A Peek at LDS Un-Schooling

[ 33 ] Comments

by NotMolly

salt dough and alphabet cuttersA growing number of LDS families choose to use home-based education, and the number of philosophies available as a framework for learning are quite expansive. With the ordered framework of the church itself as a major cultural component, many of the favorite philosophies tend to have a high level of structure as well.

Our family? Well, we’re odd. We chose a path that’s a little different from others. It works for us. Sometimes other people think it’s fun to take a peek into what it looks like on a daily basis. And we’re generally good with that, so long as no one thinks a peek means they get to give the verbal equivalent of high-stakes testing to our kids. Real questions: welcomed. Uninformed judgment lurking as faux questions: my kids are going to look at you funny, and get back to their lives.

So, What Is Un-Schooling?

Un-schooling could be loosely defined as individually-structured learning; some call it “child-led learning” and others “interest-led learning.” I find those terms do work fairly well, though they neglect the role of the parents as mentors and supports to learning.

In our household, we operate with a goal of trust. Trust is harder than it looks. One of my favorite quotes from John Holt, a mid-20th century pioneer in less-structured (non-Prussian Model) education, explains why:

Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple – or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves – and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.

As a society, we don’t usually trust children. We don’t trust them to sleep when they’re sleepy. We don’t trust them to use the bathroom when they have to go, or walk there and back without permission and supervision. We don’t trust them to find their own answers to questions they ask. We don’t trust them to run without falling over. We don’t trust that they want to be and do good. We don’t trust that they can learn without coercion or outside reward structures.

We don’t trust them, because we were taught very young that we, as children, were not inherently worthy of trust. That whole set of philosophies doesn’t jive with our Savior’s admonition to “become as little children,” in my mind, and isn’t terribly respectful of the worth and agency of individual tiny people, either. So, we made a different choice.

Around the world I goWhat Does It Look Like?

Our choice to step off the entire merry-go-round means our school days don’t look much like school to most people. We don’t have desks, or an official school room, or a set schedule and purchased textbooks for every subject. And while there’s no such thing as an average day around here, there are some overall routines for different seasons. Our household is not representative of all LDS un-schooling households, and sometimes doesn’t even represent our un-schooling household! With the hope of Spring ever present in my heart, our days look something like this:

Mornings see each person rising when their body wakes, and not much before. Everyone does better when they’ve had adequate sleep, so we don’t set alarms unless we really need to be up and moving early (such as days we’re traveling as a family to perform, or early work days, or for commitments like community service, church activity, music, dance, etc.)

We try to maintain a routine of “up, dress, make beds, consider eating something,” because it feels civilized and makes the day run more smoothly. It’s quite individual, though, and we only sit for a formal breakfast a few times a week. The rest of the time, individual children (we have four, ages 16, 14, 8, and 5) work alone or cooperatively with one another or a parent to take care of breakfast. There’s also a lot of snuggling, lumping on the couch in quilts to read, chatting over homemade cocoa, and debating over who deserves the last home-hen egg, and who has to make due with a bought egg.

The mornings are a great time to get laundry going, hung out, folded, and otherwise handled. There will be some hen-cuddling time, and egg-gathering, and probably some Math With Hens, too. My two older kids will check their computer-based interests, do a little personal research on design or game theory or history or a current scientific yearning. We’ll check weather forecasts. At some point, music gets switched on, and there will be an indoor or outdoor dance party.

Mornings are also for building forts and other spaces to use in the afternoon. At some point in the Spring (when nights no longer get below 38), the kids set up the tents, and move into the back garden until early fall. Until then, temporary forts and other small spaces fill the need to create places.

We use internet sites daily, in a free-flowing exploration of topics as we come across them. Sometimes, one child is interested and explores pretty much on his/her own. Most of the time, an idea or concept will catch everyone’s interest, and then we end up with pretty involved family discussions, experiments, and projects.

We use the library heavily, and by heavily, I mean: heavily. As in, we have five library cards. Typically, at least two cards are riding the “items out” limit, which is 50. We change out books at least once a week. We go through a Lot of Books, and a Lot of Topics.

What we don’t use very often is a purchased textbook. We explore language arts and literature by writing and reading as part of everyday life, and for pleasure and work. We read novels, not because they are an appropriate AR level or needed for a lit course, but because they’re good to read, and we like them. We don’t require our kids to keep reading books that aren’t it; they’re free to stop reading.

We explore math and science by using math and science, reading books by mathematicians and scientists, doing cool experiments, growing things to eat, raising pet hens, cooking, blacksmithing, blowing things up now and then, building things, star-gazing, laying on blankets under the trees to study natural fractals, and other interesting pursuits.

