20 July 2013

A Week of (real) Unschooling

OK deep breath... Want to see what we really did all week? Honestly, warts and all, on a week when I'm struggling and it's hot and nobody has any big projects or particular academic-looking cool-sounding new interests and the TV is on quite a bit? *gulp*

I've been asked a few times recently what an average day or week looks like for us, and I have to say, there is rarely such a thing as an average week. Their interests and passions change, the level of active play versus quiet role play, the amount of reading, whether there is any big project going on, what things I find noteworthy, or which activities look like "learning". My point is, it's all learning. Even the weeks that don't look like anything much.

Well, I've been writing this down as we go - and I find it so interesting that it's still tempting to play up all the stuff that really Looks like School and otherwise generally show the highlight reel even while the point of this post is NOT to do that. But I know some will find this useful, and some will find this comforting, and some will find this interesting and inspiring, and frankly some will think it looks inadequate (but hell, they're probably judging anyway, whether I post this or not). ;)

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Sunday: Our day started with some painting in the garden in the sunshine, followed by watching two episodes of Doctor Who. Morgan's painting of a rainbow dried really quickly. I think it may be the first time she painted or drew a rainbow without asking in which order the colours go. A lot of running around and several different role play games - which are the background to our entire lives - Hogwarts, being mermaids, Victorian children, and pretending to be animals are the current favourites.

Then we went to a friend's house. Morgan and Jenna remembered from grandma's house how to find middle C on the piano, and how to make the chord of C. Morgan helped make gravy from scratch. Rowan played with (and disassembled) a toy car wash, and Jenna played on a James Bond game for a couple of hours.

Some weeks, Sunday is the day when the kids often go in for a full-on day of questions, experiments, exploring and so on. Not this week! It was really what I'd think of as an entirely average Sunday in a house with children. :) Since we don't have the frame of reference of school days and weekends, or term time and holidays, and the children aren't accustomed to seeing learning as something that happens at certain times in certain places, there is every chance of turning up on a weekend and finding a full scale science fayre or maths texts all over the place. It happens. Quiet weekends are pretty rare for us, anyway, and I rather relished this one.


Monday: We usually head to the library, but the Mister had taken my bank card to work with him so we had to wait in. The bigger girls built a den in the garden, Rowan came and took over the laptop to identify two butterflies she had seen in the garden. Jenna asked one of her deep questions ("Could anyone have stopped World War Two before it happened?") and we ended up discussing appeasement, trade sanctions, the League of Nations and the UN.

We went out to sling meet, and walked into town from there to catch a bus home. A friend came back to play. The kids all watched a lot of Horrible Histories, and Jenna played a level of Big Little Planet then read two pick-your-own mystery books back to back. She played a while on Pinterest and eBay with me too, she wants to decorate the house for her birthday party next month and has lots of ideas.


Tuesday: Jenna played on Big Little Planet for the entire morning, building a new level and playing co-operatively online. Rowan and Morgan pulled the den down in the garden, climbed the willow tree, and played the sink/float game in the bath with practically every toy they could find.

We headed into town for a treat and I gave the two older ones a £10 allowance to spend on anything they liked. Jenna bought three books (one of Greek Mythology, a current favourite interest, and two H2O Just Add Water books, a cutesy tweeny mermaid TV show they watched on Netflix a while ago and still rather love) and a pick and mix. Morgan bought a dot to dot book, a pack of Sylvanian babies, a world map, and a Disney magazine.

After flopping on the sofa at home and playing with the new things we did a quick tidy up before my mum's dogs came to stay, then went to the children's church club where there was a sort of sport/activity trail and the children scored points for scoring hoops with a basketball, number of skips in a minute, dart score with six darts, and so on. Jenna got two more RSVPs for her birthday party. Talia tried to escape the building twice.



Wednesday: Jenna and Morgan both took a long turn on the spinning wheel, eventually getting the hang of it enough to produce a few metres of very slubby orange yarn. Jenna read two of her new books while Morgan and Rowan watched some cbeebies (and Rowan had one of her massive world-ending meltdowns about my inability to take her into town again today), then they made popcorn together and sat eating it listening to some folk music I put on at their request.

