Eclectic Unschooling is Learning for Mom, too!

My blog is a day late this week because I have been busy learning alongside my children.

Keturah playing here ukulele. Photo: Nikoah Thornton

When we started homeschooling in 2013 I knew that I would need to refresh my skills, especially my math skills. What I did not know at the time is that I would learn new skills that I had not planned to learn. It started when Keturah changed from learning Irish to learning Spanish — she realized Spanish would be more useful. I decided to really dig into my DuoLingo and learn it with her. I also set up an account for Jude, so that he could learn as well.

Next, Brian suggested that Jude would enjoy mixing music, and if he wanted he should start by learning basic music theory. I found a music theory lesson plan that we are using to learn music theory through the piano. (Free Music Theory Worksheets!)We have been working on piano for a little over a week, and I have retained more than I expected to.

Shortly after Jude and I started learning the piano, Keturah admitted that she was struggling with the app that she was using to learn guitar, and Brian was also concerned she was not focused enough during practice time, so he asked that she practice with me in the room to observe her. To replace her app we searched for an online site. We found Justin Guitar and it seemed to fit the bill of what we were looking for. I wanted to make sure I understood what the videos were telling her to do, so I decided to learn alongside her. I have really surprised myself. I really expected it to be more difficult than it is. I cannot wait to be able to play an actual song!

Jude practicing piano. Photo credit: Nikoah Thornton

It is probably not ideal to learn two musical instruments at the exact same time, but I am having fun learning new skills. With that said, Keturah is also learning two instruments, she is also learning ukulele.

I did not expect that homeschooling would guide me to learning new skills, but when a homeschool family decides to be child led, they either spend money on all the classes the children choose to take, or someone should learn the skills to ensure the student is learning in a valuable way. This can either be a draw back if there is no one to learn alongside the student(s), or a positive for the person learning what they did not expect to learn.

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Eclectic Unschooling is Life Skills

I recently saw a Facebook post asking for schools to do away with Algebra 2 and teach the students functional math – such as finance, and life skills. As with many things this is not something I expressly teach. It is something we do daily. For example, now that both children are old enough to clean a house correctly, we have made it mandatory that they do their part, and I do very little other than monitor. This not to enables me to guide them on how to care for a household, but also frees up time for me to do the things I need to do. This independence in cleaning was a process, and did not happen overnight. We began by having the kids help with dinner, dishes, laundry, etc. and slowly added more responsibility and independence over time. 

Keturah: a teenager wearing a flannel shirt, blue jeans, and a backwards cap wipes off a black desk.
Keturah cleaning her desk. Photo credit: Nikoah Thornton

Today, the children do almost all of the cleaning. They alternate nights cleaning the kitchen, occasionally cook dinner, when we have time for them to. They are capable of doing their own laundry (they don’t anymore though because I often needed the washer was when it was being used (and yes, we had a schedule, I often needed the washer on their days)). Finally, once a week they clean the house top to bottom. One of them cleans the second floor while the other cleans the first floor. I scrub the kitchen, which is mostly clean from the night before. To prevent arguments, they are each responsible for their own room. We started this arrangement three weeks ago, and it is working out great. They are learning that the house does not clean itself, and what it takes to keep it clean. 

As for finances, the children receive an allowance each week and are responsible for their spending. Keturah has pet rats that she is completely responsible for and has not borrowed money once since she bought them a year and a half ago. Also, Keturah wants a Ukulele, and is currently saving up for it, teaching her how to put off purchases till she has the money for them. 

A preteen sweeping up the hallway.
Jude sweeping the floor. Photo credit: Nikoah Thornton

As for Jude, I was holding his money in an “account” on my phone, and I would assist him with whether he should spend money or not — not being the most common answer — when we realized 1. Jude has more money than he knows what to do with, and 2. He was not learning financial responsibility. We then decided to give him some of his money as cash that he could do with it what he wanted. That was 2 weeks ago, and he has yet to spend any of it. Though, his birthday is around the corner, and we are discouraging him from buying anything right now as we don’t want him to buy what he is already getting. 

One of the major benefits of homeschooling no matter what path you choose is the ability for the children to see how to organize a home. This was a skill I learned as an adult, because it was not taught at school, and my parents did not know to teach us. I do not hold that against my parents, but I do want my kids to have these skills younger than I did. Though, I do recognize that many don’t learn these skills till they are adults, so I am also encouraging my kids to be patient with any roommate, spouse, or other person they may live with in the future. I don’t want them to do all of the cleaning, but I also don’t want them to be angry if the other party does not keep as tidy of a home as my kids are being taught to. 

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Eclectic Unschooling Standing up for Oneself

When we started unschooling, it was out of convenience. We had just pulled Keturah out of school, and I was not prepared at all, so I asked her what she wanted to learn about. She told me that she wanted to learn about spiders, and she did. We used spiders for research, reading, and writing. She learned so much, and retained the information so well, that we continued down this track. Sometimes, the kids ask to learn something that seems trite, or unnecessary, so we required them to justify why they want to learn about it. We have taught them to stand up for themselves and their wants and needs by doing this.

An example of the type of meat I use. Source:

This independence comes with unexpected consequences. A while back, my daughter slowly started pulling away from ground meat, starting with taco meat — I know, unimaginable. She could not express why she was pulling away at the time, but one ground beef based food after another went to the wayside. Then, a few months ago she was finally able to express what the issue is: the texture. She cannot stand the texture of ground meat, therefore, unless it is accompanied with something such as pasta to change the texture, she will not eat it. I was obviously frustrated, as I use ground meat in many of my dishes, but we taught Keturah to stand up for herself, and her needs. Once she explained what the problem was it enabled us to find a solution: use a very tender roast pulled apart and cooked as I would for the dish. This may be an extra step, but with our Sous Vide it is not much of one.

