How We Do Relaxed Homeschooling: Life is Our Classroom

Lindsey commented on “Summer Family Happenings at the Crawfords” and asked a question I thought I would answer in a post. Here is her question:

“I know you have often posted about non-book learning being a great education, and I clearly see through your children’s talents that’s working well for you all, but wondering specifics of how to do this. Example, say my son wanted to take pictures all day I’m not sure I would happily say yes as I would feel there are other things in the day to accomplish. Or letting my kids get on the internet…I’m super stingy with the internet and screen time in general. I just would really like more specifics if you ever get the chance.”

For someone not familiar with what I call a relaxed approach to homeschooling, there are lots of posts like “Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education, parts 1, 2 & 3” as well as my ebook Think Outside the Classroom, to familiarize yourself with this multi-faceted approach which I won’t have room to fully explain here.

But to answer some specifics about how we implement it, even though there is no one way and every family will look quite different, I offer the following ideas:

  • First, we don’t “take off” from school, though the level of structure may vary throughout the year. Since we embrace the idea that learning happens all the time, school is always in session.
  • We implement some structure while still allowing plenty of freedom for individual pursuits. Our day typically begins with Bible (all of us) followed by a read aloud (the older ones may not stay for this), chore time, copy work, math and silent reading, during which time I may work with a younger child with reading or I may pair up an older child with a younger one. Other than those constants, most of our learning involves reading, hands-on-learning, games, video tutorials/documentaries, and discussion, not necessarily all in one day.

I’ve done different things with different children for our structured part of the day. Some have followed a few subjects through All-in-One-Homeschool. We’ve used a variety of curriculum (I like A.C.E. math) and for the younger ones, we’ve implemented games and real-life activities to teach math. Also, I’ve loved the books in A Math Adventure which offer a creative, literary spin on teaching math concepts. We don’t discredit things like construction for valuable lessons in math as well.

I add things along too, like a simple typing course which I require all my kids to learn before they can start emailing and such.

  • I give them lots of freedom to pursue their own interests, and I greatly encourage their creativity and productivity.
  • I let them try new things and make messes. Sometimes they’ll ask me if they can do something and my first inclination may be to say “no” just because it seems too hard or they’ll make a mess, or whatever. But more often than not I’m inclined to go ahead and let them. My son who loves machines wanted to try weed-eating when he seemed too young. But we let him try and his determination was enough to help him hold a machine too heavy for him. He learned very early and became good at it. Now he can not only do it well, but at the age of 9 he can also fix the machine. This applies to my girls too, with whatever endeavors they want to attempt. I have found great value in helping our kids figure out they are capable of big things. Whether it’s chopping up vegetables in the kitchen or building a table, I say give them a shot.
  • A huge part of our education paradigm involves a level of trust unfamiliar to the way we were taught to think about education. We’re so geared to the idea of “teaching children” that we forget they were created to learn and do remarkably well on their own. I am always battling my own notions but so far, I can see that there really is something miraculous in a child’s curiosity and his drive to find answers to life’s questions.  Which is probably the best summary of a relaxed-learning approach: raise questions and trust that the pursuit of finding the answer is an adequate education.

For example, I’ve mentioned previously how naturally children learn to tell time, add and subtract, tie their shoes, grow their vocabulary and a thousand other things without much deliberate effort at all. There is great freedom realizing that we don’t have to teach them everything.

  • My disclaimer: I have a child who, though she loved the idea of relaxed learning, preferred more structure. This wasn’t a problem, I simply let her follow that style.
  • The best environment for any education is a rich one, which simply means children have access to conversation, good books and tools.
  • We don’t have gadgets (i.e. phones, games, etc.) besides a computer, which we monitor and try to utilize for educational and enrichment purposes, and while every family feels differently about technology, my thought is to keep as many distractions away that would prevent them from reading books and living life as possible in the growing years. It’s just simpler to me. My older children do have an MP3 player they are allowed to use when they mow grass or do similar work, but not any time they want.
  • We try to give them all different opportunities to create products and sell them, no matter how small the scale. There are great learning opportunities in a business model.
  • We give a lot of room for play time with the younger children, a time when their imaginations are full throttle and they are exploring, problem-solving and creating through imaginative play. We try to keep crafts and toys available that would facilitate that play, but the best kind is done when we are hands-off.