Then they all ran around in the garden with playsilks tied to their wrists, and when I went out to check on the dogs the girls were all sitting under the willow tree playing families with Talia wrapped up in a silk being their baby. I took them out a picnic of veggie sausages, red pepper, pears, chocolate spread on digestive biscuits, and the little teapot and cups to make themselves tea. Talia got hold of the chocolate spread and Morgan took her upstairs for them to get a shower together while I put away some clothes in the next room.

When we came down (with three children wrapped in towels) Jenna had put Big Little Planet on and was playing a difficult level she just got on to. "I wonder if the Japanese had a Sushi god?" She thinks out loud. Wikipedia tells us that Inari is the Shinto god/goddess of rice, and Uke Mochi was goddess of food. Hmm, close enough for Jenna apparently. When the little ones shed their towels we all did some melted wax pictures with the iron and everyone spent some more time flopped all over the living room with music on, just too sticky to move.

Most of the rest of the afternoon turned into a game with the My Little Pony toys. Jenna spent another hour building on Big Little Planet while I did some spinning and Talia had a proper nap for the first time all week. The LEA lady I had declined a visit from arrived, and was turned away (I'm very glad Jenna knows not to let people in even if they flash a badge)! Jenna also went out to her drama group.



Thursday: We're all still so tired in the sticky heat. Nobody much feels like doing anything very active! Rowan and Morgan played in the paddling pool, and Jenna made tape sculptures. Everyone did some building with coloured ice blocks I'd frozen last night, and painted with the frozen cubes on watercolour paper. Talia particularly enjoyed playing with a giant frozen watercolour block in the shower afterwards. As far as planning craft activities go, once a week is pretty average for me, even though we all love art and crafting - most of the input isn't me and my ideas any more. :)

Doctor Who (three episodes from the Tenth doctor) and another go on the spinning wheel each. A big monkey platter of cheese, boiled eggs, and salad veg for lunch, followed by iced chamomile tea with lemon juice. Morgan helped me to hang out the washing, then asked me to do some maths with her (four pages of a workbook aimed at older children). Jenna stood in the kitchen doing the background for a Klimt-inspired collage she has been talking about making all week, and making one of the projects from her Ruby Loves magazine. We made sunprints when some new blue photographic paper arrived in the post. "Why do they have to be washed to make the colours work?" asks Morgan, and Jenna explains better than I can.

Morgan and Rowan started a game with a basket of shells, playing mermaids, and counting the shells into groups as I have done with the little ones before. Rowan stood every single wooden figure out on the shelf and they ran around having conversations between the little figures for a while. Jenna had a book of British Birds in hand and was looking up the precise colouring of Blue Tits so that she could draw one. Talia decided it was nap time, so I nursed her to sleep. ("Booobieees!" she wails mournfully when I don't pick her up quickly enough.)

We turned down an invitation to the park, Jenna read some Octonauts books to Rowan and Morgan read the creature reports (first time I recall her reading aloud in at least a month), we all watched the 70s Alice in Wonderland (again), and everyone helped make dinner: spaghetti with oven roast vegetables. Some spaghetti fell on the hob and the children moved it to a plate to watch it burn. Lots more running about playing. Jenna held the bobbins so that I could ply my spinning while we watched TV together. Jenna went to bed very late taking a torch and one of her H2O books with her.






Friday: Another slow start, including the dreaded shoe hunt. Museum morning - painting story stones, making pet rocks, and a letter trail to find pictures of semi-precious and precious stones (eventually spelling BLUE JOHN). The art gallery on the top floor had new things, and the children inspected some of the new collections and art work. Lunch with friends. Home via Oxfam to buy shampoo, and a cheap packet of toothbrushes from another shop to replace those that Talia put in the toilet earlier. In the taxi on the way home the children sang a French counting song until I asked them to stop repeating the same thing over and over!

At home it was still baking hot, so we set up a fan in the living room and filled the paddling pool in the garden. The children all lay on the floor to watch Grandpa in my Pocket with Rowan, then played in the pool a while, mixed up some interesting concoctions ("perfume" apparently) with flower petals and grass and seeds and so on. Morgan had another turn with the spinning wheel.

Jenna worked on her Klimt picture. Morgan played castles with the Ostheimer toys. Rowan mostly ate ice cubes. We started listening to some music on Spotify and I remembered a track I wanted to show them with a great video, so we looked it up on Youtube and sort of fell down a rabbit hole trying our own stop frame animation. :) Jenna wrote a very sweet miniature letter to her Daddy, in tiny but not very neat joined up handwriting. Martin got home early for candle lighting.




