Unschooling parent Karen M. Gibson details her family’s unschooled approach to high school, giving a weekly overview of each child's schedule. Their high school academic years are tailored to their individual interests and talents. Future goals for each child are considered, goals including college, jobs and/or owning your own business.

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The Unschooling Handbook
How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
by Mary Griffith
Unschooling, a homeschooling method based on the belief that kids learn best when allowed to pursue their natural curiosities and interests, is practiced by 10 to 15 percent of the estimated 1.5 million homeschoolers in the United States.

Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves
by Alison McKee
Patrick Farenga, editor, "Growing Without Schooling": An honest and touching account of how homeschooling leads to new attitudes and possibilities for learning.
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all;
it is imply to reduce as many individuals as possible
to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry,
to put down dissent and originality.
~ H.L. Mencken

    Unschooling High School
    Karen M. Gibson

    Recently two questions came up on an unschooling e-mail list. The first wondered how one unschools a high school-aged child and the second wanted to know what a typical "day in the life" of an unschooled highschooler was like. These are fairly common questions, especially wondering what a day in the life is like. Until one actually spends time unschooling, it can be difficult to visualize what a child does all day.

    The most common worry parents have is that their child will "do nothing but watch TV and play on the computer all day long." They don't feel that their child is motivated enough to become self-learners. My children do these things, but they also do a great many other things. I don't feel that time spend on these activities are necessarily wasted time - children need time to play, to explore, to try out things that maybe we, as adults, don't see the value of, even when the children are of high school age. The high school years are the time for children to try ideas on, to think about different careers, to explore areas they are interested in to see if those areas are something they might want to pursue for a lifetime, or part of a lifetime. If we set their goals for them, externally, if we direct their learning and their schedule, how do they learn to do this themselves? How will they ever become internally motivated if someone other than themselves is always setting their schedule?

    Describing a typical unschooling day is really quite difficult to do, since there really isn't any such thing. Each day is different, depending upon the activities that we have scheduled at that time. And each year has been different; our homeschooling life has been very different each and every year, as the children have picked up new interests, dropped old ones. Some years our life has evolved around theatre, some years around space/science, and currently mostly around karate. The dynamics also change, as the children mature. Ours changed most particularly a couple of weeks ago when our eldest got her driver's license!

    Instead of giving you an overview of a typical day or even a typical week, that it will be easier just to give you an outline of activities and interests that our three children are involved with and how they fit into our lives right now.

    • Kat is eighteen and technically a senior this year. She is taking two college classes this semester - Western Civilization and Sociology 101 at the local community college (right now she has no interest in attending college full time, only taking classes as she wants to.) Her classes are on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. So she takes the car and goes to those on her own now (I love that she can drive and I don't have to go along!). On Tuesdays she hurries back home so that she and her boyfriend can go to dance lessons Tuesday evening (she also dances with our club on Friday nights). On Thursdays she either comes back directly after class to karate for an afternoon class or goes to the library or comes home. When the weather gets nicer she intends to spend time after classes on Tuesday and Thursday going to various nature refuges and places along the river to take pictures.

    • She is working towards her black belt in karate and also taking jujitsu. So many evenings she goes to karate classes, unless she needs to study for a test or something. Karate classes for her would be possible on Monday -Thursday evenings, sometimes one class, sometimes two classes, sometimes a combination of karate and jujitsu classes - whatever is scheduled for that evening. She has to have eight karate classes and eight jujitsu classes each month to continue advancing; how she gets those classes in is up to her.

    • Kat is also working at earning money from her writing and photography. That is her goal for this next year and a half - to continue to live at home, take some college classes, and submit her work to magazines, contests, etc. She is taking this time to see if her writing and photography could possibly develop into a full-time career. She's treating it like a business right now, spending so many hours each week writing, taking pictures, and submitting work, just like she would a part-time job. In fact, she was looking for a part time job last fall, but as we talked about her goals, it seemed that the time spent on a job would be better spent in pursuing her writing and photography.

    • If she has any spare time after all of the above, Kat reads fantasy and sci-fi and history, and builds and maintains web sites, including her own web site and one for the karate school she attends.

