Thursday, August 9, 2018

How We Transitioned from Unschooling to Structured Homeschooling

Now and then I enjoy participating in some homeschooling Facebook groups. Yesterday I was asked a question about our family's transition from unschooling to structured homeschooling. I thought I would share my response here, since some of my readers might be interested in how we changed our homeschool six years ago.


How did you transition [from unschooling to a structured homeschool] and do you feel like your kids are thriving? Do you feel like they still love learning?

My Answer:

Looking back, it happened gradually. First we added a set time where we gathered together for a short learning time. We held a Charlotte Mason-type meeting where we did copy-work, worked on memorizing a short scripture, listened to a scripture story while doing some crafts or coloring, sang a song together, read something about the subject of the day (history, art study, music study, geography, or Shakespeare), and then I read aloud from a classic novel. The short lessons that Charlotte mason espoused REALLY helped us, and I tried to keep it light and fun.

My kids LOVED it, and my older kids watching me told me that they wished I had done homeschool with them life that. I was SHOCKED, to say the least! I thought they loved being in charge of what they studied, but they made it clear that they wished they had had more guidance during their homeschool years. As they became adults, their self-esteem plummeted when they discovered all that they had never learned.  That helped me keep going and working hard to TEACH the kids still at home.
 After a short time, we added an online math program, and I learned how to keep transcripts. We are still not yet strong in science, but so far we have made a good start with Nature Study (Botany!) and Astronomy. We plan to start some online science classes in the Fall. 
My kids do still love learning, but they now feel more strongly about setting goals and feeling confident in what they know and are learning. My older kids (3 "graduated" as unschoolers, two graduated with more structure and completed transcripts) still tell me that they love how I homeschool now, as opposed to how things used to be.
As a side note, my younger kids still have a more relaxed learning structure, but we are no longer unschoolers. They read a LOT, and do some writing and math every day. We watch science videos, and they do chores and science experiments. Then as they become teenagers, we add more academics and more structure. They take classes outside our home here and there. Their self-esteems are thriving because they KNOW where they stand academically.

Some may take the ACT/SAT and go to college, and some might not. But now they have OPTIONS, where my older kids feel they are "too dumb" to go to college. They are charting a different course, and I don't actually CARE if they go to college or not, but it makes me sad to know that they do not feel they are capable of thriving there, if they wanted to go.
I feel a great deal of peace with how things have worked out, in the end. I have regrets, but my older kids hold no grudges. When we know better, we do better, right? We are moving forward and utilizing all the wonderful resources that are out there. 

I am happy to answer any questions my readers may have about our journey in homeschooling. I want to be open and honest about our failures as well as our successes because I am so grateful for all that I have learned through this process!

Below are some of our favorite resources that have helped us along our way.

Favorite Resources:

I wish you all the very best in your family's homeschool journey!

Mama Rachel

Friday, July 20, 2018

Wisdom in Work

Whatever the mix of work, the hardest work you and I will ever do is to put off our selfishness. It is heavy lifting!

Friday, July 13, 2018

TEACH: 5 Reasons Why I Stopped "UNschooling"

PLEASE NOTE: I recognize and acknowledge that this is could be a sensitive subject for some homeschoolers. It has taken me yearsto come out and openly discuss my personal experiences, but after seeing far too many brand-new homeschooling mothers receive the advice to unschool from fairly novice homeschooling moms, I realized that my silence could lead others to the same paths of heartbreak and confusion I experienced.

Of course, there are some mothers who feel fine about their unschooling experiences, and that is great, but in my personal experience and in the experience of many other homeschooling mothers I have known over the course of 18+ years, most unschoolers end up sending their children to public or charter high schools when they approach their teen years.

If there are unschooling mothers with a different experience than mine, I welcome your comments after you have read this entire post. Please keep all comments and discussion civil and polite-- rude comments will not be approved. I honestly look forward to hearing your perspective!

How I Am Defining "Unschooling":

In writing this blog post, I have talked with a number of people privately and online about their personal experiences with unschooling. One of the things I found was that I need to identify precisely what I am defining as "unschooling." 