Several of the kids are fans of particular scientists or mathematicians the way other kids are fans of sports figures or pop singers. (My kids like some sports and pop stars, too… just not with the same devotion that, say, Tesla warrants. Please do not ask my Eldest to explain Tesla unless you have about a week. She is a true, loyal, and complete fan.)

One constant through the day is reminding, training, and mentoring our youngest in Picking Up Her Pig Piles. She’s a natural disaster zone, and we’re working very hard with her to establish good habits. Un-schooling doesn’t mean we don’t give instruction. We give a lot of instruction! We just don’t give book reports or worksheets or fill-the-bubble tests.

Afternoons rotate between Home Days (individual project time, reading, experiments, laundry, cuddling, naps) and Away Days (errands, trips to museums and the library, visits with friends and family).

Our version of homeschooling also involves music. In our household, we currently own: 1 piano, 1 violin, 1 dulcimer, 1 set bongos, 1 concertina, 2 ocarinas, 2 pennywhistles, 2 Great Highland bagpipes, 1 Scottish shuttle pipe, 8 Scottish tenor drums, 4 Scottish snare drums, 1 bodhran, 1 small acoustic guitar, 1 better acoustic guitar, 3 trumpets, 1 cornet, and a tambourine. We have six family members. And a very small house. Yes, that’s an awfully lot of instruments.

Our choice to Do Music definitely affects our lifestyle. Ours is not a silent home. We also have singers and dancers. Some form of cultural arts practice or performance is a daily item. As the kids get older and more skilled (and as my Beloved and I continue to develop our skills right along with them), it just gets more and more fun.

We don’t choose to own a TV, but do have access to movies and some TV shows through the internet (for the last few years; before that, we didn’t watch TV shows except when visiting relatives. But none of us like commercials, so we usually wait for shows to come out on DVD.) This has only occasionally been a problem (due to others thinking it’s un-American or something to not have a TV), and it’s not a big deal 99% of the time.

Ruber DuckyThere’s no official end to our family’s learning day. We’ve had kids wake up at 11pm because they had a math dream and wanted to practice some. We’ve done buoyancy experiments in the bathtub after dinner. Spring evenings are a great time for family walks and bike rides, star-gazing, heading to the playground to shoot baskets, or watching a show via the internet (we all really like Phineas and Ferb and a lot of BBC programming.)

We’re not the best at reading scriptures together daily, but it’s a habit I’m still working to make firm. We do often have family reading of books-in-general in the evening, as my Beloved loves being read to; it’s been our habit for me to read aloud to him since our first dating days. Bed time happens as individual people get tired, and based on the activities anticipated the following day. The Littles are usually in bed by 9:30 or 10:00; the Bigs by 10:30 or 11:00 (later if it’s a really good book, earlier if they’re working the next morning.)

What About Socialization?

189/365 - Head Over HeelsSince our goal isn’t socialized children, but civilized adults, we’ve not found it necessary to do much beyond Let Our Kids Have A Life to encourage their development in social settings. Work, the arts, daily living, friends, church life… they have friends of all ages and are pretty comfortable navigating the world on their own, or with others.

Even after nearly 17 years of this track, I still get a giggle out of the conversations I have with well-meaning people, who wax complimentary about one or another of the kids, how helpful and friendly and focused and capable they are, what a great chat they had, etc… and then ask if we worry about their social skills, what with our unorthodox methods at home? I generally just smile, and refer them to their own Exhibit A: The Offspring.


As our older ones approach normal societal launch points, we’re trying to be a bit more formalized in keeping track of the resources and general courses of study they choose to undertake, so we can sum up for transcripts to support additional, more formalized learning as needed. We’ve chosen to encourage a wide range of post-secondary educational options, including trade schools, liberal arts universities, and entering the business world while pursuing an independent learning course outside of formalized structures. We’re also very big on giving them the tools they need to get the start they want, debt-free.

Each of the kids has a sort of skills and abilities list, full of the various Aspects of Adult Life, that they expect to have demonstrated proficiency in before they head out into the world. That list has academic components and generalized how to be a real person components as well: domestic living skills, entrepreneurial and financial skills (we expect each of the Offspring to start and run at least one micro-business on their own before their Launch), service skills, and things on their own personal Bucket List all factor into their graduation requirements.

We do follow our state’s requirements for legal home education, and stay active in making sure the state legislature does not impinge upon educational liberty and family-based autonomy with restrictive laws. We don’t denigrate those who operate within the current US/Prussian-model systems (we have loved ones who are some of the most amazing, inspiring teachers within those systems!) but we don’t choose to utilize that system for ourselves. We don’t buy stuff from the public school fundraisers (they don’t sell stuff we’d use, and we have to maintain all those instruments at our house!) but we do pay the taxes that support those schools, and we do support positive educational reform to help children in all settings. We’re highly pro-child around here.