And I think it was my favorite education reformer, John Taylor Gatto who said “we don’t have to worry so much about educating children; a normal child would have to be locked up and away from life itself to keep from learning.”

Life is our classroom. Talk, read, look, listen, discover, make, build, create, play, think, tell stories, write stories–we were made to learn what we need to learn. Education doesn’t have to be so hard.



39 Responses to “How We Do Relaxed Homeschooling: Life is Our Classroom”

  1. Guest says:

    Sounds very nice. What about biology and chemistry and other sciences, for the older ones?

  2. liz says:

    This is exactly how we homeschool. I know the above question was for Kelly..but I know many people ask about science etc… My husband teaches high school home schoolers Advanced Bio and Chemistry at the organization we belong that offers Enrichment Classes. Since they meet once a week the majority is independent study. It’s funny as the kids in my husband’s Biology class usually say they are interested in pre med….(my husband is an ER Dr)..the chemistry kids usually say “my mom said I had to take it”.

    I always feel bad for those kids. My husband says the Bio kids are highly engaging and motivated the chemistry not so much. Mind you the class is 10 kids large. Plenty of opportunity to engage.

    Unless your child is planing on a degree like say my husband (a Dr) or myself (a nurse) and the college you will be attending makes it a prerequisite for enrolling I don’t see the point unless they are truly interested in those subjects.

    So far none of our children show any interest in science. Like Kelly I have a 9 year old who will spend most his day outside mowing the lawn(after the lawn guy has come mind you) and weed whacking….talking to our lawn guy…planting grass seed in bare patches..trimming branches..composting..he watches “This Old House” for screen time.
    They are building a house next door and he knows every step of what they are doing. This is very unusual in the suburbs where we live.
    I know some people who disagree and thing every single subject is important. I disagree. As a kid I didn’t pick up geography or map reading or history in public school. Those are things I try to keep our environment “rich” with if the children are interested. They track packages from Amazon on a map….fun things like that.
    My son learns best by video so we do have apps for states and capitals..math facts..math bingo etc. We also do read aloud literature and educational books as my son is a reluctant reader.

    • Beth says:

      Jumping in the conversation here-I am very drawn to interest-led learning, but I get fuzzy when it comes to situations described above-the non-engaged chemistry class. I guess where I get confused is, since we homeschool and we have lots more time and freedom then those traditionally schooled, why can’t it be both? Is it essential for kids to be interested in everything they learn? There may not be a point to them taking Chemistry, but if they have the time for it and it’s not crowding out something else that’s important, I feel like the question shouldn’t be, “Why?” but “Why not?”. It’s not like a high school Chemistry class will do them harm, right? Maybe their mom has an insight to their personality etc, that makes her believe that Chemistry, while not all that interesting at the moment, to the kid may be valuable to their future. I don’t know-I’m just kind of thinking out loud here. Not trying to criticize-just trying to flesh this out for myself. Thoughts?

      • Beth,

        My thoughts have evolved over my homeschooling years and for us, it comes down to several things: first, there are more things to learn than any of us will ever have time for. So I want to make sure we aren’t just forcing subjects that someone, once upon a time, in a different society said is a staple of a well-rounded education. Not only can it be counter-productive, but ultimately it could suck the joy out of learning altogether. Take chemistry…first, we all learn chemistry as it is an integral part of life. We may not all know how to solve chemical equations, but unless we need for a specific profession, why do we need to? When a child does show leanings in a direction that calls for chemistry, then it’s easy and it make sense to go that direction. Otherwise, a cursory knowledge is sufficient. In addition, I have found that to try to teach a subject that is utterly uninteresting is close to a complete waste of time because the student will retain very little.

        That’s just us. Some who homeschool do want a much stricter academic approach to their schooling and would definitely pursue all those subjects. I just find that interest-led learning makes sense for us and our children and our educational goals. I’ve linked to some really fascinating studies and thoughts on this subject elsewhere in the blog if you do a search. Things like how this approach doesn’t negate the option of going to college if the students needs to/wants to. I would encourage you to follow some of the posts and links for much more detail about how the approach works if you’re interested.

