What we do… and don’t do!
We don’t homeschool, we don’t home educate… but we don’t strictly unschool, either. I call it alt ed: alternative education, or even natural learning… although by some standards we would be considered “unnatural“! Like most folks, we are trying to do what works best for our family.
We use the resources available all around us – books, the internet, the world around us – to continue teaching our children to grow and learn as we have from the day they were born, rather than outsourcing to an institution/babysitter during the day. 😉 Although we do outsource for “extracurricular” activities like swimming classes and use some online lessons as well. More often than not alt ed works for us and we enjoy it. It saves a lot of hassle, with our two unusual, bright buttons.
We skip the time-consuming hassle of getting kids to and from school every day – I think it saves time rather than encroaches on it, and as I work from home it’s convenient for us to educate at home. We get more “awake time” with our kids instead of a before school rush and an after school crash. It also saves worrying about when we can take holidays to visit relatives… we don’t have to holiday during the same crowded holiday periods as every other family. I don’t have to worry about whether they’re learning enough or whether the school is good enough or whether they fit in with their peers – I can fix the first two problems, and the latter: they get to choose their own friends from our social groups, the local community, online communities, and the home education community… like grown-ups do! They don’t have to choose friends from amongst their work colleagues/class peers.
As vegans for over 10 years, and people who think a big night out usually involves the cinema or a trip to the library, we prefer to meander outside the mainstream a little…
We do a mix of literature-based learning and online learning, combining the best of the old school with the new school! All without any school. We learn all year round, taking breaks and holidays as the mood strikes, or as circumstances allow/demand. A great deal of education in schools is devoted to the management of large groups of children, so, as we skip that, our children “do school” – reading and online activities – for only about 3 hours a day, at most, and get a great deal more time for creative play and physical activity… but they never stop learning. We don’t start and stop at particular times or keep strict hours. The idea that education or even one’s career should be compartmentalised away from interests and “real life” is a bit of a toxic one. I like the Charlotte Mason motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” As much as possible, as circumstances allow: do what you love and love what you do.
A few hours a day of “formal learning” such as reading literature, playing educational games, looking at online materials, and doing some enjoyable bookwork or worksheets is more than sufficient for our young children. They are both well beyond the required year levels/curriculum requirements in Australia. Acceleration is unnecessary, but they enjoy the work and are quick learners, and choose to plow ahead themselves, although we do encourage a broad education rather than a quick one! We intend to take some years off to travel at some point, so we will be able to take an extended break from schooling whenever necessary without “missing out” on anything… which, for any seasoned traveller or unschooler, might sound like a ridiculous statement! Real life and travel providing some of the best and most thorough learning experiences available.
We try to do what best suits each of our kids and what works for us both as parents at the same time, and meet in the middle: we’re in this together. Our alt ed model is eclectic and, if anything, moving towards minimalism: a lack of busywork (Charlotte Mason influenced) and plenty of detailed, rich, lateral learning over acceleration… but, inevitably, with complex detail comes unavoidable acceleration, eg. we don’t dumb-down science – my daughter began watching introductory chemistry videos on Khan Academy at age 6. I think sciences are actually more easily grasped than the cultural complexity, history, and layers of meaning found in good literature… but that’s a story for another day.