Family Schooling

Because this last year was so challenging for us, I knew we needed to make some changes.  Some of these were one-step changes and some of them were long, meandering rabbit trails of experimenting with different formats and methods.  But here at (nearly) the end of the school year when I step back and take a look, I can see that they all really tended in one direction: family schooling.

Often times, in the on-line homeschool communities I am a part of, the question is posed “What kind of homeschooler are you?”  Here are some popular answers:

  • Charlotte Mason
  • Classical
  • Traditional
  • Unschooling
  • Unit Studies

Of course there are many others.  And prior to this year, I might have described our homeschool as somewhat Charlotte Mason, somewhat Classical.  But I never could come up with a term that seemed to fit us this year.  For part of the year, I felt like our homeschooling could best be described as “survival mode”!  We swung from a routine where most of the day was structured and organized by mama to a routine where small portions were organized by mama, interspersed with lots of unstructured kid-directed activity.

The funny thing, actually, is that LOTS of learning was taking place – even (maybe especially?) in the “free time” moments.  My son embarked on a journey of self-training in drawing.  My daughter spent lots of time reading about inventions and writing reports about how various everyday objects came to be.  She also hosted an art gallery opening complete with art-history read-alouds.  Older siblings taught younger ones about colors, shapes, letters and numbers.  Several dove into poem-writing, story-writing and joke-writing; one wrote lyrics to go with the soundtrack of his favorite video game.  There was a lot of bird watching and identifying, reading about the presidents, exploring bugs and other subject with our Fandex Field Guides.

I’m getting off on a tangent, I know, but it was very informative for me to look back over the year and see that I don’t have to be in charge in order for learning to happen.  And it was kind of mind-blowing for me to see how much learning can happen without any reference to grade level or “scope and sequence” and without the need for pre-scripted curriculum or textbooks.  Again, my thoughts keep circling back to family schooling.

Yes, we are homeschoolers.  But “home” isn’t just the physical location in which the education is taking place.  It isn’t just about getting to do math in your pajamas.  It is about learning together as a family or even learning by being together as a family!  So much of the deep, rich thinking and learning that happened this year happened in such a simple format that it felt like cheating.  We read things.  And we talked about them.  No worksheets, no written assessment, no checking, grades or corrections.  Just discussion.

Because the children aren’t each working on curricula from different grade levels, we can explore together.  The younger ones may not understand or retain as much as the older ones, but it definitely doesn’t hurt them to participate.  And often I am surprised at how much they pick up!

We read the Bible each morning.  The four readers take turns reading out loud.  I help with words to the degree needed by each child and point out things along the way.  In addition to the discussion you would expect surrounding Bible reading, we have observed the different ways the -ed ending can be pronounced, talked about apposition and metaphor and practiced how to help your listeners “hear” the punctuation marks in what you are reading.

We spent a good six or eight weeks engaged in concepts of geometry.  We read String Straightedge and Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia Diggins.  We celebrated Pi Day, explored perimeter and area with Blokus pieces and enjoyed piles of Sir Cumference books.

The problem with family schooling, though, is that it tends to kind of blur into the rest of life.  If school is discussion and discussion is school, then it’s hard to tell where one stops and the other starts.  And somehow, that suits us just fine!  There are times in the day when I call everyone together and we are sitting and participating in mama-directed learning.  And the children do have some independent assignments to complete.  But the unifying theme is that we are together learning, discussing and engaging!  I am still working on next year’s plan.  But I do know this: it will be our simplest one yet!


Lynna Sutherland is a homeschool mother of eight always-homeschooled kiddos ranging in age from high school to kindergarten. She loves to encourage parents in the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling and offer creative ways to manage a large family and a multi-age homeschool!

  • I absolutely LOVE this! How brilliant because most years it is hard to focus on one style of learning with so many young ones a part of the school day. Family schooling is the heart behind it all. My favorite moments are ones when my kids are learning & teaching alongside each other!

    • Yes. Maybe calling it “family schooling” is just a way to kind of accept ahead of time the craziness of it all and consider it part of the package!

  • Kira Calvert says:

    Loved this! I’m on a similar introspective track right now as the school year has ended and I think back over what was accomplished. There is so much to think back on, some good and some areas in need of revamping and next year I’m looking to make things simpler as well.

    • It kind of feels like baby gear … you have a ton with the first one and then the further you go into parenting, the more you kind of thin out your arsenal. 😉

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