        • Beth says:

          Thank you for responding, Kelly-you’ve given me more to ponder. :) I’ve been reading some of John Taylor Gatto’s work (although I have to say as a Calvinist, I don’t exactly appreciate his views on that), and what he says makes a lot of sense to me. I guess I just need to overcome my fear that my children won’t be well-educated or equipped. I think my biggest fear is all the “what if” questions. What if they’re not interested in learning things I believe are important? Where do I find the line between not forcing unecessary subjects to sometimes we just have to do and learn things that we may not enjoy learning/doing. What if their interests change over time, will what we’ve done be a waste of time? I do completely agree that teaching something they aren’t interested in can equal little retention-in my own experience, growing up, my poor mom tried to teach me to sew and to cook and clean etc. and I was not.interested.at.all. But I really should’ve learned those things as now I am a wife and mother. Anyway…I don’t want to dominate your comment thread-but these issues are fascinating-thank ypu for sharing your family’s way.

          • Liz says:

            As far as interests changing ..that may happen. You really can’t worry about that. My husband for example went to university for philosophy then math and ultimately did premed in medical school. so he has 3 degrees.

            So one could argue the first 4 years were a waste of time and money. But I wouldn’t say so. He still uses his math and of course he loves philosophy. So I wouldn’t worry about the waste of time thing. If they’re learning subjects that they’re interested in.

        • Jumping in the conversation… last year we used the Easy Peasy website as a strewing tool. We followed the curriculum loosely. If the kids saw something that was interesting, we would research more by watching more videos, getting books on the subject and having long discussions on it (we even did some worksheets). If the kids weren’t interested, we moved on. Sometimes the kids would say “Again? We are going to read another book on WWII?” That was my clue to move on. I read that one more book on WWII, they didn’t. :) For me, the Easy Peasy website was like a shopping window or museum/ art gallery… we browsed daily, and when our interest was caught we lingered a bit more. Much better than a strict curriculum with books and workbooks to fill.
          For science, we do a lot of hands on experiments just because my kids are curious and will ask questions, so I say “let’s see if we can find a video that explains that? Or let’s see if we can do an experiment and figure it out why that happens? Or let’s Google it.” I also am very concerned about eating well and having good healthy habits so science, nutrition, anatomy, physiology, chemistry are in our everyday conversation. Kids will naturally want to learn, just flow with it and keep introducing new topics, books, themes. You never know what will awaken their interest. :)

      • Liz says:

        Personally for me I do think it could be harmful. My son has absolutely no interest forcing him to take chemistry class is a waste of a lot of things. Money. Time. I’m both the instructor and the child. If there’s only 10 spots I’d rather have a child he’s really interested get that spot. I can tell you being a nurse I had to take the chemistry class and I barely use chemistry at my job. I just think that there’s time better spent. I see the time my husband uses to prepare for the class. I imagine the kids need 10 times more to get the work done.
        My son’s time would be much better spent doing apprenticeship or finding someone to mentor him to do painting or landscaping or whatever he decides he wants to go into. So for me time is crucial. When you have a large family you don’t have a lot of time to take your kids to a lot of different places. To make them take a chemistry class when they want to going to landscaping just seems ridiculous to me with all due respect.

        • Beth says:

          As the wife of a landscaper, I see your point. My husband’s Christian school wanted him to attend another full load year of high school because he failed a history class when he was a freshman. He just wanted to get on with starting his own business-so he dropped out and did! :) Just as an aside-there is chemistry used in landscaping, especially if you get into lawn applications, shrub pest control etc.-of course, you don’t have to take Chemistry to learn how to handle that-but you wouldn’t believe the number of people we’ve hired who can’t pass the state test required to get a license.
          I guess my questioning was, yes, Chemistry may not be needed. History wasn’t needed in my husband’s case-but I still feel that there can be value in learning something that isn’t necessarily interesting at the time or needed in the future. Take for instance, cursive handwriting. Our state schools will no longer be teaching it because they don’t have time and everyone types/texts now anyway. I think learning cursive handwriting does have value and it would be sad to lose that art, and we do have time because we homeschool, so my kids will learn it. I can promise you though, that my son will be completely uninterested in learning cursive handwriting.
          I appreciate your thoughts and responses. I’ve been homeschooling for 8 years, but I still consider myself inexperienced and still learning-so your input is appreciated! :)

    • Liz,

      I love your thoughts here and I agree. I’m also surprised that a doctor and nurse would choose this approach–I don’t see that very often. ;-)

      • Liz says:

        The approach of homeschooling?Or the approach of child lead learning. Just trying to clarify :-) .

