooling is a wonderful way to live life, it is not the unschooling model my family uses at this time.

I have included an example schedule. Remember that unschool parents do not insist on certain lessons at certain times so the schedule is a basic outline rather than a concrete schedule planned out by the hour. Also keep in mind that my family is not considered radical unschoolers. As in all groups, there are sub-groups. Though radical unschooling is a wonderful way to live life, it is not the unschooling model my family uses at this time.