What to do when you don’t fit inside a homeschool box
Before my children and I quit school, I was a public-school teacher. And after that, a Montessori teacher, for many years. But I don’t do conventional schooling, or Montessori, at home. If there’s one thing my years of teaching taught me, it’s that school—no matter how liberal the school’s approach— is too prescriptive for children’s lives and development, to thrive. I learned that I don’t want my children inside of forced, institutionalised, education; even within a beautiful philosophy like Montessori.
Not even within the more “gentle” coercion of school at home. My children are human. They have a right to be free, and that includes in their thinking, movement, and time.
As school-free mamas and papas, we have a right to freedom too. The freedom to raise our children respectfully, the ‘us’ way. The freedom to homeschool the ‘us’ way.
I’m not anti-Montessori, or educational philosophy.
I’m Anti-One Size Fits All. Because, it doesn’t. People—not just children, but people—do not arrive in boxes, and asking them to live and learn inside of boxes is limiting. That’s definitely been true for us in our homeschooling journey. We just don’t fit inside any of the homeschooling approaches properly.
Some of our literature-based, and nature-based activities, are Charlotte Mason inspired. But Charlotte would probably balk if she saw how we do them.
Some of our school-free life fits with a Montessori approach. Though, Grace and Courtesy for us can become: Forget Benevolence, and Get It Done.
Some of our days and weeks are unschool, with a workbook thrown in. Many unschoolers would tell me this isn’t unschooling at all. Others might be fine with it. Some might believe that I am still on my journey towards unschooling; still learning to unhinge from my schooled mindset, which is what I suspect to be true.
You could call some of our days Natural Learning. But there are weeks when our schedule and social life are so quiet, we turn to internet-based programs.
Sometimes, our space looks Reggio; with a heart of art and self-led inquiry. Other times, the art is gone, darling, and there’s no time for observing turtles and imagining or inquiring about turtle life.
Yes, I’m being simplistic. The point is that my children aren’t in any books. Founders of educational approaches haven’t met my kids, and they don’t know our life context, our tendencies, our resources, our dreams.
Truth is that those of us who are learning to truly live, school-free: in a context of connecting with our children and facilitating our children’s self-led interests and happiness, are unschooling. But unschooling, or the path to unschooling, looks different for everyone. Our journey, with children who were schooled into middle primary, looks very different to families who have always unschooled. And sometimes the more purist unschoolers, or those further down the track than us, are dubious about whether our path qualifies as unschool.
When you don’t fit any of the homeschool clicks, what do you do? How do you find your own flow, when it doesn’t really classify?
What you can do: how to be a homeschool boho.
Choose your own label.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need a label at all.
But, being unclassified can be difficult. How do you introduce yourselves? How do you describe what you do, especially when you meet other homeschoolers, who you want to share your experiences with? How can you give a truthful introduction, in one short ‘hello’?
There are a lot of clicks, even amongst homeschoolers, and I’ve given up trying to fit into one. Every day, I strive to be a little less concerned about where we do and don’t fit within the categories of homeschooling approach, and philosophy. (We don’t.) Looking for a label seems contradictory to this. But, people ask. What we’re like. Where we ‘sit’ with homeschooling.
It’s really just that our family are living without school. School-free. We’re loving life since we all left school. We don’t follow any particular method. We’re just us.
So, like me, you don’t fit properly with any of the homeschool styles people rave about. And you’re a little sad, because you’re in love with some of those philosophies. You’re inspired and ignited by what other free-schoolers are doing. You’re even in love with some of the aesthetics that go with those philosophies. The ones in pretty pictures, on other people’s blogs. Nature journals. Moveable alphabets. Hard-bound, embossed, poetry books by the greats. Hand-woven baskets, full of oil paints, and brush. World-school beach fossicks. So beautiful! There must be something wrong with you though, because you can’t seem to do any of them properly. You, your children, and your lives, don’t fit into any of these amazing frameworks.
Gah, no. Those ideals don’t fit with you. Not the other way around. And you aren’t going to squash yourself or your children into a box to fit with any prescribed idea. Because, you put your children’s authentic realities and happiness before any educational ideal.
It takes time to find your true, school-free life. The one that really works, that is really you. Be strong in the journey.
You and your children are finding your own way. Not someone else’s.
Go with your instinct.
Fall on your stomach, then go with your gut again.
When you do find your way, trust it. There is no one more qualified to shape yours and your children’s school-free lives than you and your children. Not Einstein. Not the minister for education. Not Mother Theresa. Not even the wonderful people who you might learn from, like John Holt, or Peter Gray. No one. Period.
Be strong in that.
Keep what works.
Throw out the rest. Truly. Why hold on to materials, philosophy, labels, or activities that don’t work for you or your children? You wouldn’t ask your children to wear clothes that don’t fit. Why ask them to wear ideals that don’t fit?
