Posted in education, extraschooling, Home

This Eclectic Life

Which way do you like to homeschool?

I’m still working on fully defining this for myself – and it could prove ever-changing, since homeschool allows for, and even breeds, such evolution. We certainly fall under eclectic, meaning I pull from many different resources and methods to sculpt something that fits us. I would say my style is probably a blend of three main types: traditional, unschooling, and interest-led.

As a homeschool/unschool graduate myself, it might strike some as odd that I have an element of the traditional in me, but I do. I am the offspring of teachers, so perhaps it is in my blood – or an unconscious nod to how permeated our culture is with a certain concept of what “school” looks like… Or maybe it simply speaks to my personality. Whatever it is, I both like and feel the need (which I don’t always like) for some structure, some bookwork, and a little grind-it-out mentality.

However… I also struggle with how stifling open-and-shut projects and ideas can be. I prefer to learn and teach in an organic, exploratory fashion. If you ever pick up an Extraschooling book, you will find the essence of what I enjoy. Something will come along and catch my interest, which will remind me of something else, which will inspire me to share some knowledge, and then we’ll be off down some rabbit hole on an adventure. Those books show the paper version of so many explorations we’ve undertaken. In fact, I’ve often said my son would make a perfect unschooler. He has such a boundless curiosity and the enthusiasm to see it through.

But… I can only venture just so far into the unschooling world myself. While I think it can be an amazing way to learn that has the potential to build skill sets hard to achieve many other ways, it has its downfalls as well. As much as anything, I have struggled with some of the community. For a philosphy that begs to have a very relaxed mindset, I have often found it anything but, and I struggle when it gets taken to the extremes, as I feel boundaries, rules, expectations, and so forth can be helpful for all of us.

I probably find it the most comfortable to settle into the notion of an interest-led approach. This is a bit separate from the term child-led, however. Education in this house is a joint venture; I certainly learn as much as he does, and we dive into our schooling side by side. I love helping him explore his passions, but I think it’s important to share my own, too, as well as those of others, so that he has a treasure trove of ideas to enhance his current collection. This also goes along with the concept that we don’t know what we don’t know; my dad always talked about the benefits of exposure to a wide array of topics, and I now subscribe to that wholeheartedly myself.

…Which can then lead back to some traditional studies. And so the circle keeps on going round.

A hard part about all this is finding the right community, as I don’t quite seem to fit in most that I’ve tried. I like to walk the middle of the road much of the time and keep my options open. I also struggle with social media – when we aren’t face-to-face, and when we are typing rather than speaking, much can get lost – and then take a turn for the worse. With all this in mind, I’ve decided to take the plunge and create a community of my own. Want to come along for the adventure?

Let’s build an open, friendly, safe space to share in each other’s journey. The Extraschooling Community Support group on Facebook has just launched and is open to everyone who joins in their child’s education – and especially to all the folks who are almost-not-quite-ish, un-label-able sorts. Let’s celebrate this eclectic life together!

Posted in education, extraschooling, Home

Curious Minds

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How important is curiosity to you?

I have said before that, for me, it might be at the top of the list of the 4 C’s. It is such a vital element of how we learn around here, with a question or hypothesis launching an exploration into new terrain. I have also named it as the first word I think of to describe my son; his mind is always rolling over the possibilities in anything he comes across.

But is this the case for everybody? It doesn’t quite seem so. Much has been said, in one forum or another, about whether public school crushes innate curiosity in children. I think it can, but it doesn’t have to. There are various factors that can lead to its diminishment, but none are a definite death knoll. I’ve seen some parents say their children simply aren’t curious by nature, and perhaps that is possible. I have a feeling though that curiosity is a pretty innate drive in us, as it is one of the forces that led to all the great discoveries and inventions that humankind is known for, and spurred us to ask some of the fundamental questions of life, such as. “Is that edible?” and “What’s that noise in the bushes over there?” Probably everyone has wondered at least once, “Where do we come from?” or something similar, or I’m not sure that either astronomy or religion would exist.