        • Oh, the child-lead learning. It’s my experience that most families with more specialized academic experiences do not seem to trust a more relaxed approach. I’m glad to see you embracing it.

    • Guest says:

      There’s no mention of science at all, not even a cursory study. That’s why I asked. Is there a cursory overview of bio, chem, physics so the child can decide if she has an interest? Is there a microscope in the home or a chemistry set? These things can help familiarize a child with a subject so she knows if she wants further study. (Hands on learning is very important in science, it is hard to teach it well by video.)

      • Liz says:

        I don’t think you need to have a microscope laying around. I mean they watch enough shows on PBS. “How it’s Made “. Things online. If they said “hey I’m interested in that “we make it happen. That’s the joy of child led learning.

        We had birds in our backyard lay eggs. My daughter asked if I could get some library books on Robins so I did. It’s just little things like that. If I got a book on reptiles she would’ve cared less.

        • Guest says:

          Well, I don’t think that watching tv, even educational tv, is the same as experimenting with a chemistry set, but that’s just me. I prefer active to passive learning.

          I also think there’s more to education than whether you’ll “use it” in your career.

          Of course you don’t need to have a microscope around the house. But why not? Especially if you are not pursuing a formal course of study in any of the sciences. Who knows what interest it may spark? It is a rare 6 year old who’ll say “I’d like a microscope to examine this pond scum.” But most 6 year olds will gather round with interest if his parent gets a microscope and puts interesting things under it

          • liz says:

            What I meant in regards to watching educational Tv is that it HAS sparked interest in my children in regards to things we then pursue and learn more about. In our case we have special needs with our children and watching videos I can assure you is not passive for my son. What he watches on “This Old House” is then is a spring board for him to ask the contractor next door questions about the house they are building.

            As mentioned above…my husband teaches Chemistry. My kids have to go with him a bit early so he can set up. They have zero interest in the microscope:) Just throwing it out there.

            Kelly or I could never “convince” someone this style of learning is “the right way” ,”the best way” ” the only way”…its something you have to have a lot of faith and trust in and really believe in. I do have to admit having a husband who is a Dr and has Math and Philosophy degrees fully support this “genre” of homeschooling also does wonders for any doubts I have.

            For us ultimately we want to raise God fearing and loving children. We want them to have as many “life skills” as possible so they are not paying all there money to someone to fix things like we so often have to(my husband and I). We want them to experience healthy relationships.

            The comments about Chemistry and lawn applications…:)I knew someone would hit me with that..lol. I was on a walk when I dictated most of the above comments. That is why they are filled with so many typos:( I totally agree with you. But again if he goes into the fertilizer business he will be motivated to learn that.
            I can’t back the history stuff. I wish I knew more NOW and so now I read more and ask my husband about a lot of historical events. I had zero interest before and didn’t learn much.

            Having a husband who is very knowledgable about just about everything has been a Blessing. I can ask him things and go from there. In my adult life I have learned so many things. Gardening, baking, canning,adoption,home schooling, running a household,organizational skills…Things I didn’t really know growing up. What I did have was a love for reading. The love for learning actually didn’t come until after I was married and started having a family.

            So the pond scum comment….not sure what to say. Unless you are going into a field that requires you to look at pond scum or you are just curious I can’t see having a microscope laying round for those reasons. We don’t even own a microscope.

            Some people also think that child led learning means that the child has to come to you with everything they want to learn. That isn’t so. You can provide opportunities or suggestions. My daughter loves to write and so I asked her if she wanted to enter a writing contest in a Homeschooling magazine we subscribe to. She did and has won twice! My son who isn’t interested in writing at all gave it a whirl and he also won! I asked if they would like to formally learn spelling through a curriculum. Both said yes. So now they do that. So please don’t confuse “child led learning ” with a child just picking and choosing off the top of their head what they want to learn. Of course at 6,7,8,9 years of age they are not even aware of all their options. They do however usually gravitate to something…:)

            • Guest says:

              Hi. It sounds like you are saying that you teach science through the tv, and that your kids have no interest in science. Could there be a connection?