Here are the beliefs of unschooling with which I am taking issue:
  • Curriculum is unnecessary, unneeded, and un-wanted. (Hence, UNschooling.)
  • Parents planning daily subjects and lessons is frowned upon-- the child should lead all the learning.
  • Children should not be required to fulfill assignments given by the parents.
  • Children should be able to study whatever they want to study, whenever they want to study it. 
  • Children should not be pushed or challenged academically because it stifles their creativity and/or free spirits.
  • Parents are facilitators of learning, creating a learning atmosphere rather than teaching daily lessons.
  • When a child is ready to study and learn, they will take the initiative on their own. The parent just needs to make sure they have lots of time to study the things they want to study.
  • When a child is struggling with math or reading, don't worry about it. They will eventually figure it all out, and they can catch up later in a relatively short period of time.
  • Simply living life teaches a child all they will need to know to be successful.
Before unschoolers stop reading here and protest that I don't know anything about the subject, I would like to share my own personal experiences with our 12 years of unschooling.

Our Family's Unschooling Experience

The bulleted list above accurately describes how I homeschooled my children for the first twelve years of our eighteen year homeschool journey. I believed with all my heart that I did not need to teach my children reading writing, or math. I was sure that they would figure those things out as they needed them, just through their life experiences.

I got rid of boxes of curricula, and got busy and active in my homeschool community. I spoke at events all about how to successfully unschool, and I counseled many other homeschooling mothers on unschooling, and all its benefits.

I was ALL IN.

And then, my children started to grow into teenagers. And the hoped for results did NOT happen. Not only that, but because my children had never answered to anyone else but their own authority, they became nearly unTeachable! They would not accept assignments from outside mentors. They only studied the subjects that they liked-- which was usually just personal entertainment. 

This personal entertainment was not video games-- those could only be played for half an hour on Saturdays. It was not television shows-- we did not own a television. It was not the internet or social media, as their time there was extremely limited by our family rules.

They were busy, but they were stuck in a rut of favorite things to do, and were happy to avoid going beyond those things they already knew. They were reading, but they read the same entertaining series of books over and over again.

They were bright, happy, and content, but they were not progressing, challenging themselves, or thinking on anyone or anything outside of their own desires. They were growing into adults physically, but academically and intellectually they felt they already knew it all, and they did not see any reason for their handwriting to improve, or for math facts to be learned (beyond baking-- they knew basic fractions, because baking was math, right?).

My oldest children were getting to the age of adulthood and they were vastly unprepared for their futures. The promises of unschooling that I had embraced and taught were not yielding the fruit that I had envisioned. 

And I had no one to blame but myself.

Five Reasons Why I Stopped Unschooling:

" ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith; Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;"
{Doctrine and Covenants 109:7-8}

Now that I have told you a little about my personal experiences with my own children, I'd like to identify the "fruit" that I have found unschooling can bear. Of course, all of the five points I will address grow from my personal experiences. I am sure there may be some successful unschooling families out there. 

Having said that, I will also share below the experiences of several OTHER families who experimented with unschooling in their own families, and found similar results to my own.

1. Unschooling Promotes Selfishness

"Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand, let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do what is right at the sacrifices of ease and pleasure."
{Charlotte Mason}

When a child can do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it, they begin to feel the world revolves around them and their interests and whims. Their focus becomes more and more upon themselves. After all, when the adults in their lives ask them what THEY want to do, what THEY want to learn, the message sent is that their desires are the "right ones." They are the highest authority on where their efforts should be, and it's all about THEM.

2. Unschooling Creates Bad Habits

"The home is the cradle of virtue, the place where character is formed and habits are established." 
{President Gordon B. Hinkley}

When a child decides their own schedules, there is usually no consistency to their daily habits. If they rely solely upon their personal wishes, they do not see the need to overcome their "natural man" tendencies.

Even if an unschooling mother insists upon morning routines and personal care habits, there are learning habits that are necessary according to natural law-- the law of the harvest. Some of these learning habits include handwriting and math practice. If those subjects are not practiced every day, development in those areas of study is stifled and frustrated.

