Types of Homeschooling Families

In my seven years of homeschooling I’ve found that there are usually three types of homeschooling families, each with different goals and desires for their children. Many homeschooling families will find themselves in one of these niches. These niches are not a bad thing, necessarily, but some of them, in my opinion, can be taken to an extreme.

When researching homeschooling I found there are a lot of different names for different styles of homeschooling. You have “school at home”, a strict type of schooling with a full curriculum, laid out lesson plans, desks and maybe even a chalk board or white board. School starts at 8:30 a.m. on the dot with scheduled breaks, lunch and even a recess. I’ve even heard of some moms who have their children call them “Mrs. Jones” or whatever when they are homeschooling in this method.

You also have a relaxed homeschooler. This homeschooler follows a curriculum but it’s usually loosely structured. Lessons take place on the couch, at the kitchen table, in the family car or wherever else may be convenient. Sometimes the lesson is tossed for the day and they end up watching movies as a family or going on a spur of the moment field trip. Lessons start whenever the family feels like starting and may end well into the night.

Then there are unschoolers. These are families who use no curriculum and at times seem to have no rules at all for their children. If they live in a state that requires a portfolio or testing, they may break down every now and again and produce some work, but they primarily just go with the flow. Parents have material readily available for the kids to play with or read and believe that they are there to be a resource for the child. Some unschoolers are more strict than others, sometimes even more so than the “school at home” parents. These types of unschoolers are called “radical unschoolers”.

I consider myself a relaxed homeschooler. I love the idea of unschooling, but I fear it as well. I fear that if we unschool that our son would spend all day playing games and watching TV. I fear that he won’t learn to spell or read well or write anything, much less learn enough math to get into college. I fear that he will be selfish and rude and care only about himself. I have reasons to feel this way and any newbie homeschooler should be prepared if she dips her toe into the unschooling waters.

When my husband and I first started discussing homeschooling I researched and tried to learn everything I could. That was how I heard about unschooling. I thought it sounded great and I wanted to know more. I found a very well known site on unschooling and joined their email list. This site and list featured a predominant unschooling figure that is well-known as a speaker at various homeschooling events.

I found the people on this site – including this well-known speaker – and the email list mostly rude and arrogant. They apparently allowed their kids to stay up at all hours, play games all day, and, in my opinion,
pretty much allowed their children to do whatever they wanted. Any mention of any types of rules handed down by the parent – bedtimes, mealtimes, etc. – seemed to be out the window. At the time I was on this list I was still working outside the home, so we all had bedtimes. Anytime I mentioned bedtime I was told I “wasn’t an unschooler” and pretty much that any type of rules from me or his father was hurting him. Even though the parents didn’t seem to advocate any “rules”, it seemed these radical unschoolers had a lot of them. One particular discussion was about swimming lessons. Were they too restrictive? Did they count as “curriculum”? Should children not participate?

I was only on that list 2 weeks. I knew I still wanted to homeschool, but I swore I would never unschool because I didn’t want my child to be selfish and mean like the parents on that list. I also chose to stay off lists that proclaimed “Do it MY way or it isn’t right.”

It’s been over 7 years now since I was a part of that email list and since then I’ve met more unschoolers.
I know now that not all unschoolers are so “radical” and that unschooled children can be sweet and kind and unselfish. I also discovered it doesn’t matter what curriculum you use or don’t use. Everyone needs to do what is right for their family.

However much I’ve learned about unschooling, though, I still have a fear of actually going through with it.
Maybe if I’d been able to homeschool my son from the beginning instead of starting in third grade then maybe my feelings would be different.

Unschooling can be a positive thing, especially starting with a young child. I still believe that a home should have basic rules, however, just because everyone has to live there together. Those rules may be simple, such as bedtimes and mealtimes and chores and maybe there is an agreement that during certain times of the day the TV, computer and video games are turned off unless you are doing something educational. Within that framework I believe a child could find something to occupy their time – reading a book, creating a project or even playing with a sibling. All of those things can be a positive unschooling experience.

Even though homeschoolers do try to put themselves in a “category”, homeschooling is actually so varied and different for everyone that there can be no set of rules that pertains to us all. As homeschooling parents, we need to look at how our children learn best. There is no one curriculum for all. No one can teach their child everything and everything will not be learned during the typical schooling years. Learning should be for a lifetime and education means that you are able to find out what you need to know when you need to know it. A quote from Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill states:

An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others.

I think this should be the goal of all education, not just homeschooling.