A Typical Unschooling Day

Described two ways, in schoolish terms,
and then from an unschooling point of view.

This is a brilliant response written by a mom named Ginny
Sunday, March 9, 2003

Someone asked this question:
If I let them alone will they squander their days away without learning anything? Would it be too much to ask if their are any families who would be interested in having someone come into their home to see what life in unschooling is like?

Ginny responded:

It is impossible for them to even spend a single day without learning. I really understand where you're coming from with your questions. Even if you could come to our house (and we love to have visitors), you won't see learning taking place here unless you change your view of what learning looks like. To explain, here's a very detailed, long description of what a recent unschooling day for us entailed. It is very typical of all our days, although no two days are the same. First I will describe it for you from a "schooled" point of view, then I will describe it for you from an "unschooled" point of view.
Our day as seen through "schooled" eyes:
They didn't do any schoolwork. I had to take that stray dog to the vet. Then I rushed home to get ready to take my DD to town (we live an hour away, out in the boonies) for her yearly physical. Her two brothers remained at home. After the Dr. appt, daughter & I stopped and got sandwiches and then went to a consignment shop on the way home to look for spring clothing. Then I came home and did housework and cooked dinner while the kids played and we went to a public speaking workshop. Not much schoolwork for any of the kids.
Our Unschooling Day:
Someone on this board has said Unschooling is like a pond with a smooth surface. It may not look like much, but underneath there's all kinds of stuff going on! Kids went with me to take the dog to the vet. That's science. 8-yr-old DS helped me fill out the "stray dog form" or whatever it's called (it was lengthy), and the kids watched the initial exam and let the dog get settled in. DS learned that dogs pee to show submission (this one was peeing all over the place; she was scared of the office personell; strange she didn't act like that with us). Then I drove like a madwoman all the way back home to get ready to take DD to the Dr for her yearly physical. Her brothers remain at home (oldest is in his mid-teens), washing, drying, folding and putting away Daddy's work uniforms for next week, also doing sorting and captioning photos and making a picture storyboard about an ecology trip we took to a barrier island nearby several weeks ago. Youngest DS also spent much time dressing up his stuffed turtle in Barbie clothes (you gotta' see this turtle-- "Grandma Turtle," "Jimmy Dean" complete with Barbie guitar, "Turtle Mummy" wrapped in a yarn cocooon --every day this turtle is somebody else. Shoot, if Barbie can do it, why can't Turtle?). Also older DS listened to him read aloud for 15 minutes, at young one's request, because he wants to "read fast".

After DD's doctor visit, I took her out for lunch; she counted out exact change and ordered and paid for her own. There was a consignment shop on the way home we stopped at to get her spring clothes. She knew we had less than $10 to spend and a list that was very long. She found socks for her boots in the exact color we'd been looking forever for, 50 cents. Wal-Mart's boot socks are $3/pair, and she pointed this out. More wonderful finds were jeans for $2 and a new telephone-address book for $1 that was originally $15 according to the original price tag still on it. It's a very nice one. She has learned to call four different consignment shops and ask for specific items before we go; she is comfortable on the phone getting information from strangers and knows how to handle herself. That's how we knew the jeans were there in her size.

When we got home, there were several messages on the answering machine, one for my husband-- a student cancelling a public speaking assignment in a school my husband handles on public speaking. I asked oldest DS if he wanted to fill in with a last-minute public speaking demo. He said "yeah", looked up the material to be covered and began working up a 5-minute speech on the topic. DS cleaned her bird cage, which led to her reading her bird encyclopedia, and then other books. She gets ideas from books she reads and then writes her own stories. Today she worked on "Sunflower" and wrote two LONG chapters. Actually, she typed it on an old manual typewriter that's falling apart. She just likes to type on it. Her spelling is terrible. But the story is fantastic, and very detailed, and I notice her form for writing dialog is excellent. If you saw her at this, you would think, "She's playing with the typewriter." She wasn't. She was writing. While she was doing this, teen DS was on the computer at the website NFL.com (what else would he be interested in?) comparing game scores. He told me so-and-so only ran 20% of the yards he ran last year; now why does he hate percentages out of a math book, but he has no trouble with it in real life? (Unschoolers know why).