If you’re like me, you get a bit envious; sad even, about not quite being a good fit with the beautiful educational approaches you’ve fallen in love with. I fell in love with Montessori philosophy and practice in my twenties, and vowed I would raise my children Montessori. But it turns out, I’m not Montessori, and neither are my children. They’re them, and I’m me. My views about education and children’s rights have changed, and many of them clash with Maria Montessori’s ideas.
What to do? Keep the things you love. Keep the things that fit with your Why, and your children’s Why. Our core reasons for being school-free. That’s our point of reference. You might not fully know your core beliefs about parenting, childhood or learning yet, but you do know why you chose to live, school-free.
Here are a couple of things that I love, and keep, of Montessori’s teachings:
- Respect and dignity for the child.
- Engagement in real-life activities.
- Quality materials.
- Real, true, information for children, that is not dummed-down.
Here’s what else I take from Montessori philosophy, but with a personal twist:
- Freedom within structure. (Montessori)
- Freedom within semi-predictable chaos. (Us)
- Follow the child. (Montessori)
- Follow the child, your instincts as a parent, and the Stuff You Have to Do to Get Dinner To A Plate On Time. (Us)
Don’t worry if your style of living and learning changes.
So, you’ve told everyone that you’re radical unschooling, and you find yourself buying a math curriculum. Or you’ve decided to do natural learning, but life is pretty quiet so you’re throwing in a bit of intentional instruction. Or, you’re classical education, but for the past three weeks, real-life has gotten in the way of daily habit formation. Or maybe you’re homeschooling Charlotte Mason style, but your child has asked to read the workbooks his friend is reading, instead of your living books.
And you have to change tact. It’s okay.
You can go back to freeform when that instinct that told you or your child a workbook was favourable, is satisfied.
You can go back to learning from real-life when your lives are less quiet, and your real-life picks up, and is rich with experience again.
You can go back to your daily habits when the current madness is over—meanwhile teaching your children that it’s okay to take down time. It’s okay to deal with the things that pop up in life; and to regroup, before you resume your usual routine.
You can dip into a workbook, and those living books will still be a part of your soul; their pages will, soon enough, beckon you again.
You can change up your days, either temporarily or permanently, and the world won’t fall apart. Life and learning will go on. There’s not much point in staying the same when yours and your children’s needs, interests, or life aesthetics, change. Our family’s path is constantly changing, as we gradually free ourselves from our schooled mindset. I’ve given up beating myself up about it. My focus is best spent on navigating this school-free life of ours, on instinct. Not on fear of judgement. And get this, you can fail. Often, if you like. We all get to have that learning experience, shame-free. That’s what personal life paths are made of. Bumps in the road.
“To Thine Own Self Be True.”
“To Thine Own Self and Thine Children Be True.”
Me, copying Shakespeare.
Broaden your idea of your tribe.
I read a lot about the importance of finding my tribe, when our school-free life began. Surrounding yourself with like-minds— people who homeschool the way you do, and share your beliefs.
The trouble is that no one will homeschool quite the way you do. Especially if you don’t fit with any particular approach; or even if you do. Our days don’t look like other people’s, and yours won’t either.
Finding like-minds is important, for sure. Finding same-minds though, is pretty much impossible. And mixing only with people who think like you do seems, well, unhealthy. What happens when your thoughts change? It’s hard to go with your flow when you’re being schooled by the mindsets around you to conform to a particular status-quo.
My children and I meet with other school-free families. Some are freeform. Some are book-based. None have quite the same beliefs or routines as us. Some of our beliefs, in some areas, clash. Doesn’t matter. They’re our tribe.
Every year, we holiday with a bunch of families from the school my children used to go to. All of them are still at school. They’re our friends. They’re our tribe.
My children’s besties are schooled. Their cousins are schooled. Our friends and family don’t all get or love the whole school-free thing. But they get and respect that we do. They’re our tribe.
Even if you could find same-minds, I’d argue that it’s better to know and love a broad sphere of people. Who wants to spend their days with clones? Isn’t it better to know and accept people from many walks of life? I want to offer my children the perspective that your tribe is where you’re accepted, and nurtured. Not where you’re always agreed with.
Like what you like.
This sounds like a no-brainer but is actually very hard to do. It’s hard to be comfortable with liking what you like, or at least, with admitting to it. Especially when you’re trying to find your place amongst the homeschool clicks.
I don’t class myself as a radical unschooler, yet I’m currently reading Radical Unschooling, by Dayna Martin.
I distrust weapons of any kind, yet my son will be whittling his own longbow next month; as a part of his quest to conquer archery. And I’m super excited for him. I like the strength, skill, and inner-connection involved in archery.
I like what I like, it’s an eclectic mix, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense.
Be a bohemian.
Even for the careful travellers amongst us, there is nothing sweeter than being a bohemian in your school-free life. Being flexible about the way you do school-free life means you’re taking on board all of the teachings and philosophies that ring true, but keeping one firm priority: yours and your children’s respectful, happy lives together.
Besides, if you’ve been a nerd all your life like me, it’s very cool to finally be a boho. Even a metaphorical one.
Gotta go. I’m off to buy bangles and a headwrap, and hang out in the margins.