So, un-schooling: even among weirdo homeschoolers, it’s odd. Add in the LDS facet, and we’re in a huge minority, so we don’t have many illusions of taking over the world. Well, at least we don’t on most days. We’re content to enjoy our own little wonderful realm, and explore the world together.

Consider me an open book: what would you like to ask an un-schooling LDS mom?

About NotMolly

Liz blogs as NotMolly, and lives on the western reaches of the Rocky Mountains with her Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal husband, their four beloved Minions, a huge number of books and assorted musical instruments, and four very spoiled pet hens. She can occasionally be somewhat serious and ponder The Big Stuff. And then she'll probably lapse into puns again...

33 Responses to A Peek at LDS Un-Schooling

  1. Meg says:

    Thank you for giving us a peek.

    Your goal of civilized adults instead of socialized children, appears similar to our family’s home school culture of raising young adult instead of teenagers.

    • Meg says:

      You know you have a bad day of blog commenting ahead when your first contribution contains a typo. ๐Ÿ˜‰


      • Liz C says:

        Meg: Snork! ๐Ÿ™‚ Now I’m giggling!

        I absolutely adore young adults. They’re amazing people of exuberance and work and love, particularly when they’re treated with trust, and guided as needed.

        My SIL works with teenage people in a public school setting, and is one who has a deep love and respect for the qualities of youth. And “her” kids do amazing things!

        I do think a lot of our ills these days stem from a manufactured hatred of youth. It makes me very, very sad, because those who would denigrate this great group of people are really missing out.

  2. Brenda says:

    Thanks so much for sharing, it sounds like a wonderful and fascinating way of educating children. So much of formal education stifles creativity and doesn’t allow for the deep study of subjects that are interesting to the child. I’m really kind of in awe right now because my structured list loving personality could never pull all that you are doing off in such a free and intuitive way. ๐Ÿ™‚ The question that I have is that this way of being is so far removed from the high stress pressure cooker world of time constraints and deadlines in most University and other programs, (as well as most professions) where students are required to study very specific subjects and be done in tight timelines, do you foresee any adjustment issues as children educated in this way enter those worlds?

    • Liz C says:

      Good question! Thanks!

      The pressures and constraints our family experiences are Real World… our family is predominantly self-employed, and I’ve worked from home since they started arriving, so they’ve experienced tight deadlines, short-timeline projects, late nights, etc involved with all of that, in ways that are very Real World, with direct consequences for failure. And sometimes, we’ve failed. Those have been really instructive periods.

      The kids are all involved in our family’s paid performance (piping, drumming, dance, vocals, other instruments), so the constant pressure of increasing skill, adding to the repertoire, etc is very much there, with tight deadlines and actual consequences (not getting hired again) for failure to meet some pretty arbitrary and objective standards. They also have a lot of autonomy in their performances, so they are constantly learning how to balance the expressed or unexpressed wants of those who hired us, the expectations and needs of an audience, and their own musical performance desires.

      Our kids also have opportunities to be involved in the community and some really cool programs. We’ve sponsored, designed, and installed public garden spaces through a city program (plants don’t wait). Each of the older kids has been involved with emergency/disaster training (and teaching adults and other youth). My son’s increasing list of “old fellows” on his personal gardening service (son works, old fellows sit and chat while he works, old ladies bring them lemonade) is only somewhat flexible, as he has to work within the needs of his clients, and the local climate and growing seasons.

      Art exhibit deadlines are not flexible, nor are the schedules of the family that uses our eldest as a part-time infant nanny. Our oldest also volunteers for the local multi-congregational youth council, and is currently involved in both planning a youth conference, and programming for a girl’s camp this summer. And she’s working on a set of camp themes (with programming suggestions) in addition to those, because she finds it fun. She also runs her own small business, and has to comply with state and federal tax laws, meet customer expectations, and other “not defined by her” benchmarks.

      What we’ve found most is that because their father and I are definitely list-makers and deadline-setters with our own projects, the kids do the same with theirs quite naturally. We also give them a lot of direct mentoring to in self-directed projects, and as much support as possible in working with others.

      So far, the biggest challenges we’ve seen them deal with are related to working on group projects with teens who’ve not had autonomy in their own learning (and thus wait to be told what to think, when to think it, and how to express it), or with adults who don’t actually trust kids to know how to do things, and don’t necessarily have the skills in guided mentoring.