Last week we tried taco meat, and a cabbage roll casserole. Both worked out wonderfully. The flavor was there, but the texture was different, and one Keturah was happy to eat. This is the first time she has had taco meat in several years. The lesson both of my children learned from this is 2 fold, 1: standing up for yourself is worth it, and 2: work to seek solutions to problems, rather than complaining about them.

This type of child led learning creates a very strong willed person who will not give in, even to authority, if the authority is wrong. I was wrong to insist that she try to eat ground meat in a manner that she cannot tolerate. I am right when I give her acceptable options such as pasta when I make chili, or make the simple change from ground meat to pulled beef. Overall, it is worth it to know I am growing kids who can stand up for themselves and others.

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Eclectic Unschooling is Gaming

My kids are similar to most kids in that they enjoy gaming. Jude really enjoys Fortnight especially when playing with his friends, where Keturah prefers choose your own adventure type games. They both love Mario Kart. Over the Christmas holiday the kids and I spent a lot of time playing Mario Kart. They would debate which map to play without good reasons to back it up. I suggested they play each map and take notes on them. They spent 3 full days researching each map and the best ways to play them. They took extensive notes for 3 days on their holiday break without realizing they were doing research, and learning important skills doing what they love. The most important thing I do is to encourage them to learn these skills in the things the kids love. It’s not always easy, but when it falls into place it is awesome.

Eclectic Unschooling Minor Changes.

Over the last few months I have been struggling to write on the blog because I don’t want to repeat myself. It was also stressful to keep up with what I have already covered. Then, I recently realized life repeats, often daily. Therefore, my new focus will be on daily life instead of themes.

Pensive Jude

To begin– Last Thursday Jude participated in the Chevron Readers’ Cup Competition. We found out yesterday his team did not advance to the finals. He was sad, but I am so proud of him and his team for all of the work they did. They all read 4 books, then every kid reread one of the books to become an expert in it. The moms wrote questions based on the examples from the competition’s web page, and they practiced over and over. We all learned so much. The questions asked were more detailed than we expected, so next year we will focus on the details and try again. One of the benefits the kids get is to attend a meet up with Jeff Kinney, the author of Dairy of a Wimpy Kid. All of the kids are very excited especially Jude, because as I stated before Diary of a Wimpy Kid was the first chapter book Jude read. If not for Kinney I don’t know that Jude would have ever been a reader. With that said, our homeschool community entered 4 teams and one will be advancing to the finals. It is a secondary team and we are all very excited for them. Overall, it was a great experience for us all.

Eclectic Unschooling in Russia 2

In May I attended the Global Home Education Conference in Russia. In my last post I described the country as a whole, but I was not there to site see only. I was there for a leadership conference. While at the conference I learned much about home education around the world.

On a street in Moscow photo: Nikoah Thornton

I learned that Russia fully supports home education. Although, they do require testing every year to prove learning has occurred. The issue I have with the testing is I firmly believe people will learn what they need to, when they need to, if they know how. For example, Jude did not learn the days of the week until he wanted to know what days certain things occurred, such as wrestling and the weekend. If my kids were tested based on what is expected by the government on schedule, we would not have the freedom to focus on what the kids love, and would be restricted to what is required. I have seen my kids thrive and blossom when they are taught, not what to learn, but how to learn using what they are interested in. It is this freedom I spoke about during my speech.

Museum on Red Square. Photo: Nikoah Thornton

I explained how the kids choose the topics they learn about, and how we discuss what is needed for possible future careers, such as math. In a future post I will describe some changes that have occurred in our home school.

Statue Petrof Garden. Photo: Nikoah Thornton

The best part of the conference was the networking. I met many parents who have been homeschooling many years. I met a family who unschooled like we do, and whose children are well rounded and successful. Talking to them reiterated to me that I am teaching my kids in a manner that works. Finally, I learned about how the whole world is starting to accept homeschool as a viable option. It is growing partially because it is now easier to do with all the support and materials available.

Please share in the comments the resources you find most helpful.

Eclectic Unschooling in Russia 1

Russia is an amazing country. As with every place we have traveled Russia is full of people trying to live their lives as best they can. The people there are kind, even if they don’t smile as readily as Americans do.

The conference was held in two locations: St Petersburg and Moscow. While in each city we were able to do some sight seeing, though not as much as I wanted to.

Park in St Petersburg photo: Nikoah Thornton

While in St Petersburg we had a day to tour the city. We saw the Petrof estate, the Hermitage Museum, along with many cathedrals. We learned about the era when St Petersburg was the capital, and that it was moved due to being so rclose to the coast that it was at risk for invasion from the sea.

Moscow sky line photo: Nikoah Thornton

Next, we flew to Moscow where we had very little time to explore. We saw the skyline, Red Square, and St Basil’s Cathedral. It is a beautiful city full of kind people. As for the food, it too was great. I ate Borscht, sauerkraut with beats added, cottage cheese pancakes, and kefir; it was amazing kefir. Overall, my trip to Russia was fantastic. I hope to return with the family someday.

St Basil’s Cathedral photo: Nikoah Thornton

Stay tuned for what I learned at the conference.