Somebody said "Zoom's on!" They love that PBS program. Today's show was about making shadow puppets, you know how you cut out the outline, fill in eyeball holes and so forth with a sheet of tissue paper and put it against a tissuepaper screen with a lamp behind you, and there you have a puppet theatre, Oriental style. The kids got stuff out of our art cart and trashed the TV room making a shadowpuppet theatre the minute the program was over. Oldest DS wrote a play for the puppets and the other kids worked the puppets. It was pretty good. Then I timed DS's speech, which he had gotten up himself and he did very well. While I was cooking supper, youngest DS thumbed through some craft catalogs I have and wrote down the prices for clock parts (he makes clocks, real ones, and they are so beautiful, and he's only 8 years old!) and wrote them down and asked me for money. I said, "How much?" and he added them up and gave me the final figure, about $20. I told him it would happen next paycheck. Then he pulled out the Viewmaster reels and started looking through our huge collection, asking if we had any Scoobydoo ones. We have several cartoon reels, but no Scoobydoo. He ended up looking at slides from the package "How To Swim," then "Washington D.C."

Daddy came home and the entire dinnertime conversation was a detailed description of how to use Termidore to treat a termite-infested building. Who knows, the info was interesting and may come in handy one day if the kids remember it. More science, anyway.

Then time for baths and dinner. House water filter was clogged and needed to be changed before anyone could shower. Daddy showed youngest DS how to do it. (How many 8-year-olds in school know how to change a whole-house water filter?) Oldest DS gave his speech and did beautifully. He's really good with that. We came home and he washed supper dishes, DD put away the day's laundry for me and hubby and I talked for awhile.

Everybody stayed up WAYYY late to watch a video I'd checked out of the library, called "The Road From Coorain." I had checked it out for ME to watch, but they were so interested. It was a PBS Masterpiece Theatre production about a family's struggle to run a large sheep station in the Australian Outback in the 1930's, based on a true story. I have no doubt my kids will ask for books and films on Australia next time we are in the library.

Everyone was in bed by midnight.

All told, we covered science, social studies, economics, reading, writing, composition, mathematics, high school biology, history, arts & crafts, and imaginative play. From an Unschooling point of view.

So. Where do you start? With yourself. What do YOU do that's fun and interesting to YOU? What? Do I hear you laughing? ("Time out? Fun? Hobbies? At HOME? For ME? Are you KIDDING? . . . ")

My oldest boy learned to sew because he saw me sewing and liked the machine; not because I made him take a sewing class.

Little boy learned to read because he saw the cover of a Hardy Boy's mystery book big brother had checked out (Ghost Of Windy Hill or some such) and thought scary was cool and just had to scare himself. That's when he threw himself into learning to read, whole-hog, not because I sat him down and made him do phonics.

My daughter's watercolor paintings are professional quality but not because I sent her out for art lessons or she was born talented. She paints because she found the really expensive watercolor supplies way up in the closet by accident that I USED to use, and I didn't say "no" when she asked to try them out just for fun, even tho' the brushes are real sable and cost $50 apiece, and the watercolor tubes are $20 each, and the cut paper off the coldpressed paper block are about $2 a sheet. Anybody can turn out masterpieces on stuff like that!

You know, my daughter won't have a 5th grade language arts completed workbook to show in her portfolio this year. But she will have a list of all the books she read on her own, (probably close to one hundred) and a thick file folder of stories she has written, and copies of our family newspaper with her imaginative, well-thought-out contributions inside.

So. Your job is to "strew their paths" with interesting things, and let them pick it up on their own. And they WILL, I promise. Just make things available to them, and then write down what they do. Keep a journal. There will be so much learning going on, it will be too much for you to write. Just BE with them. DO stuff, yourself, and they will follow.


Schuyler's Better-than-Typical Day

more typical days


creating an unschooling environment

seeing unschooling