    • David is fifteen, technically in the ninth grade. For the longest time David didn't know whether he would want to pursue a career in science (quantum physics, possibly) or computers, but the last year and a half he seems to be focusing on becoming a software developer, creating computer games. To that end, he requested a tutor in C++ Programming Language. He had learned some on his own, but reached a point where he really needed some direct one-on-one input and help. Last summer we were lucky to find a tutor and he has been learning a lot. He meets with the tutor every Tuesday evening for an hour. He is almost to the point now where he can begin actually building his own computer game, and the tutor will be working with him on that project, from start to finish.

    • Since he has begun to narrow his focus career-wise, he has also begun to see that he will need a lot of math. So about a year ago he asked to begin doing math a bit more formally, using a textbook, which we are doing. Since he has problems with being easily distracted and losing track of time, he asked me to remind him about working with his math. Right now he's using Harold Jacob's Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, which he works in probably 3 days a week, accomplishing about a section a month. But I have noticed over the last few weeks that he is working at it a little longer each time, so I think he's beginning to become more interested in it and will complete the book more quickly than we had originally thought. When he finishes that book, he'll likely head into either Algebra or Geometry, although he may not do them in any regular order. He already knows a great deal of both subjects, just through the interests he has had and the resources he has used in the past. David's always been more interested in theoretical math than in computational math, which is one reason we chose the Harold Jacob's texts rather than Saxon. We tried Singapore Math and that didn't work out at all for him.

    • David is also doing karate, although not pursuing his black belt as intensely as the other two children. He is not taking the jujitsu, so he only has to have eight classes of karate in a month's time. We used to go during the noon classes, but now that Kat has the car during that time, David goes sometimes Monday and Tuesday evenings, always on Wednesday noon, and sometimes on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Also, he is part of a chess club that meets three Mondays a month and he goes with his dad to a computer users meeting on the Monday of the month that he doesn't have chess.

    • Other than that, he reads a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, plays a lot of computer games (research for building his own), plays with legos (continually building more elaborate transformers from legos), and we read Joy Hakim's A History of US together. For a while he was writing his own sci-fi story, but I don't think I've seen him work on that lately.

    • Charles will be thirteen soon and is technically in the seventh grade. He is very involved with karate and thinks he would like to run his own karate school someday. He needs only eight classes of karate and eight classes of jujitsu a month, but his personal his goal is to have at least twenty-five classes in each month and he'd like to have thirty if he could. He goes so often that he gets asked to help with other classes and the owners have asked him to join their Leadership Club, which essentially trains students to become instructors. So, any time the car is heading to karate, and even sometimes when it isn't, Charles is at the door, ready to go.

    • In addition to his body, Charles set a goal this year to improve his mind (he's the competitor of the family and if he can't find anyone to compete against, he will compete against himself). To that end he works on his reading daily, either through books that he reads aloud to me or through his computer games. He was a late reader and still has some catching up to do to get to the point where his peers are, but at the rate he's been going lately, I'm not concerned.

    • He is also working on the Key to series of workbooks (from Key Curriculum Press), doing two or three pages about three times a week, right now working on the Decimals series and soon to start the Fractions series. He, too, tried Singapore Math last year and really didn't like it. Along with reading and math, he is very interested in history and reminds me almost daily to read to both he and David from the A History of US books. He has an interest in Celtic history, too, and so we are reading some things about that. He also listens to audiobooks at least an hour each night before he goes to sleep and is very interested in animals (another possible career area and if he looses interest in karate in the future, we have talked about apprenticeships at a local zoo). And Charles goes square dancing with us every Friday night.

    As you can see, each child's schedule is very different, each child's education is very different. I don't believe they need to learn subjects that they will likely have no use for in life, so they aren't required to study/learn a lot of the more traditional school subjects. I believe in following their interest, since that is most likely where they will go for a career, and they'll have better luck and be happier at their career if they can learn all they can about that subject early on. I also try to have them "try on" the career, immerse themselves in it, find people who do it for a living, apprenticeship in some way if possible, so they can really see if it's something they want to do. If they discover it's not, then we move on to the next idea, the next interest. Eventually they begin to narrow down their focus to where their skills are the strongest and where they have the most desire to be.

    Copyright February 2003

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