      However, our kids tend to do a pretty good job spearheading and organizing projects, or working closely with others who get passionate and dive in. They’ll work with any passionate person, regardless of age or “position”, and set up their own very ambitious timelines, and set their own quite intense pressures and benchmarks.

      They definitely chafe at pointless things. So do I, and their father. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think that’s more a personality set than a schooling condition, as both he and I endured “other” schooling. We still both struggled with lackadaisical fellow students while at University, and occasionally butted heads with professors and employers over requirements that didn’t actually serve a purpose other than arbitrary control of power. I cannot claim that we’re an “easy” family. ๐Ÿ™‚

      At the heart of it, we’re not really prepping them to live a life in a box; we don’t expect that they’ll follow “employment norms” very often, and prefer to fit them for creating their own work, ordering their own lives, working directly and creatively with other passionate people. Giving them a lot of autonomy now seems to be creating in them a drive to design their own experience. My son is working to set up an internship at a dairy creamery (not scooping, but engaged in the hands-on work of creating dairy products for sale)—because the hard work, precise schedules, and focused learning are all something he chooses without being coerced.

      Does that help at all? I guess summing it all up: they get to experience the Real World pressure cooker now, and they do fine… they’re just aware that the pressure cooker is not the inevitable, inescapable world, and that they can make other choices for their future lives. Hard work, a good life, a happy family: those are goals that are *sometimes* served by high-pressure work life, but often, the high-pressure world is directly destructive to all of it, too.

      • Liz C says:

        Brenda, you’d also probably giggle: every single person in this household is a Notebook Person… we ALL make planning lists! It’s part-and-parcel with the entrepreneurial brain, I think. It’s hard to function with 500 details floating in the noggin; much easier to brainstorm on paper, then work through the ideas!

        Before the kids are old enough to write for themselves, someone bigger scribes. I also scribe for my husband, who usually needs to brainstorm aloud to best serve his learning style. I type like mad, then we flesh out the concepts and turn them into work.

        One totally normal family activity is seeing an abandoned building, and spending a few hours making potential business plans individually, and as a family. Seriously. We’re so weird. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Brenda says:

          That is completely awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚ The whole structure is such a new idea to my thick skull that I’m pondering much about it. I should have known better about time constraints and pressure. Those are going to be part of life anywhere. I see things that you do in your family that we do in ours and would do more of with more time in the day. I’m impressed with how thoughtful an environment you and your hubby have created for your kids.

      • Liz C says:

        Another memory: our oldest did really well her first year of Seminary, with a teacher who has a similar style to our parenting style.

        Her second year, she encountered a teacher that was far more arbitrary, had a lot of quantitative benchmarks that didn’t serve the purpose of learning from the scriptures, etc… he wasn’t happy about being questioned, and she wasn’t happy to sit and listen to things she found to be nonsense (like taking several days away from the scriptures to encourage kids to debt-spend for college). That wasn’t a good fit, and she chose to leave the class rather than torment herself and the teacher. “He seems fine for the other kids, so I’m sure he has good qualities, but it’s not a good fit for the two of us.”

        It’s really rare that she makes a decision like that, though; she routinely pushes through a LOT of frustration to get to a goal she really wants, and that seems to be how the rest of them are going, too.

  3. Mie says:

    It is a great way to live . Fill in the circles , know how to take tests , use words like environment and adapt as much as possible , go with the crowd , be political correct and don’t call things by their names – that is called schooling . At home , we learn .

    • Liz C says:

      That’s a distinction we try to make, too, Mie.

      Funny story: when the nephew closest to my eldest daughter started school, he was telling her all about his day, and she had plenty of questions for him. Her report to me later was full of outrage, astonishment, and disbelief. “I asked him when they do art, and he said they have to WAIT, and get in trouble for drawing pictures on their math paper. And he can’t read things he likes. And DID YOU KNOW: they can’t just go to the bathroom when they want. They have to ASK to pee. How is that even human? That could hurt their bodies! What if a teacher is mean and won’t let them go? Aren’t there LAWS about that? Why is no one protecting those little little children?!”

  4. Bonnie says:

    Your children will make great entrepreneurs – great changemakers. As I’ve looked at organizational behavior over the past few years, I’ve noticed that it’s people who are outside the traditional system of thinking who can really get the larger systems at work in our society. Back when we homeschooled, we did many of these things. I wrote a LOT of curricula in those days because I needed a bit more structure, but we had home days and away days (with capitals) and were regular visitors to the local public libraries. What great times! Thanks for that – it was good for my soul.

    • Liz C says:

      Bonnie, I think it will be fun to look back on our days, too! I love that you wrote your own programming; when we use set-down ideas, we’re typically using our own self-written things, too (or programming created by other highly-autonomous people).