So, yes, I think we all have at least a degree of curiosity within us. This (of course!) begs the questions, How important is it in your household? and What do you do to cultivate it?

Some points to ponder:

  • Do you have active interests or question things in your day-to-day?
  • Do your kids see this, or is it something you pursue in your downtime?
  • Do you encourage discussion and debate over a wide range of topics, or are some off-limits or closed subjects?
  • Is disagreement okay?
  • Do you help your kids find answers to their questions, applaud their interest, and/or counter with a follow-up question of your own?
  • Are there any “dumb questions”?
  • Are you comfortable working with an unknown concept?
  • For abstract questions, do you provide concrete answers or an array of possibilities and why some people believe in various ones?

When it comes to education, I am definitely someone who prefers to learn organically. I start with a rough idea and see where it takes me. I might get inspired and dive deep or I can fizzle out and move on to the next great thing, but one thing that I just don’t do well is plan. Recipes, instructions, or any other sort of step-by-step how-to’s are just not in my wheelhouse. If I do an experiment, I’m likely to not look ahead to see what’s supposed to happen. If I do, I then become goal-oriented, and it becomes about the destination rather than the journey. Not only is much of the fun lost (for both of us), but the extra chances to learn are as well.

Lessons, projects, and experiments in books are often written with a formula such as: Do steps 1 through 5 and X will happen because of blah, blah, and blah, as discovered by so-and-so.

Ummm… did you have the chance to wonder about, oh, anything?

What if it said this instead: Try doing X, Y, or Z. What do you think might happen? What did happen? How do those two compare? Does this make you think of anything else? Who first decided to try this out? Why? Did this lead to any other discoveries?

I tend to avoid close-ended projects in favor of an interest-led style because, while the former is not guaranteed to crush curiosity, the latter is giving it room to grow. There are times for cut-and-dry lesson plans that get a point across, can be wrapped up quickly, and get you to the next thing or offer a sense of accomplishment when complete. Time, confidence in being able to “teach” what you may not know yourself (really better called something like guided exploration rather than teaching), resources, and other factors can dictate the way learning is approached. However, I think it’s crucial to find time at least occasionally to explore something in an open-ended way – and the more this is done, the easier it becomes and the more opportunities for it are discovered.

Cultivating curiosity is also a two-way street. My son is naturally curious, but there’s some nurturing in there, too. We feed off each other and lob ideas back and forth. Unknowns are not a thing around here; if a question is hanging out there unanswered, the refrain of, “Let’s look it up!” is soon to be heard.

Here’s some ways to begin integrating it into your typical day-to-day routine:

  • Mealtimes or car rides are perfect moments to have a “What if…?” type of conversation or discussion of a news item. Switch out who brings the topic, and try to find ones that have multiple viewpoints or possibilities. What will they find at the “edge of the universe”?  Why did someone first decide to write something down? What is the right amount of screen time?
  • Have everyone pick an item from around the house and then make guesses as to where, when, and why it originated.
  • Read a random chapter or passage from a book at bedtime and try to concoct a story around it. How did the characters get where they are? Where should they head off to next? What inspired the author to write the book?
  • Grab a food from the kitchen while making dinner and examine it. If it is a fresh item such as produce, consider why it might have the color, shape, texture, etc, that it does. Where is it from? Who eats it? What does the rest of the plant look like? How has it been cultivated? Is it native or introduced? If it is a prepared food, where was it first created and how has it been modified? What sort of nutritional content does it have?
  • When there is something someone in the family either loves or can’t stand, take it a step further. What makes for the strong reaction? Are there related things that might bring out a very different response? Why is this? And why do certain subjects make us feel deeply in the first place? What topics universally elicit such emotion? What does this say about us?
  • Send everyone off to find 3 or so questions. Any questions. We did this recently and my son brought back ones like, Who invented hammocks? Why does a branch decide to form where it does? and How is salt made? They may take 2 minutes to answer or inspire 2 weeks of exploration… Run with it!