Even though I was an experienced a musician, it took me those twelve years to recognize that just as growth in musical abilities comes little by little through daily practice, so too does handwriting and mathematics.

Practice is what makes progress.

3. Unschooling Breeds Pride

"You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction."
{Doctrine and Covenants 93:42}

As I said in my story above, youth who are never taught or had academic efforts required of them have difficulty submitting to a teacher or mentor when the time comes for them to venture out and receive instruction.

They literally become unteachable, prideful, and presumptuous. But their pride is actually hollow, because they really don't know all that they DON'T KNOW! They assume their own intellect is above others, since they are the absolute expert on themselves.

How can any instructor guide or teach a pompous know-it-all? They simply can't! The knowledge the child could have received falls on deaf ears and hard hearts.

4. Unschooling Limits Future Choices

"There can be no doubt, none whatever, that education pays. Do not short-circuit your lives. If you do so, you will pay for it over and over and over again."
{President Gordon B. Hinckley}

I now have four homeschool "graduates." The older three who were almost exclusively unschooled are getting along in life relatively well. But their choices for their futures were severely limited. College has not been an option for them, with the exception of one of those children, who is attending a tiny liberal arts college that has a very alternative approach to usual upper education.

I am grateful my daughter is there-- it is just what she needed. But it was also her only choice. She has a lot of gaps in her knowledge, and would not be able to take or pass college entrance exams.

My other graduates are doing fine, though none of them could pass college entrance exams, either. Two of them say they have no desire to attend college, which is fine, but I know that one of them insists that "I'd never get into college, anyway."

Whether we like the rules our society has set for college entrance is really immaterial, in the end. If we want what college has to offer, we do have to meet their requirements. And trying to cram for the ACT or SAT tests without already having the basic foundations of literacy, math, and science with not give us the results we hope for our children. It takes years of planning and effort to prepare for a university education. And that will require the knowledge and help of parents.

5. Unschooling Destroys Confidence

"And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."
{Doctrine and Covenants 130:19
"...if ye are prepared ye shall not fear."
{Doctrine and Covenants 38:30}

In talking with several former (and current) unschoolers, there is a common thread: the despondency a child feels when they recognize that their peers have learned things the unschooled child has never studied.

This happened to my children several times. One experience we used to joke about, which now breaks my heart, goes something like this: 

My son was in his little Sunday School class at church, around the age of 8 years old, and the teacher asked him to read a passage of scripture. He frankly told her "I can't read. I'm homeschooled!" 

On a later occasion, this same boy came home from scouts very discouraged. He was crestfallen to discover that all his friends knew the multiplication tables, and he had no idea what they were talking about. They had all laughed at him, and told him that he wasn't learning anything in his homeschool. Since that day, this child has never had confidence in math. even when I tried to teach him, he always ended the conversation saying that he just wasn't good at math, and would never learn it. That breaks my heart to hear that from my intelligent, now-grown son!

The Experiences of Other Former Unschoolers

In order to share more than just my own failed unschooling experiment, I asked several friends and complete strangers to share their experiences with me and my readers. These were their responses:

From a mom of Special Needs children:

I will say that I firmly believe in seasons of life and that unschooling was a necessary blessing/(curse) for our family. (A blessing because it was something We COULD do in the midst if the chaos of having a severely mentally ill child threatening our lives every day.....and it was a curse because I feel like I relied on it a little too long and now we are playing catch up.)
We still believe in passion led learning, but with how chaotic our life had become with all we dealt with literally trying to keep everyone alive every day...we needed more structure. Special needs kids require more structure anyway. I spent some time feeling like a failure when I couldn't get those 2 needs (passion led learning...and the need for structure) to line up and be successful. we use some workbook based curriculums to provide a framework...but we also follow "sparks" that those curriculums inspire, and are hopefully getting the best of both worlds.