      I wonder if the synthesis skills come from living outside as many boxes as possible, or if it’s a brain-chemistry thing with entrepreneurial brains. I know some are great at the storming, but not so great at translating it into a finished set of work, and others who excel at the application but aren’t self-starters in every aspect of the initial planning. And an entrepreneurial brain without a work ethic is a sure recipe for living broke in someone’s basement, so the work ethic aspect is just vital to us.

      A friend of mine recently re-aligned her family’s educational options to better fit with their family culture, and talking with her about a week later, I carefully asked how she was doing? She admitted to something she had not expected: grief. She was really grieving for her own life-time experience of trying to jam herself into tiny boxes, and grieving that she had tried to do the same to the kids for so long. Watching the expansion that is happening for their whole household once they left the box behind has been so exciting! The grief is still there, but it’s less because they’re so busy learning. ๐Ÿ™‚

      You’re ahead of me on this path: have you noticed struggles for your kids that they might not have had if they were more typically schooled? I’m hard-pressed to figure out which of the struggles are due to schooling structure, and which to just personality set and brain chemistry.

      • Bonnie says:

        To be honest, most of the struggles my kids have endured have been because I abandoned them (really angry with things that were happening in school but unable to change any of it, so selfishly distancing myself from it all, telling them school was their job, to just buckle down and succeed). We’ve largely all had an attitude of grin and bear it and get through as unscathed as possible. Which is a stupid attitude. So, the biggest stuggle was the mom-caused one, which has lent an attitude of rebellion to my children, but not productive growth.

        Still, as you say, the ones who tended toward rebellion anyway are the ones who are more rebellious toward authority perceived as not authentic. I’ve found a certain consecration of experience among them, as they’ve suffered in some ways, but grown remarkably strong in others. Looking back, I don’t believe there’s a perfect way to parent or a perfect way to school because everything is a trade-off. Because my children have none of them ever really learned to do anything the way everyone else does (probably because I feel so snitty about it), that’s what they struggle with. And having educated many ways and still having the same result, my opinion is that kids grow up to be very like their parents. Period. It could be one way that our genetics is designed to produce the results God intends all along.

        • Liz C says:

          I am reminded that grace covers our parenting flaws, too, and I’m constantly grateful for it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I definitely see genetic trends in our family, too!

  5. Laura says:

    Sounds like bliss. I worked for a home-schooling supply store and saw many different kinds of homeschooling practices. I never came across any like yours though (obviously since you wouldn’t be needing what we offered) and the seeming lack of structure fascinates me. So how do you handle natural self-indulgent behaviors, such as staying up too late or sleeping too long, or reading all fiction/fantasy, or abusing computer use for entertainment only, etc…? It seems like we generally use structure to teach self-discipline but perhaps that has backfired in many instances. So what is your secret to raising disciplined, inwardly motivated, and hard-working young people?

    • Liz C says:

      I don’t know that it’s a secret. We allow a lot of natural consequences, though.

      Stay up too late? You’re going to be tired the next day, but you’re still expected to contribute to family life, and you’ll have to put off things you *want* to do in order to take care of responsibilities first.

      We’ve allowed them to overindulge, and feel the results. Whole day of computer games? Well, you missed the daylight and feel sluggish and dull and gross. That’s the consequence of the choice. Sorry. Make a different choice tomorrow.

      Choose to eat nothing but junk you bought with your own money? Feel nasty? Don’t choose that path in the future.

      I guess we teach self-discipline by allowing them to discipline themselves for the most part. We have expectations, definitely. The family expectation list looks kind of like this:

      * Be considerate of others
      * Do nice things whenever you get the chance
      * Don’t be a creep
      * Feel your emotions, ask for help if you need it, and don’t take it out on others
      * Join in the work of life

      Because we live in a small home, and share resources quite intimately and gladly, they’ve been learning cooperation and coordination from the get-go.

      Even with all the resource sharing, the kids have a good amount of ownership and private rights; they are not required to share everything. Personal boundaries are enforced according to the needs of the individual—we knock before opening doors, we ask before using someone’s things, and we’re very open about family resource allocation; the kids even sit down with us to determine where spare cash needs to be invested first, and they’ve learned a lot of self-discipline and patience that way.

      We don’t have internet filters; we chose to talk bluntly about potential dangers and consequences instead, and expect that they want good things for their experiences. (And we also make it easy to develop good habits by having all the family computers in the family public spaces.) (In 22 years of on-line research using keywords that *could* bring up dreadful stuff, I’ve only “accidentally” fallen into an ugly website ONE time, so we don’t use the “nasty things lurk everywhere, and we’ll keep you from accidents!” line—we just bluntly tell them to not go looking for it, because it’s ugly and disrespectful.)