On the flip side, if curiosity is not high on your list, then that will (of course!) lead me to ask – So, what is? …Let me know in the comments.

Happy exploring!

Posted in education, extraschooling

Homeschool Reality Check

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What does it mean to be homeschooled?

There was a time when those of us who were homeschoolers were just that… Homeschoolers. It wasn’t that long ago either. Now, though – phew! You might be unschooling, Funschooling, gameschooling, wildschooling, roadschooling, or virtual schooling. You might be Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Eclectic, or Waldorf-Inspired. You might do unit studies, block scheduling, interest-led, or boxed curriculum. And don’t forget to deschool if you were originally in public school!

It makes my head spin, and I’m a veteran at this stuff. I’m rather amazed newcomers ever manage to wade through the overwhelming pile of terminology and get to what’s really important: the learning.

It doesn’t matter how you go about it. Seriously. What matters? That it works for your family. How do you get there? What does that mean? Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth.

Take your time. There is no rush. There is no ticking clock with a bell that is going to ring periodically. You do not have to start at 8 am on a late-August morning. You do not have to be mindful of days of the week, holidays, or any other time constraint the school around the corner does, nor do you have hundreds of kids to attend to. You have the luxury of time.

Start slow. Don’t try to figure it all out at once. You may have a hunch what your schooling style will be, but let it evolve. Depending on your choice, it can range from dirt cheap to really expensive, so test the waters. I always recommend starting off with an inexpensive book or two to cover math and English basics, then spending a lot of time playing games, reading, exploring interests, and other low-key activities. If you run across a resource that seems to fit, ask around (hint: when looking for advice, ask for the why in any opinion; that will give you a better understanding of if it will work in your situation) or test it out. There may be free samples, giveaways, or used options out there to begin with. Build over time in this way, until you feel you have a solid collection or know you want to invest in something specific.

Find your balance. Ignore labels and boxes. You may be a structured homeschooler using a grade-oriented boxed curriculum 4 days a week, but there’s nothing stopping you from unschooling the rest of the time. Or vice versa – let them have at all week long, but maybe Saturdays are workbook bonanzas. It’s okay. We all fall at different points along the schedule spectrum. Some of us (ahem) are a little disorganized but require at least a pretense of structure. Others have their ducks in a straighter row but like to let their hair down now and then. I’m betting all methods have their pluses and their minuses… The only thing you need to adhere to are the laws for where you live. The rest? Bahhhh. If I had to label our style, I believe I’d invent a new term altogether: Medley-schooling.

Grow your village. Be it family, friends, people in your community, fellow homeschoolers, or online groups, expand your circle. Homeschooling is amazing, but it can also be a lot. Not everyone relishes every aspect of it, and we all need some support at times, not to mention inspiration, commiseration, advice, sounding boards, and regular infusions of humor. Lots and lots of humor!

Know your goals. This is two-fold. You will undoubtedly have your own goals for homeschooling, but there are a couple big, universal goals to any education out there, and if your version is achieving them, you’re set. The overarching goal is to nurture a lifelong learner. This is done by first fostering or maintaining a love of learning and encouraging curiosity and exploration. Then it is fortified with the ability to learn, a working knowledge of how to ask the right questions, find the right resources, and absorb the right information to propel oneself forward in life. If you have those in your back pocket, you can set your course in any direction you wish and find your way.

Embrace change. What works today may not tomorrow. We change, we grow – it’s natural. Luckily, homeschooling is malleable and can adapt to your needs. Adjust anything at any time, put stuff on hold for a while, or take a time-out from routine to go off on a lark. Education should be an adventure, so see where it takes you.

