On March 13, 2020 I was sitting in my husband’s home office confirming an alarming text I received from a friend, and found out that it was indeed true…my kids would not be going to school for the rest of the year. Forced lockdowns ended the school year for kids all over the world, yet ignited a great awakening for parents, who now have an increased awareness, interest, intention and desire to be involved in, and knowledgeable about how their children are being educated. The past three years have been a beautiful disruption, and there is more attention on schools, educators, curriculum and the future for our children than before. Parents are now more intentional and connected and I believe this generation of children will benefit from that. It has been the silver lining of a world in crisis, beauty in the midst of chaos.
My oldest son has had the opportunity to be involved in a supplemental education program called Synthesis. It is once a week for an hour on Zoom with a teacher and a cohort of children around his age. The children get an opportunity to practice and explore many skills like problem-solving, speaking, critical-thinking, collaboration, team work, leadership and strategy, with the belief that these are the skills that will be needed for jobs in the future that may not even exist right now. All of these skills are experienced by playing engaging strategy games. My son looks forward to it every week and is fully engaged the entire time. For a kid who does not really enjoy school, that says a lot.
Over the past three years and through Synthesis, we have been introduced to the concept of “unschooling” (or homeschooling), a philosophy of education with a different approach than a traditional classroom and/or a public education. Some basic concepts of unschooling are to teach a child “to be, to do & to know”, versus a strong priority of just “knowing” (through memorization, text books, and studying tests) that is emphasized in a traditional classroom education. To learn something new, we often have to do something new and be someone new - an effective education focuses on all three, not just collecting more knowledge. Learn more about the unschooling concept in the book Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich.
Below are some things we do to create a learning environment in our home to supplement our childrens’ education. Regardless of how you do school (public school, private school, homeschool, or other), every family can create an environment of learning and growth in their home. Life is an education and we are all living, therefore always have many opportunities to learn.
Here is a list of ideas you can easily incorporate into your rhythm at home. I hope these help you feel empowered to support your children.
In the summer (and on holiday breaks), from breakfast to lunch we do a mini “homeschool/unschooling” session, which includes household responsibilities (aka chores, but I prefer to call them responsibilities or contributions), silent reading at their level, out loud reading (there is always a book we read together as a family), journal entry (I give them a journal prompt & edit what they write to practice grammar), and they get to research/explore any topic they choose to learn about for the summer. Ian chose WWII, Aria chose acting, Eli chose the history of MLB, and I read more with Lydia while the older ones are busy with this.
After lunch, they are free to go play outside with friends. On most days they spend all afternoon outside playing until it is time to come home for dinner. We live in an Agri-Community on a 140-acre farm with about 20 kids on our street, so there is always something to do, friends to play with, and many places to roam. We believe this free play time with friends is a big part of their education and development.
I have lists on the fridge that include: 5 things to do by 9am, 5 learning activities, 5 things to do before you go play, 5 things to do before bedtime. These are references for them to stay on track and they earn money when they follow & cooperate with this plan.
Speaking of money, they each have 3 containers (jars or wallets or piggy banks) for their money - one for spending, one for saving, one for tithing. A couple times a year we count up all their money and put aside 10% to save, 10% to tithe to our church and the rest they can spend as they choose. They have a savings account at a local bank and a Roth IRA. We want these basic money management concepts to be deeply rooted in how they think about and steward their money, and we want them to have a little nest egg when they start life on their own.
I have an ongoing list of “things I want to teach my children before they leave our home”. We are going to tackle dining etiquette this summer and celebrate at the end of the summer by going to a local fine dining restaurant.
We do a weekly visit to our local library so we always have new books. We keep them in the living room so it is easy to sit down and pick up a book. We listen to audible in the car and while eating lunch together. On most nights I read out loud to them before bedtime.
We are currently on an RV trip out west to visit Mt. Rushmore. For a few months before the trip we read several books about Mt. Rushmore and the four presidents carved into the mountain. They knew so much about it when they arrived, which helped the experience to come alive for them. Last year we took a trip to Boston and listed to several audible books about the Revolutionary War on the way. Again, the experience was more more meaningful because they had a foundation of understanding and THEN had the real-life exposure.
Since life is an education, there are daily opportunities to incorporate learning and education. Look for microcosms. Microcosms are small, self-contained models of larger, more complex systems. Children learn without even realizing they are learning when they engage in a microcosm. Examples include fish tanks, observing nature, lemonade stands, bake sales, having a small business, mock restaurant at home, caring for a pet, tending to a garden, team sports, neighborhood play with a variety of ages, being involved in a community, and the list goes on.
Speaking of community, get your kids plugged into meaningful communities, where they feel a sense of belonging. We are meant to do life with people in relationship. Create opportunities for your kids to be engaged socially. Communities increase their exposure and friendships with non-authority figure adults who can become mentors. Some communities we love include our neighborhood, our extended family (they love their cousins), our local CrossFit gym, my Mary Kay team, our local church, school events, lots of social gatherings, community festivals, community sports, cooking classes, our local downtown area/businesses, and I’m probably forgetting a few.
Looks for ways to teach less and expose more. Make travel and creating memorable life experiences apart of your yearly rhythm.
Find ways for your children to do age-appropriate, meaningful work: shoveling the drive way, lawn mowing, cooking/grilling/baking, doing their own laundry, caring for pets, walking neighbors dogs, household projects, babysitting, etc. Watch your child’s confidence & sense of responsibility blossom when they get to make a meaningful contribution to the family or community. Responsibility gives children a sense of purpose.
And so many more things! I am always collecting new ideas. Please share yours in the comments.
None of this ever looks perfect in our home and the journey is messy and often frustrating, but we continue to lean into the discomfort and take the next step. It is beauty in chaos. We are raising adults, not children, and we need to be intentional to equip them (instead of just protect them) for the future that is ahead of them.
Best wishes to you on your journey of life and learning.
Check out 3 podcasts at https://lindatoupin.pink/episodes/ (episodes 18,19 & 20) where you will learn from 5 moms (including myself) about education, children & family.
Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich
Follow Synthesis on Instagram @synthesis.is