From a mom of a struggling reader:

I tried unschooling when my son was young. He really struggled with reading and every unschooler I knew told me he'd learn when he's ready, or boys don't click with reading until after 9 or 10.
It weighed on my heart and his confidence in himself was crumbling. I decided to try a systematic reading curriculum and it became painfully clear that he had severe tracking issues. The Spirit led me to vision therapy. He's just finishing up a 16 week course of treatment and finally reading!!!

From a now-homeschooling former-public school teacher:

I haven’t used [unschooling] with own children but as a public school teacher, I received children who were the ultimate at un-schooled level because they had no language...At age 5,6,7, or 8 years of age with no language. I could see it working with some personality types. But I can’t see it working for everyone.

From a mother who found a happy balance:

When we started homeschooling 9 years ago, we basically did public school at home. I am a planner and like my life to fit in nice little boxes, so this worked perfectly for me. This pretty much worked for us until my oldest was in 4th grade.
That year I had everything laid out, a schedule all made up, and we started school. Barely a week into school, my 4th grader wanted to practice her piano, but it wasn't her "scheduled" time. I told her no, and to go do whatever subject she was "supposed" to be doing. She had a complete meltdown, and for the first time ever asked if she could just go to school.
This was a huge wake up call for me. While I loved the rigid structure, my child was dying inside. We threw the whole plan out the window and my kids unschooled while I tried to find my bearings and find what would work for all of us. I WANTED [unschooling] to work for us. I WANTED to see the love of learning, the curiosity, the love of reading..... but frankly it just didn't happen. My kids used it as an excuse to do absolutely nothing. I was more than frustrated because I felt there were things that needed to be done and taught that just weren't getting done. This went on for probably 18 months to 2 years before I put my foot down.

We met in the middle. I got the structure I needed, while my kids got the freedom they craved. Now, we have certain subjects that are mandatory until they hit a certain level of mastery, but they are also free to choose a few things for themselves as well as the ORDER they go in each day. I feel that everyone is happier now. I feel balanced because there is some structure, but my kids are happy with the freedom they have within the structure.

From a mom who stopped homeschooling as a result of her unschooling experience:

I have my kids in public school now after ten years of homeschool, mostly using [unschooling].
My experience was mostly good but I so wish that all the experienced moms would not have told me "It's okay for your boys not to do math, just wait till they are ready." And "Oh, don't worry about the writing. All boys hate writing. They will write when they are ready."
Well I think sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. That's life! I took their advice to heart, and I hate math so it was another excuse not to do it. I now have a 14 year old that feels so bad about himself because he can't write or do math. The teachers make him feel so bad about it, saying, "You should have learned this or that a long time ago."
I look back and almost wish I never would have homeschooled. I think he might be dyslexic and so I feel like they would have caught that. I'm having a lot of guilt. 

What We Do Now

"Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;"
{Doctrine and Covenants 88:78

As a word of encouragement, rather than negativity, I can honestly say that our homeschool is now prospering! My children are no longer aimless and wandering in their educational efforts. They now have parental guidance and planning. My high school students have written transcripts with plans and outlines of the subjects they will study. We have daily lessons and schedules for academic subjects. We have assignments and accountability. We have structure and order.

My new homeschooling philosophy is to "lead, guide, and walk beside" my children. I have a firm belief that our Father in Heaven sent these precious children of His to be taught by my husband and I. I believe that they need instruction, challenges, praise, accomplishment, and to strive for excellence in everything they do.

I like a LOT of things about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education, though I'm not a purist. I plan out our homeschooling for the coming week every weekend, and put it in a document I can look at while I teach. I hold my children accountable for the assignments I give them. I follow through and make any adjustments, as needed.