Saturday: I spent a while reading and ignoring what was going on in the garden, which when I checked on them turned out to be a water fight and a big mess of wet picnic blankets. The girls put on a dance show for almost an hour, and I gave my full attention to about fifteen minutes of it overall. I could hear the music they had on, from the kitchen sink where I was doing washing up (and soaking wool for dyeing), and it spanned a very eclectic range of styles!

After that they wanted some help with the stop frame animation they were planning, and I spent a very hot sticky half hour balanced on a stool taking photographs for them. Morgan did most of the actual animation bit on the computer with me.

Morgan built a huge rainbow castle. The children made their own soup and sandwiches for lunch. Jenna put Big Little Planet on again. I asked her to play with it muted, because the music from it is starting to grate now. Morgan made story dice and wrote a story using that inspiration - or more accurately wrote a sentence then drew pictures for the rest of the "book". Everyone worked together to tidy the living room again.



A not-quite-entire week of things I managed to write down. Yes, I know I am mixing past and present tenses through the entire thing and bits of it are totally disjointed. No, I am not putting myself forwards as having it all right or setting out a plan for anyone else's kids. This is just a brief record of some of the ways in which my children are learning, snippets of our unschooling journeys right now. I almost certainly missed important things out, and rambled about unimportant things. :)


  1. I love this! Beautiful week!

  2. Wow, I am in awe. Perhaps I should write down what we do in a week too!

    1. It's pretty hard knowing what to write down on a week where it mostly looks like "messing about with stuff", but it surprised me when I looked back and could tally easily ten hours of reading for Jenna, and around six hours of hands-on crafting I was involved in even though I didn't think I was very "involved" this week!

  3. What a fab glimpse into your week! I love the eclectic mix of things your girls get up to :-) Mine are very much the same. I love the coloured ice idea and will be using that later this week :-)

    1. It's fun keeping up with them isn't it?!

      I wish we still had trays big enough for paper, it was a very messy game... :)

  4. I think that sounds like a wonderful week. Learning while playing. Everything in moderation. and that's how life should be. balanced and fun! i see so many parts of my life in yours!

    1. I often think how much I hated going to school in the summer (as a child who REALLY LOVED school) because it felt like a waste of a day. I really feel that unscheduled time is so important and healthy. Even if sometimes I feel like we've done nothing at all for days!

  5. This was great to read, thanks for sharing.
    Every now and again I worry I'm neglecting Rye's education...

    I'm going to write down what we've done the past few days and keep a record too, a worthwhile exercise for myself!

    1. It's easy to wobble. I try to look at what's really fun right now and offer more of that, but it's a balance. When I let them just get on with it, I feel like I'm neglecting them - but when I am offering too much and pushing too hard, I feel like I'm smothering them with my agenda!

  6. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! Your girls are so blessed xx

  7. Oh I love this so much, and so exactly what I needed to read with Phoebe asking for more structure. I htink she just needs more fun! Things have been a little (a lot) difficult here of late and this has helped inspire me to pick myself up and push through the icky stagnant feeling of the last few weeks. Thank you for sharing. Your girls are so lucky. :) xx

    1. I'm glad it was helpful and encouraging, mama. I do find it hard to be intentional about supporting their passions and make sure I'm offering fun and joy and challenge without being pushy - a plan is very tempting to me some weeks! I get it.

      Helpful habits for unschooling didn't "just happen" for me mostly, I needed to try lots of different things and really see what worked well for the children - and I'm still working on lots of areas - I want to be a better facilitator. <3

  8. Oh my dear wonderful Sarah, I love you for your honesty, your truthfulness when things don't always go according to plan but I love your beautiful, crazy, funny, happy daughters like I really *know* them.
    How I wish I was your neighbour and be part of your *tribe* :)
    Thank you for sharing this xxx

    1. Thank you, sweet soul-sister! :)

  9. Sarah, you are so wonderful and it really reflects on your precious girls. They are definitely growing wiser and happy and one should never dismiss a chance of teaching or learning.
    I know it can be frustrating at a times... I'm not there yet (with having children) but for what is worth, I want you to know that I admire you deeply and I'd like to have the will you have to raise my kids in such a natural and happy environment!
    Much love,

    1. Shanti your own children, when you start a family, will be so blessed to have your devotion and creativity! Thank you. <3


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