Remember the words way up at the top of this page: Explore, learn, laugh, grow, repeat. They’re more important to keep track of than all those terms I listed at the beginning. Homeschooling sure seems a lot more complicated than when I was a kid, but it really isn’t. The upside of the astounding variety of choices is that there are a lot of really great resources out there now, and homeschooling is far more popular and mainstream. If you need additional help sorting it all out, there are three versions now of the Extraschooling Guided Planner & Journal: same information to assist you in navigating your way, different sizes because… You know. That schedule thing. Different strokes for different folks, as my dad would say.

See them on Amazon:

90-Day Jumpstart

180-Day

Year-Round

Posted in education, extraschooling

Back to School… Or Staying Home?

It is somehow already August… There are kids starting back to school, and others will be following in a week or two. What will school look like this fall? It is still quite up in the air, it seems. In our area the Delta variant of COVID-19 is spiking at the same time that the local school board has voted to no longer require masks. The collision of the two issues is causing many in the community to feel uncertain and reconsider their options. Thinking on one’s toes and being able to pivot as needed has definitely been the name of the game for the last year and a half now!

I hope that wherever you and your family are, you feel safe, comfortable, and confident about your choices for fall. For our part, it is an exciting time as this is going to be the first year our homeschool will be officially registered with the state. If you are in our same situation, you may want to try our project from last summer, Name That School, to get everyone excited about your launch. You may also want to check out the Homeschool Supply Checklist to see if there are any items you want to add.

Additionally, I am thrilled to say across this year I have begun working on homeschool journals and planners, and the very first one appeared on Amazon just yesterday! It is geared especially toward new homeschoolers who are trying to sort through the noise and get their footing, figure out their style, and gather materials that will work for them. However, if you’ve been homeschooling for a while but want to explore deeper or change things up a bit, it’s got you covered too. This is a 90-day crash course to get your thoughts organized and test-drive your methods. This month there is a giveaway on the Extraschooling Facebook page, so be sure to enter – like, share, and leave a comment about why you enjoy homeschooling and your name will be added in a random drawing to win a free copy of the book at the end of the month.

This coming week the “Look inside” feature should become available on Amazon, but in the meantime, I’ll post a couple of sample pages to give a sense of what to expect. The idea is not for the book to tell you what to do, but rather to ask the questions that will help you find your own answers, and to do so in a progressive way, where one topic builds on the next. One of the things I really love about the 90-Day Guided Planner & Journal – that will feature in all of the ones to follow as well – is a scrapbook section to collect the fun (and funny) moments along the way. One of the biggest assets we can have is a good sense of humor! One of my all-time favorite lines from my son was when he was 3 and I was asking him to identify shapes. I pointed to a circle and he exuberantly announced, “Roundtangle!” These are the moments to treasure.

So, happy August! For everyone – homeschoolers, public schoolers, private schoolers, and any other schoolers, including lifelong learners of all ages – I hope this upcoming season finds you happy, healthy, and hopeful. We all could do with more of that these days! Keep your chin up, keep making the decisions that are best for your family, and keep smelling those roses. Here’s to the new school season!

UPDATE:

The flip-through video here is for the original version of the 90-Day Jumpstart Guided Planner & Journal. I have since improved the Filing Cabinet and planner sections… But the front matter still has all the same great tips, prompts, and information!

Posted in education, extraschooling

What Are They Supposed to be Learning, Anyway?

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…And are we capable of teaching it?

For some people, the idea of homeschooling seems monumental. If you aren’t a certified teacher, can you teach? What if you weren’t a straight-A student yourself? What if you didn’t even like school?

Well. Then you’re like many of us. Don’t sweat it.

I was recently reading posts discussing reasons to homeschool, fears of new homeschoolers, and common criticisms doled out from those who opt for public school. There were some common themes repeated in each category. For reasons, there were comments like freedom to choose what to study and how, being able to better assist those with special needs, getting more time as a family, avoiding bullying, the ability to set your own schedule, not being tied down geographically, and simply the love of helping your child learn.

The fears and criticisms were generally closely linked, and one was definitely at the top: Am I/Are you capable? (The whole socialization debate – a close second! – we can save for another time!)