Some things that we have NOT changed about our homeschool:
  • I do not expect rigorous academic work from my younger children. But I DO require that everyone reads, writes, and does math exercises EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (Monday through Friday)
  • I still read aloud to my children from the classics, or we listen to the classics on audiobooks.
  • I fill my home with beautiful works of art, music, and other things that create a learning atmosphere.
  • The kids follow some of their own interests, like art, music, engineering, computer programming, ballet, etc..
  • I sit down and pray about each child and what they need. I try to follow the inspiration I receive.
To read more about our homeschooling journey, and how we found the things that work for us, you can read some of my blog posts from 2015 (the year of our biggest homeschool changes) and more recently below:
As an answer to a question posted recently in a Facebook group for homeschooling moms, I wrote the words below. I want to share them with you, because I think they apply to ALL homeschooling mothers, whether they unschool or not:

Remember, you are running a HOME, not a school, no matter what [anyone] might say. The learning can fit beautifully into your day, with much less pressure than when you had to meet outside expectations from the school. BREATHE. Pray. Listen. Repeat. The Lord cares IMMENSELY about you and your children, and He sent them to your home to be in your care. Never forget that those are the ONLY credentials you will ever need! You’ve got this, mama!!!

I wish ALL homeschooling families the very best in all their efforts!!!

With love, Mama Rachel 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Charlotte Mason vs. Thomas Jefferson Education

*This post was originally published on January 25, 2018 at LDSCharlotte

"The home is the cradle of virtue, the place where character is formed
and habits are established." {President Gordon B. Hinkley}

My Homeschooling Background

I’ve been homeschooling since 1998, and for most of our homeschooling years (11 of those years, to be exact), I tried to follow the ideas found in the book “A Thomas Jefferson Education.” I attended every TJEd seminar and conference I could get to, and I eventually taught the principles at TJEd conferences and in my own community. I started and ran a state-wide TJEd group in my state, and solidly believed in the principles.

That is not to say that I implemented the TJEd method perfectly in my home. Looking back, I am sure that I had formed some vast misunderstandings of how to “do” TJEd. I truly believed that my kids would beg to learn when they wanted to, and that they should be the ones to design their own learning, charting their own courses for their lives.

I personally translated TJEd to be unschooling with classic novels strategically placed around my home, reading classics aloud, all while inspiring my kids to be leaders by watching me teach and lead other moms in my community. It all made perfect sense to me all through those years, until my oldest children started to leave home, which showed me where we succeeded, and also where we had floundered in my homeschooling.

"You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction."
{Doctrine and Covenants 93:42}

After some devastating educational and spiritual failures in our family, in the year 2013 I abandoned my unschooling ways, and turned to an intense study of Charlotte Mason. There I found all the high expectations and structure our children needed, and yet discovered that Miss Mason’s methodology maintained the beauty and inspiration I desired to expose my children to.

I want to be frank about my failings as a TJEd homeschooler simply because I want you, as readers of this article, to understand why certain differences between TJEd and Charlotte Mason’s methods stand out so starkly for me in my own personal homeschooling journey.

I do not claim to be an expert in either TJEd nor in Charlotte Mason. However, I
am a homeschooling mother of many who has used both methodologies with her children, and I feel privileged to share my personal experiences and insights with others.

How Charlotte Mason and TJEd are Similar

Since there often seems to be some confusion among some homeschoolers about the differences between TJEd and Charlotte Mason, I’d like to begin by sharing the things the two methods have in common.

  1. Students should read good, classic/living books and avoid boring textbooks.
  2. The learning environment and atmosphere should be rich and inspiring.
  3. Classical influences of great authors, artists, composers, music, such as Shakespeare and Plutarch are shared and embraced.
  4. Small children should not be pushed to perform academically at a young age.
  5. Good habits and principles should be taught in the younger years, and throughout the life of the child.
  6. Customized education is needed for individual children. (“Children are persons”).
  7. Learning becomes more rigorous as the student grows.
  8. Mother-Culture/Inspiring Parents are pivotal to learning success.