      We have some acquaintances who’ve tried to control every aspect of their children’s experiences their whole lives. Again, I don’t know if it’s a personality thing, or a habits thing, but they have some major problems with selfishness, passive-aggression, laziness, defiance, and sneaky behaviors.

      With repeated and constant choices to make, and constant and repeated opportunities to experience the consequences of those choices, they get a lot of practice to learn self-discipline. The SELF part is really important! I can’t teach them that; they have to learn it for themselves. Our job is to facilitate opportunities to practice self-determination and self-discipline and self-direction.

      I fall back on “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” to as big an extent as family life can tolerate. Teaching the principles doesn’t require as much structure as some assume, in my experience, but for others, high levels of structure are a really helpful thing, so it’s got to be tailored to the individual family.

      • Laura says:

        I totally agree with the philosophy of allowing them to make some wrong choices and learn by the natural consequences –especially while they’re young and the stakes aren’t quite so high. I can also see how being compelled to be a certain way could engender negative attitudes toward the very principles that are being taught (ex. if children are forced to work/share/abstain, they will develop bad attitudes towards those things and become inherently lazy/selfish/indulgent when left to their own devices). That said, kids are all so different and I would never blame every parent who has a wayward child.
        I myself would love to change many things about how my husband and I parent, especially getting rid of external incentives and fabricated consequences (a.k.a. bribes and threats) but that is how we were both brought up (I still have to bribe myself to do the dishes each day). I would rather let everything I accomplish be its own reward, enjoying every mundane task, and finding peace and strength in self-mastery and always using my time wisely, but I have a long way to go.
        Both my husband and I would be first generation-ers and the task of changing our own erroneous ideas, overcoming long-held beliefs and habits and resetting our own defaults seems insurmountable. I think it may be possible though, and definitely worth it.
        I really appreciate you giving us this peek into your own personal philosophies and way of life. It has broadened my understanding tremendously, and given me alternatives I have never thought of. Thank you.

        • Liz C says:

          Laura, you’re so welcome! I’m not perfect at anything, and feel like I have a long way to go in “growing up” myself, so I get what you mean about the dishes! ๐Ÿ™‚

          I do think it’s possible to change things one step at a time. To look at the whole thing is overwhelming, but I find good progress when I try to look at my tasks and our family’s tasks with a lot of gratitude… and then plug in some music and get to work for 15 minutes.

          Positive change is positive change. You *absolutely* can do new things, no matter where you are right now. It’s much, much easier in partnership with Heavenly Father… I would love to assert my own will more often, but it just works better when I find out what He’d prefer I be doing, and then work at doing that. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m one of those “2 x 4” children… sometimes I need smacked upside the head with a board, but I eventually get it.

    • Liz C says:

      (I actually LOVE homeschool supply stores and catalogs… we get great ideas and resource options there, and do have some targeted spending with such businesses!)

      • Laura says:

        I enjoyed working there, and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities and realities of home-schooling. It takes a strong philosophy, self-control, and courage to do what you’re doing. It’s definitely not for everyone though, and that’s fine. I cringe when people who are not ready or able to home school do so for the wrong reasons –for example to control every aspect of their children’s lives or to shelter them from the world, or simply because they have been pressured and persuaded to leave the public school system behind (although they are ill-equipped to replace it themselves) by well-meaning individuals who see its deficiencies and tout the benefits of homeschooling as the best option for everyone. On the other hand, I applaud those who have worked diligently to prepare themselves, and are physically and mentally able to provide a superior education within the walls of their own homes, with real world experiences and application. To be sure, the aspect of self-direction –allowing children to set the pace and delve deeper into their own interests, coupled with giving them opportunities to learn and experience much more than they would in any public institution is what’s most alluring to me; however, I have to be realistic. Sadly, I’m not sure I have the self-control myself or the energy to give them much better than what the system is giving them at this point. That may change someday though. We’ll see.

        • Liz C says:

          If you prefer to work in partnership with a public school option, there are *awesome* ways to get involved as a parent. Kids who have involved parents, regardless of the educational setting, tend to do well across the board (emotionally, spiritually, physically, academically). I know a lot of families who find summer vacation to be a great time to test the waters, overall; even if the setting doesn’t change for fall, you get a really fun summer. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Ray says:

    I am happy for you and your children. I mean that sincerely. What you describe is ideal in many ways, but it isn’t “unschooling” in my mind. It is personalized education, which also happens in public education (albeit to a lower degree, given constraints of group time management) in many relatively-very affluent communities.

