Unschooling Curriculum Reviewer Pt 2–Oxymoron?

We reclaimed the Oregon Coast as our home when the boys were roughly 4th and 7th grade. An entire year was spent to learning about our lake and the ocean.  I started two blogs, Lake Schooling and Ocean Schooling.  So many new objects to explore and learn about.  Hubby tease that sometimes we even did ‘some schooling’ with our math, geography and reading. 

I wanted to create a new pattern in our home for the mornings.  After spending so many years teaching them to read and figure out math problems – I’d like to use those skills to learn the details of other topics. Science? History? More Geography? Languages? Art? Music?  But how . . . If they don’t wake up with the thought of wanting to learn about the stages of composers throughout history – will we ever study it?

As the homeschool movement grew- and labels seemed to pigeon hole families, and any reference to unschooling immediately meant Radical – a new term emerged. Relaxed Learners. After a year of running three blogs – I merged them on WordPress to just plain Petra School, Relaxed and Transparent.

About this time I was reading Kris’ blog ‘Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ and learned about The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschool Review Crew.  On a whim and with about 6 followers, I applied.

Imagine my surprise when I got accepted!  (They require quite a bit more now from new crew members as social media has increased in our lives).

That first year on the crew was a bit overwhelming.  I tried so hard to do each piece to the letter of the publishers law.  It was a good experience for us.  For the first time, we were stepping out of our comfort zone to experience different learning styles.  Online Learning. Video Tutors. Full day by day planned curriculum. Some made by rather professional companies. Some the first product of a hopeful HS Mom turned publisher. Many projects seemed to use the crew as guinea pigs to see how the product would work. Our reviews sparked many product revisions.

I learned, as a reviewer, to not start each piece from page one.  When it is February, and we have been doing math year round, page one is not the place to start. Yep, it took me a whole year to learn this.  I could use a resource from the starting point of where we are, not page one.

After the second year, I learned that I should use the curriculum based on our style of learning.  I was given permission to be a relaxed Charlotte Mason family with our reviews. This started with our composer studies.  A product had great information, but the review worksheets were horrible.  Points that were important to the publishers were not important to the boys. They would pick up on other parts of their life and want to write and explore those areas.  Like how one composer traveled his whole life on a boat going to many of the conquered lands of France. We didn’t have time to look into every island port, because the worksheet didn’t lead us there.

I began looking at curriculum as a resource.  A guide for the teacher. Even on supposedly student led work. I would spend the first one to two weeks reading as much as I could of the entire product.  I’d get a feel, the pulse, of what the product’s goals were for my children.  I’d check out supplemental living books from the library on the same topics.  We’d use notebooking pages and lapbooks instead of the worksheets. We’d talk through the worksheets and test as a family with oral narrations. We had freedom back again.

This year on the crew – I have not received one product that I didn’t ask for.  It has been glorious.  We are given several weeks – to months – to research the upcoming vendors.  We’re given a week or two at least to research the exact product. Then we are given two opportunities to explain how we will use it in our home. 

Many of the companies I raise my hand for now – are CM style. Like a current choice, Moving Beyond the Page. I have not had to tweek the products to fit our learning style. Some of the products, like MotherBoard Books, I wanted the step by step learning to help with a goal of having our youngest son be able to respond to written directions. Programming graphics on the computer and a video game with MotherBoard books was a perfect step towards that end. There is a highly desired publisher due to go up for review requests soon, and I am praying about how my response will be now.  It is a strict curriculum company – yet rich with wonderful information – and will need to be tweeked to suit our relaxed learning ways.  I’d love to have it on the resource shelf, but would hate to take a spot from a family that would use it to the letter of the pubisher’s law. Sigh.

Most of these words today are sparked by a new season of homeschoolers.  I’m surrounded by new homschooling moms. Like the mom I met with yesterday who is homeschooling her children and needed reassurance that her 2 and 4 year old would be OK to the moms of those pulling out of private and public school this year and need to know how and what to do with their 5th graders.

They ask me – what do you do? What do you use? A snarky –we unschool – isn’t going to help them. Yet, telling them how our days go today – as a reviewer charlotte mason nature loving mom – isn’t’ really going to help them either as they start their own path.

Those first few years? I think were the best. And laid a foundation. It created our atmosphere of learning in our home. That would be my advice to new homeschool moms today, no matter what the age of their child. Every moment – stay intentional with your day. Teaching them the discipline of laundry and dishes and yardwork – is still learning. Having your child research youtube videos to fix that part on the car or lawnmower or dishwasher is school. Figuring out the PH balance of your soil to help your veggies is necessary. Discovering what cleaning products are best for your skin and ecosystem is crucial. Practicing daily fitness and nutrition will serve them the rest of their lives. Showing them your love for reading and learning will create the disciples you yearn for. (Disciple/discipline – they only become like the teacher). Teaching them to simplify their rooms, cutter and dressers is key to their own home later. The entire day of keeping the home should be a family project. Long walks in the woods and by the shore. Preferably in the same spot is wonderful. It will become familiar to them, and there may be a point when they don’t want to walk that trail – and then – something new will be waiting for them. They’ll start to see differences and questions will be sparked. Sigh. Glorious. And yet, I haven’t spoken about world geography, history, or AP science. Create a lifestyle of learning, and then softly fold in the layers of deeper learning. It will come.  There are 12-15 or more waking hours in the day – what are you going to do with them.  That science lesson will only take 20 minutes.

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
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2 Responses to Unschooling Curriculum Reviewer Pt 2–Oxymoron?

  1. Great advice, thank you!

  2. Kylie says:

    Love this post, especially the last two sentences. Thank you for sharing. I’ve often been concerned about reviews (and have stopped doing them) because of the reasons you mention, maybe I can look at them differently now. 🙂

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