              I am not comfortable with my kids being completely ignorant in science simply because they never thought to ask about it. That is doing them such a disservice! However, I respect the fact that you feel differently.

              • Guest,

                I haven’t answered you because, unlike my readers here, I know your history of causing dissension, not being interested in having a real discussion. So for the sake of Liz and others here, I’m asking you to refrain from further comments unless you have something to add to the conversation (and unless you’re willing to use a real name and identity), rather than picking apart the readers’ comments without really listening to their answers. I would suggest to others that it is fruitless to answer your questions as well.

  3. Laura(yet another) says:

    what scares me off of this kind of learning is the fact that I don’t have time to coach the kiddos through all the steps it would take to build shelves, fix an engine etc and neither does my hubby… with having a new baby (and a piddly family of only 5 kids!) It seems to take all my time to simply nurse the baby, cook, clean up, and keep laundry ahead… but my 8 and 10 yo really should be doing this sort of thing… how do you oversee, but not get drawn into building shelves, window seats, and fixing motors yourself all day? Too often, I just see a mess at the end of the day and just feel to discouraged to pile more work on myself…

    • Smitti says:

      I think you have plenty to do with your ‘piddly’ family of 5! Hang in there! ; ) Also, if you teach your older ones how to properly handle tools, you can probably ‘turn them loose’ to build shelves etc by themselves. Sometimes we learn more from mistakes than perfection (I say this b/c this is how I cook!).

    • Laura,

      It is precisely the lack of time to coach a child through everything that is an advantage to your children on many accounts. You’re still thinking in the educational box of “I have to teach them” and that can actually be a hindrance.

      My son who is learning to repair small engines is doing so on his own, because my husband is swamped with work right now and hasn’t been able to show him. And while that is unfortunate on one account (not getting to learn with his Dad as much though he does some), it doesn’t prohibit him. And the fact that he has had to figure stuff out on his own has, I think, accelerated the learning.

      With the house, have set times of picking up/cleaning, do more delegating, and then don’t stress about the rest. There is a season where the house won’t be as neat as you like, but that season is passing quickly. Do the best you can but remember to keep that part of it balanced too.

  4. Lindsey says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my comment Kelly.=) I think I’ve read most of what you’ve posted on the subject of learning this way but it’s been awhile so I should probably just review the links you posted. You clarifying how you use the internet and music was really helpful to me. It’s just a lot to take in I think. Homeschooling in general is the minority and then this is the minority in that so there’s just not a lot of people doing it which can be scary. I’m guessing I’m just where you were when you first started down this journey – feeling in your heart like this is best but listening to your head say “no they need to follow a curriculum!” I’m guessing you all living in the country helps a lot too. We don’t have the luxury of space as we live in an apartment. I’m rambling but thank you so much for responding so quickly!

  5. Lindsey says:

    Also, I’m pretty sure we are all familiar with the myriad of homeschool blogs out there dedicated to such an enormous amount of structure and book learning. Does anyone know of any that really delve into child led learning? I think that would really help me.

  6. Sheila Mom to Seven says:

    Sounds a lot like our homeschool. What do you do for records (i.e. Bria is now “graduated”.) What does that look like for you? My oldest would be entering his junior year, if he were in public school. Not sure how to document stuff just yet.
    I wish I were more like you with the “let them give it shot” attitude. :) I’m too finicky, unfortunately, but I’m working on it.

    • liz says:

      Shelia,
      there are a ton of “transcript” programs online. Also you can order a high school diploma. There are all sorts of “fun” homeschool kits for graduation if you like that sort of thing:)

      I would suggest you look into them especially if your child has an interest in college. The transcript stuff I mean.For child lead learning or “unschooling” many colleges now take alternates to traditional transcripts. Almost like a resume. Say you worked somewhere or did an internship or apprenticeship, but were applying for some business classes. An unschooled wouldn’t have anything like a traditional transcript to offer.

    • Shelia,

      What Liz said. And, it freed my up a lot to find out that a high school diploma is a piece of paper that says the institution you are a part of says you fulfilled their requirements. For us, I can order a diploma (if you want the piece of paper) that says just that. And, an employer never (can’t?) asks to see a high school diploma, just in case you wondered. So really the business of transcripts can cause unwarranted fear too.

