How to Unschool a Large Family

“How do you homeschool so many kids?” I get this question a lot, especially when we are all at the park in the middle of the day or we go to the store and the cashier predictably says, “Is today a day off from school?”

How do I do it? How do I raise, clean up after and homeschool so many kids and still find time during the day to write a bit? Well, some days it’s not easy. Some days, the days when I feel like I need to be in control of every little thing, I do get overwhelmed. But most days, we just live and do our stuff and it all works out.

I would describe ourselves as very unschooling, especially for the younger set. However, unlike a lot of unschooling families I do require that everyone help out a bit. Now, really, I do not have my kids working overtime doing chores. But one is responsible for the kitchen counters after dinner, one does the dishes, one helps clean up toys and other “stuff” that’s been gotten out throughout the day (art supplies, science experiments, baseball gloves), and on the weekends I try and get a little deep cleaning done. Very little. I have found that usually if I’m engaged in something whether it’s dishes or gardening, someone will always come along to help. Even the teenagers. My oldest daughter who is 16 and the only one of the kids who attends a “regular” school, picked up a flat and helped me plant seeds outside one beautiful spring day. When I’m hand digging a new row, one of the boys usually brings the wagon around and puts the sod in it and takes it to the compost pile (Liam usually does this with the lawn tractor!).

I don’t have a set system of rules and a schedule for everyone because I want them to do the things they want to do. “Oh my goodness,” some people will say. “How will they ever learn to get up and go to work on time, if you let them sleep or stay up late?” Well, when a person is motivated on their own to accomplish something, they will get up for it. My oldest recently had a job at McDonald’s. He didn’t like it very much, but he liked the money and it helped him toward his goal of traveling (which he is doing now). He was unschooled through most of high school and the “worst” when it came to sleeping in and staying up late (we used to call him a vampire). But every morning, when his alarm went off at 3:30, he got up, got dressed and rode his bike to work. I didn’t have to teach him how to do that. I didn’t have to train him by making him get up every morning and trudging off to school. He did it because he knew that if he wanted to keep the job, that’s what you did.

My other older sons are 12 and 14 and each has his own thing. Liam, 12, likes to help people by mowing lawns and the like. He has only been to school for two years of his life. He is never late for anything. He didn’t have to learn that by getting up everyday. He learned it because he knows that if you’re late to something it’s rude to the people waiting for you. That’s common sense.

My 14 year old loves Tae Kwon Do. We are never late for that!

It’s crazy to think that you have to train someone everyday for 12 years of their lives to get up every morning.

But what about friends? I hear people say. Don’t they have any friends? First off, we are very fortunate to live in an area full of homeschool groups, so my children have plenty of other kids with which to play. Also, I’ve discovered two things about “socialization.” The first one is: when my kids don’t go to school they’re nicer people. Why? Well, I think the Lord of the Flies mentality at a lot of schools has a lot to do with it. When my kids are on their own they’re not ashamed to ask questions, learn things, try things or be who they are – or want to be.

The second thing is: when you put 30 or 40 or 200 kids together who are all the same age together in one room and tell them to be friends all you get is a pack mentality – not friendship. My kids join different activities – soccer, Tae Kwon Do, game groups, art classes, plays – and lots of other things. They meet people in these groups – of all ages – who are also into these things. People generally find friends in the places where they like to hang out. Friends often have like interests, they’re not friends just because they’re the same age!

So, back to the original question. How do I unschool a large family? Well, we read a lot; garden a lot; bake a lot; talk a lot; go on field trips; go to the store; build stuff; fix stuff; watch movies; play games (both video and board); talk more; ask questions; look things up. We watch stuff about science and history on TV. We play. A lot. We play all kinds of stuff. The older kids play with the younger kids. They play spies and police officers and star ships and they wrap each other up like a mummy. They ride bikes and we go to the playground.

We don’t have a set schedule, but we do have a routine. We wake up about the same time each day and we eat and I work a bit and the kids do math or play. We’ll read and go outside. We’ll eat lunch and go for a walk or to the park. We come home and work on a project. We make dinner.

Or not. Sometimes, our day doesn’t go like that at all. That’s the great thing about living and having choices, you can mix it up. I can work at night and play all day. Sometimes I wake up extra early to get my paying work done so my mom work isn’t interrupted all day.

And it doesn’t matter because everyday is our day.

Oh – and just for those who will ask, because I know they will, my well-read, unschooled kids who like taking tests (I have a couple) do EXTREMELY well on them. They are excellent readers and have liked taking math classes in addition to their musical and artistic talents. And the best thing is – they’ve never felt forced to do it!

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