One refrain made me laugh. To answer if they were capable, several made the argument that they went to public school, so if it is such a great thing, then they should be able to handle it. It is an amusing quip, but not exactly the answer I give. First though, let me fill you in on my hodgepodge of an education.

I went to preschool. This is the one “grade,” if you will, I ever completed in public school, though I went to most of kindergarten. After that I was homeschooled by my father through the sixth grade. Up until the last year he created our entire curriculum. It was a mix between what would now be considered more unschooling and using thrift-store textbooks. The final year he taught us we were traveling, and he ordered a bunch of workbooks from a homeschool catalog. By the time I would’ve entered seventh grade, he said we needed to be self-starting in our education, and that was the end of that. I wound up having to attend about 4 months of the 8th grade in a public school, then when I turned 17 I borrowed prep books from the library, studied for two weeks, and got my GED. A few years later I attended a few semesters in a community college before realizing my propensity for dropping out of classes was an expensive habit. I was willing to go back to a trade school for a specific purpose if the need arose, but school for the sake of a degree was just not for me. So of course it follows that now I love creating lessons and helping kids learn…

But to get back to the point. When I am asked if I am concerned about my ability to teach my son, the answer is no. Few of us remember the endless, time-filling trivia of school. What you need from an education is this:

  • the ability to function under pressure (take a test)
  • the ability to gather your thoughts into a cohesive argument (write a paper)
  • to know how to find answers (research techniques)
  • to be curious and enjoy learning

Obviously along the way the basics (ABC’s, 123’s, etc) fit in there, but these four things will get you far in life. For instance, you may not know how to do a new job right off the bat, but if you have the ability to communicate and know how to find answers, chances are you’ll master it quickly. And though this post obviously is with homeschooling in mind, I want to be clear that I am in no way saying these cannot be achieved in public school or any other format; I would merely say that regardless of how your family chooses to educate, these are some good standards by which to evaluate how any system is working. If all four boxes are getting checked, it seems you’re on the right path, whatever it may be.

The beauty of homeschooling to me is that you can really cultivate the love of learning, and focus on building these essential traits, rather than filling hours and days and weeks with busywork. You don’t have a quota or a boss or finals breathing down your neck; pick topics that matter, and then approach them in a way that makes that clear. If they come alive, they’ll be better remembered, and offer a frame of reference for others.

The last point I would make was one I saw repeated constantly in all those posts: if you arm your children well along the way, you cease holding the lead role in their education right around the time they might hit into subjects we no longer recall how to explain. At this point your position changes to that of facilitator, while they take the reins and run with it. So whether you’re trying to do all their schooling at home or adding enrichment on the side, just know: you are fully qualified, because you care enough to be trying to be even better.


Posted in education, extraschooling

Join in the Journey

That is likely the first thing anyone who visits this site sees. So what does it mean? I said in another post that in the old journey vs destination debate, I am a journey kind of person; and that is at the heart of a lot of the suggestions and ideas that you will find me posting on here.

One of my favorite things at this stage of my life is inspiring that spark of curiosity in kids – that sudden light in their eyes, the look when those gears start chugging away in their brains. I don’t actually write these posts because I love to write; what I love is to feed a love of learning in people. We are all born with it, so it seems a shame if it is ever allowed to die out.

Give me a topic, and I will enjoy the challenge of creating a way to bring it to life. I enjoy tailoring learning opportunities to engage people. But what I don’t have any interest in doing is making a neat package that can be tied up in a bow, something that guarantees a frame-able finished product in 15 minutes or less. That is just not my style. I like to dig in and get my hands dirty when I learn, and the end result is something discovered when I get there. With the chance it will have zero reflection on where I started.

What I’m trying to say is this: I like projects that are open-ended, much in the way a good reporter’s questions should be. Occasionally I may have one whole thought on a matter and be able to deliver it in set steps, but more often it will be more like a smattering of suggestion. The instructions are probably going to read like this most times: start with ingredients A, B, an C. But you could add D, Q, Y or 5. Mix to taste and see if it needs a little pepper. Bake if desired, or freeze into popsicles, depending on temperature and preference.

