“Do The Next Thing”: A Curriculum

Image: Neil Cooper

 

“Classical relaxed unschooling” sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But it describes our CURRENT style of homeschooling so well.

Notice I said CURRENT; I’m not the same homeschooler I used to be when we got started 18+ years ago.

My homeschooling philosophy has evolved through the years. In the beginning I naturally gravitated toward other classical educators and was heavily influenced by them. In time I also learned about Charlotte Mason, unschooling, and other styles/approaches. Our youngest is simply reaping the accumulated “harvest” from our experiences of homeschooling his four older siblings.

This is what our 9-year-old’s current curriculum boils down to: A small selection of books, one for each subject.

  1. Faith and Life Grade 3
  2. One saint book at a time, currently Twenty Tales of Irish Saints
  3. Voyages in English for Grammar
  4. One book for Literature, currently The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  5. Life of Fred Jelly Beans, plus daily drills
  6. Kingfisher’s Science Encyclopedia, plus various science experiments
  7. The World’s Story, plus one book on era we’re studying, currently Archimedes and the Door of Science.
  8. First Form Latin
  9. Artistic Pursuits K-3
  10. Leila Fletcher Piano

(Add on swimming classes and Trail Life for extra curriculars/PE.)

What’s classical about it?

Usually when people hear “classical”, they think of the building blocks of a classical education: great books, classical languages, critical thinking and Socratic discussions. We do our best to incorporate these. Some examples of “boxed curricula” include Kolbe, Angelicum, and Mother of Divine Grace. You can pattern yours after theirs, or design your own with help from books like Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum or The Well-Trained Mind.

There will be some variation on how “classical” looks like in each homeschool, but there are common themes that we all share. We want our children to be able to read and write, to think and reason, to make connections, to analyze and process information, and to apply what they’ve learned in their everyday lives. We want the child to develop a love of learning, and to know that ultimately he is in charge of his own education, that he can actually teach himself.

We begin with the end in mind. In the beginning we want the child to explore many different subjects and interests. He narrows his focus and specializes as he grows older. Playtime, working with his hands, even boredom — these are essentials too. He develops his skills and talents, learns the value of discipline, and learns the benefits of order in his life. As he trains his mind, body, heart, and soul, he prepares for a vocation.

At least, the above is what an *ideal* homeschool accomplishes. Most of the time, ours doesn’t look like that, but it helps to keep that picture in mind.

What does relaxed look like?

We’ve done everything from rigid — scheduling almost every minute of the day — to relaxed — scheduling a few things here and there, freestyling everything else. The latter has always worked better for us.

So we do classical languages, but take Latin, for instance: We study it because it’s the language of the Church, because it helps the child think, it exercises the mind, and it’s fun to analyze words derived from it. But whether he eventually takes the National Latin Exam, or learns other Romance languages, is up to him.We read the great books, but whether he continues to study the classics in his adulthood is up to him. We do narrations and discussions, but whether the child grows up knowing what to apply and when to apply his learning to his life and vocation is ultimately up to him.

We don’t worry about “late” or “advanced” on anything. I identify certain skills that need to be learned, or improved. And then we just DO THE NEXT THING. For instance, after Life of Fred Jelly Beans, we will move on to Life of Fred Kidney. This applies to almost everything, which is why I no longer buy curriculum at the beginning of each year. We just move on to the next book or topic when we’re done. The important thing is to make steady progress, to develop constancy and consistency and to learn the value of perseverance.

Where does the unschooling come in?

I know I’ve listed a bunch of goals and materials, but if you were to look at how we live and learn from day to day, you’d see that our reality looks NOTHING like school at all. We have far more unschooling days than we do formal schooling days. Life is often the lesson, and we just live it to the full.

As he gets older I’m planning to train him more in executive functioning, but right now we are happy with the way he’s learning. Even at this age, he gets a say in what he studies and how. He often gets to pick which book to use for what subject. I offer lots of options, and I allow for substitutions if he doesn’t find the material engaging at all. I also allow “obsessions”, so if something catches his fancy, he can explore that subject to his heart’s content until the interest is exhausted. For instance, the current obsession is numismatics. Before that it was Lego animation, and before that, Minecraft. When one is young there are so many roads to explore. There’s time to specialize later.

You might notice that our homeschool doesn’t exactly match other classical homeschools, or other unschoolers’, or other relaxed homeschoolers’. BUT, it’s classical enough for us, relaxed enough for us, and unschooly enough for us. And that’s what matters.

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