    I also appreciate the fact that you openly aren’t condemning public or private group education and their inability to provide multi-age classrooms of a handful of students with one teacher – and, I think, that you recognize the relative luxury from which you are operating. The list of musical instruments in your house alone is clear evidence of that, as is your ability to work from home. I also appreciate your apparent understanding that your approach simply cannot work for many parents and, consequently, their children. For those who have the ability to approach primary and secondary education as you do, it is a wonderful thing – and I applaud you for being willing to do what it takes to make it work for your children.

    • Liz C says:

      Ray, it definitely feels like a luxurious life for me! We work with an income that, in real dollars, is well below the federal poverty line, but we live DEEPLY, and that makes a huge difference. We’ve actively chosen employment options that may not make a lot of sense to a wider world, but serve our family goals very well. We live with one car (that we work really hard to keep functional and safe), in a tiny home (under 800 square feet), and have a huge Do It Ourselves attitude. It just a totally different paradigm from what a lot of people think they have to want.

      A public school can’t do what we do. Nor can a charter. Life is not separate from learning for us, and when the student has no input in the structure, it’s separate. Even the most expensive private boarding schools can’t do what we do, because they remove a child from the family, and it’s my opinion that family is the structure in which God intends us to learn. It’s certainly a very intense laboratory for personal development. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Our house is the opposite of what most consider to be “school”–hence, “un-school.” I think you’d enjoy John Holt’s writing and philosophy; he was an amazing man.

      I don’t necessarily agree that other families can’t do this. Loads do. But, it takes a dramatically different set of choices than some are willing to make. It’s not that another family *couldn’t* do something similar, but that some are unwilling to make the choices that get them there.

      I’ve had mothers tell me (right in front of their kids, which I found personally appalling) that they couldn’t stand to be with their children all day, every day, and how do we manage that without going crazy?? It’s a different set of choices. When you go into life with the expectation that you *will* be predominantly with your family, you raise kids to be pleasant companions, not part-time associates. And I had to get over a heck of a lot of selfishness to make it work. And those moms Do Not Like It when I tell them that the majority of the challenge was my own selfishness, and once I started trying to be more than my own small, narrow, selfish self, it got a lot easier.

      I’ve had people tell me how “lucky” we are. That’s kind of insulting, really. It’s not luck. It’s a ton of really hard work to have such a simple life. It’s not that our choices are so very sacrificial or anything; they’re just choices, and we like the consequences, so we keep making them.

      I know families who have a similar educational/cultural philosophy to ours who have one or both parents who work outside the home part or full time; those who are self-employed, those who live higher on the economic scale, and those who are broke like us. Every one of them simply prioritizes to meet the goals of the life they really WANT to live, rather than going along with a societal status-quo that doesn’t actually serve their needs.

      Every household has to work out those priorities and choices for themselves; so many don’t even realize there’s a whole world outside of the box they’ve been trained to fit! It’s kind of roomy and fun out here, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Liz C says:

      It also helps that my husband is one of the foremost frugal, penny-pinching, flat-out-miserly Scotsmen you’d ever meet, and finds amazing deals on instruments, and that we have relatives who consider bongos and guitars ideal gift items. ๐Ÿ™‚ Most people would be shocked to find out how much we did not spend on instruments. One of the trumpets was a $1 purchase (yes, one dollar) at a garage sale.

  7. Ray says:

    I’ve read Holt, and I agree with his philosophy as an ideal. As I said, I applaud you for doing this with your children.

    My only issue with what you wrote is the following:

    “I donโ€™t necessarily agree that other families canโ€™t do this. Loads do. But, it takes a dramatically different set of choices than some are willing to make. Itโ€™s not that another family *couldnโ€™t* do something similar, but that some are unwilling to make the choices that get them there.”

    I never said other families can’t do it; I said many can’t. Yes, it involves making choices, but there are LOTS of situations where those choices really aren’t available – where there really isn’t a true choice that really can be made. I know, since I’ve worked for years trying to help children change their lives in such a way that they have choices that many people take for granted. The “luxury” I mentioned was not focused on finances (which is why I put the term in quotes), and I tried to make that clear.

    Equal opportunity is a wonderful concept and ideal, but it’s not reality for millions of children and their parents right now – so I don’t like sweeping statements that appear to blame people for not doing things that, for whatever reason, they simply aren’t capable of doing currently.

    Again, I love what you are doing. However, my efforts generally have been focused on helping students change their lives in such a way that they have the same relative luxury that you have – being able to make informed, personal choices from among multiple options.

    • Liz C says:

      I hope your perception of blame is not due to what I’ve shared. I don’t blame others as a general rule. I think a lot of people don’t understand the full range of their real choices, and that’s a societal problem. I’m encouraged that so many good people are devoted to helping other see all their choices.