I use a cooking metaphor because that is essentially how I cook; I glance at a couple recipes, halfway merge the most interesting parts, stir in whatever strikes my fancy past that, and see what happens. To simplify: I look for a little direction, a little inspiration, and then I do my thing. And THAT is what I mean by the journey, and THAT is what I want to do for anyone looking at this site for lesson ideas for their kids. I want to give you a baseline thought, a few suggested ways of pursuing it, and then let you run with it where ever you wish. Where ever it takes you. (Additionally I will strive for fairly simple and always low- or no-cost.) I don’t want to hand you a destination. I want to hand you a path to explore, at your own pace and in your own way.

Ideally, I would love to build a community where we can all peek in from time to time when we’re feeling a little “teacher’s block” or whatever you may call it. I get it too! Are you stuck for ideas on how to get the ball rolling on a certain subject? Leave a comment or reach out. I will try to offer some suggestions. Have an interesting method you used to approach a topic? Share it! It may be just the thing someone else needs to propel them through. Use this site as a tool in whatever way best suits your situation. And enjoy the journey!

A path will only take us as far as we take it.
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Posted in education, extraschooling

What Works for Us

My son recently turned 5. If he were to go to public school, he would be starting this fall. Obviously, I am not feeling the pressure yet to formalize our educational endeavors; honestly, I hope I never do.

Last year I began toying with a few semi-planned, vaguely-scholastic lessons. It was a flop. Neither of us found it interesting. I was relying on two-dimensional pages to teach him, rather than continuing to do what I had always done – get down at his level and explore with him. Time for a change!

I started jotting down rough subject ideas. I meant to do a handful, but I stopped when I hit the bottom of the page. Yep, this very page, food stains and all. We’re fancy like that! Then I copied every topic onto individual slips of paper, folded them up, and dropped them in a paper bag. Ta-da! Our system was born. Now each week he picks out a random assortment – we’ve toyed with amounts, but six seems to be our sweet spot. From there we work together to flesh it out, depending on his current interests and resources we find.

As an example, this was two weeks ago. I jot down the subjects he selects, then we narrow the focus. It doesn’t have to be pretty or detailed, it just needs to be a starting point. This week followed a dolphin week, so the interest was still there, but he picked to refine it to killer whales. We had watched a show about dolphin intelligence, and the trainers had caught his imagination. Somehow in rolling money ideas around I mentioned counterfeit production, and there was our plan. At the library the next day he worked with both librarians and myself to gather books and movies, then at home I pulled more off the internet as needed due to questions that arose or what he was most excited about. Our plan is always a guide, but detours are 100% permitted.

What week 3 really looked like:

  • Impromptu Storytelling Tag was a huge hit. Try it for yourself!
  • We didn’t find much at the library about counterfeit money and got totally sidetracked (for 2 weeks and counting) learning about what is on bills and coins and their path in life. This has now segued into learning about presidents, which we agreed to do as our career study this week.
  • Killer whales became all whales. There have been numerous excellent books, nature shows, and websites we’ve learned through, and we somehow wound up adopting a humpback whale named Colt. It happens!
  • We read a book about a dolphin trainer, watched various clips online about how to become one, what a day in the life of one looks like, and an actual orca performance. I debated digging deeper into the controversy over this subject, but it will come along in further learning through our adoption (the organization works to end whales in captivity).
  • Soooooo many good nature shows! We went a little heavy on them, I will admit.
  • He worked primarily with two librarians to gather materials for the week, but I helped him find a few as we discussed how to find items.

So the gist of it is, we create just enough structure to turn our creativity loose within its parameters. One of the best parts is how much he can contribute to deciding what he wants to learn, yet I can still shape the scope of it. We feel like partners in our explorations again. Nothing beats that!

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