How Charlotte Mason Differs from TJEd

  1. Charlotte Mason espouses structured, planned learning time vs. unstructured learning with lessons in specified areas of study, such as Art Study, Music Study, Geography, History, Nature Study, Poetry, and Shakespeare. TJEd students only study subjects that interest them, which will eventually help them in their life’s missions.
  2. CM embraces the ideas of parental academic requirements, expectations, and assignments with follow-through for the work assigned.
  3. Oral and/or written narrations are assigned in CM to be done by the students, versus the TJEd emphasis on casual book discussions being held as a group.
  4. Habits and character training are more strongly emphasized in CM with the goal of establishing full attention and best efforts in the students. 
  5. In a Charlotte Mason homeschool, the learning is parent-led (Spreading a Feast of Ideas) as opposed to child-led, passion-driven learning.
  6. Developing academic skills in handwriting, spelling, arithmetic, recitation, and memorization are expectations with continuous, gradual, incremental improvement, rather than the relaxed expectations on reading and math skills of TJEd practitioners (“They’ll learn it eventually...”).
  7. The goal in CM is to expose children to living thoughts and ideas (“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care?” ~Charlotte Mason); TJEd emphasizes that youth have important “life missions” to perform, but this is a vague, undefined goal that will come to light later in their futures.

How Our CM Homeschool Compares to Our TJEd Homeschool

I want to emphasize once again that I believe I may have misinterpreted TJEd principles and ideals in my own homeschool. But I DO know how my teaching in my home has changed since I switched to following the Charlotte Mason method.

Using TJEd, our home environment was helpful and important. But looking back, I can now see that our environment of rich resources and lovely, living books was not enough. I worked hard to set an example of personal study and a thirst for learning, but it was not enough.

What we needed was consistent, every day, regularly-scheduled home-schooling time with scheduled subjects of study and a plan to follow.

"Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional;
let them brace themselves to understand, let them compel themselves to do and to bear;
and let them do what is right at the sacrifices of ease and pleasure."
{Charlotte Mason}

Even though we have made MANY changes since embracing the Charlotte Mason model, there are many things that have stayed the same in our homeschool.

Some of those things are:
  • We still read lots of good books together, and on our own.
  • We gather to discuss great ideas and great books and other great works.
  • We work hard to teach our children to recognize and develop good habits and virtue.
  • Each individual has personal interests they pursue, as part of, but also beyond, their academic studies.
  • We all work together to take care of our home, yard, and each other.
  • We are active in our homeschool group and within the homeschool community.
  • We try to keep our focus on God and family.
The biggest changes in our homeschooling include:
  • A greater focus on building good habits and communicating high expectations of the students to give their best efforts to their academic work.
  • Daily academic assignments are given to each child over the age of six years old.
  • Oral and Written narrations are now assigned for each book read and subject studied by our children.
  • Each child has a list of books assigned to them to read and to narrate.
  • Each day we have group lessons in the weekly subjects of History, Art study, Music study, Geography, Shakespeare, and Nature study.
  • Each child has daily assignments of math lessons.
  • I follow through with each child on the assignments that have been given, and keep a record of the work they have accomplished.

" ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith; Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;"
{Doctrine and Covenants 109:7-8}

Because of these changes, greater expectations and accountability have been established in our homeschool, we are learning that we all have to do difficult things we don't necessarily want to do-- and that's life! Everyone is also feeling a greater sense of accomplishment and progress in our educational efforts. 

As I ponder on how our homeschool has changed over these last few years, I can see how making well-thought out plans give us direction that was sorely missed in our unstructured studies. Rather than having too many choices to choose from, and an enigmatic goal of “a life’s mission,” my children now know what they need to do and when they need to do it. I customize their individual learning through the booklists I make for them, and the assignments I give them, as directed by the Holy Ghost through prayer. Instead of leaving my children to try to figure out what they needed to learn, and when they needed to learn it, they now have parental guidance and life experience to help them meet their futures with greater confidence. Each child can study and work with tangible goals in mind, rather than not knowing which direction they should turn next.

I see Charlotte Mason’s methods as a beautiful roadmap that opens up a path of purposeful inspiration to parents that will help them guide their children. I love her reminder that parents are the divinely appointed teachers of their children, and that the Holy Ghost guides mothers and fathers to the resources and lessons that each child needs. The peace and order that has come to our family as a result will bless all our children in the many years of homeschooling that still lie ahead of us.

Love, Mama Rachel

Great Articles on Charlotte Mason:

For More Information on TJEd:

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