      *Only* when I’m asked do I share my opinion: that if a family wants something different, they’re going to have to make different choices. If they’re not willing to do something differently, they’re not going to get different results. It’s a very simple If/Then statement. I do get a smidge annoyed with people who say they want what we have, but don’t want to ditch their TV set, or stop taking solo vacations without their families, or get serious about getting out of debt to free up a parent for more intensive learning time, and then say I’m “lucky”.

      (Ray, my friend, I think we’re both reacting to trigger words that have sparked hard memories from other experiences! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

      The advantages I’ve experienced in my life were mainly due to an out-of-the-box, self-sufficient raising, and I do know that’s increasingly rare. We ate stayed warm in the winter because we gardened and hunted and canned and chopped wood in the summer and fall–our only luxuries *were* philosophical.

      That sounds like such a simply thing to say: I was raised with a luxurious philosophy.

      It’s SO huge, though. When a person has been immersed in and inculcated with philosophies that only emphasize lack, the idea that life (with or without money) can be luxurious and rich and full and fat is so far outside of their experience that it seems like a fantasy.

      I was blessed with parents who recognized that our philosophies and attitudes made all the difference. I wore second- and third-hand clothing (and refashioned and made my own), but I also learned to identify what truly satisfied my need, and how to redirect excess blessings to others who had needs as large as mine. There are a lot of needs in a rural timber town that’s been shrinking and shriveling for decades. It really is a luxury, in the true sense of the word, to know how to share gladly when it means you own one pair of jeans instead of two, because a friend of yours was down to none.

      A good many people I grew up with were immersed in the culture of lacking, and they’ve never realized they can make choices that get them different results. Others know they have choices, but don’t like to give up certain things in order to get different results. Some are aware of it, others are not.

      Still, at the heart of it, it’s not luck. It’s work, and it’s accountability. In one sense, I’m a second generation with practical application of a philosophical ideal, and raising a third; my parents made a deliberate change from the expectations of the culture around them, and from the choices of one set of grandparents (the other has made weird choices for generations, but they enjoy life and supported the philosophy of luxury). We suffered economically, but excelled in the important stuff.

      One thing that’s been very, very helpful is the internet; the support in practical application of philosophical ideals has been fantastic to develop! It is flat-out terrifying to be a first-generation change. There is no roadmap, and we’ve all been very carefully schooled to be uncomfortable with challenging a status quo, even if it’s been killing us. My husband is a first-generation change. It is hard, hard, hard.

      If what our household chooses to do, and what we choose to do without, helps someone else clarify what they want to do, and how they could get there, that’s kind of awesome.

      • Ray says:

        I guess that I’m saying it’s not my place to tell someone else what she or he can and cannot do – and I have heard and seen that happen in way too many cases when it comes to this general issue.

        I know people who think I’m doing too little and/or too much in various ways with my own children, and all I have is my own conviction that I’m doing the best I can, given who I and my wife and our children are.

        Given that core feeling, I try to grant others the same privilege, let them educate their children how and where they may.

  8. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have gone back and forth in my mind over the years about the pros and cons of homeschooling or not. I have been following another blogger that homeschools and have gained a lot of information and glimpses into what it might be like. I really shy away from a supper structured curriculum. Seeing a peek at what you do gave me a new insight. While what you do may be to loosely structurd for my family, I am a big fan of learning what interests you at the moment. After reading your post, and some reflection on it, I realized that perhaps I can blend a little of both worlds together to fit my families needs. I really appreciate your opening up your world to us. Best of luck to your family.

    • Liz C says:

      Heather, go for it! There are some fantastic options for a bit more structure without rigidity, and you might really enjoy reading some of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and modern application. She focused on rich living with routine (flexible, but dependable), loads of active time, learning from the best stories and resources, very hands-on exploration. There are purchase-able guides and learning sets, but you can also easily design-your-own, so the budget constraints are highly flexible. As I mentioned above, if you’d normally be frustrated and hating summer vacation, try out learning all together all summer; it’s a realistic test of the family dynamic, long enough to allow for the intensification/calming cycle (things will be good, then get HARD, then get easier), and gives you some really cool summer memories at the very least. Do let me know if I can be helpful. I love encouraging people!

  9. Michelle says:

    What I love about this post is simply getting to know you better. I’m so glad our paths have crossed.

  10. Lisa says:

    I am a homeschool mom who ia reading “Better Than College.” I am very against the socialist indoctrination in schools and at universities and colleges. I really want my children not to go to college. I am LDS and we love teh gospel here. How can I help my children to prepare for a life without college or university? Is there a facebook group for LDS people who believe in avoiding universities and colleges and going the “Better Than College” route?

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