      • Sheila Mom to Seven says:

        Thank you, Liz and Kelly. I think I remember hearing another time about having a sort of “resume” of your child’s accomplishments. I’ve always been bad at journaling or record-keeping. Having a 16-year-old (when did THAT happen!?) should spur me on to be more intentional about doing so.

  7. Claudia says:

    Kelly,

    Love the thread here as much as the post! I, too, was stressed about records/transcripts. I I think it’s residual from former public school teaching years. I still struggle to trust the simple, but over the years, as I see the joy of learning return after years of traditional, fill-the-bucket homeschool, I am catching on to what Charlotte Mason called “lighting the fire.”

  8. Claudia says:

    Kelly,

    Love the thread here as much as the post! Thank you, Kelly, for explaining your style of home education so well! It is such an encouragement to press on, especially as we now enter the high school years. I highly recommend your ebook (Think Outside the Box…I think I have the title right) to anyone who wants to embrace a lifestyle of learning. I, too, was stressed about records/transcripts. I love the tools and examples in Lee Binz’s HomeScholar (I’m not an affiliate and don’t even know her). Her chapter on how to record/quantify delight-directed learning is worth the whole ebook imo. Even though her sons were very academic, she gives readers so many specific step-by-step ways to get the records/transcripts done for outside-the-box learning. I realized we were doing so much more learning than what is typically called “school” today. Certainly not everyone needs something like this, but for someone who is anxious about records/transcripts, it is a total de-stressor.

  9. Amanda says:

    I’m struck as I read through these comments, by the way that a check-the-box approach to eduction (whether public of private) is primarily a result of fear. There is so much about our, and our children’s, futures that we don’t know…so obviously, we think, what better way to cover all the bases than to make sure that we’ve checked off X credits/terms/whatever of THIS subject. And when somebody else does it a different way, it can send us scrambling to consider whether or not we need to ditch our way for their way, etc. Kelly, our family shares every value regarding child rearing/eduction…and our school looks a bit different due to my husband’s and my own training/education/professional background. But as I read your post, I was thinking how both of our families have the time and freedom to just do…TONS of learning every day. Even this week, with my husband off of work, we’ve let the ‘school routine’ get lax. And OODLES of learning has happened. When I’m really honest, I like a more structured approach because then I feel like I have a better grasp on what’s “going on”. And that’s not the essence of eduction!

  10. Mrs.B says:

    I’m a witness to the fact that one of the results of this approach is that when your child finds a subject that really interests them it will not take them long to know significantly more than you on that subject. My older guys are constantly comparing/contrasting warfare campaigns from the various wars in American History–and sometimes in such minutiae I have no idea of who or what they’re talking about.

    It’s really neat to see young people passionate about something that really counts rather than some of the silly, superfluous junk that’s out there in secular culture! I have a sneaking suspicion, also that given the opportunity (ie not being treated like a widget in a mega-mass production factory)) might lead to more young people becoming excited about good, productive things.

    • Liz says:

      Mrs B I so agree. My 8 yr old son knows more about the materials they are using to bud the house next door than my husband. My daughter commented they were putting up shingles. My son corrected her telling her they were actually putting up something like a waterproof ” sealing membrane”. Or something like that. He loves all the DIY shows. He know so much about landscaping also. It just blows my mind.

      I know a lot of people don’t agree with the educational aspects if shows like that … But I can tell you that having a son with special needs that make it extremely difficult to read these shows have literally been a God sent. Because of these shows he will pick up
      Handyman and This Old House magazine and read a bit of the headings.

  11. 6 arrows says:

    All of our children have benefited from relaxed homeschooling, and it certainly did not hinder those who have gone on to higher education.

    I think the biggest benefit has been for our child with developmental delays and other special needs. Relaxed homeschooling affords him lots of time with his siblings, and he has developed important language skills in relating to them, and has learned to use his imagination as he engages in pretend play with his younger sister, a skill he developed much later than is typical.

    There isn’t much time for those kinds of interactions when children have their noses stuck in their own textbooks and workbooks for hours and hours each day.

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