A Day In The Life of an Unschooling Family

My husband Jim and I have 5 children (yes, they are ALL ours) 4 of whom learn at home, one started high school in grade 9. We have come to believe learning is more effective when it is self-directed, and so we try our very best not to inflict uninvited teaching upon our children. They are free to choose their topics and methods of study. We are there to help.

Often I am asked "so what do you all DO on an average day?" I have documented a real day for our family. I haven't pieced together what 'might' happen -- I actually carried around a piece of paper and logged in the activities of our 7 member brood -- at least those activities I was aware were happening. Please remember that it doesn't include reading, writing, music practice, etc., that the children were doing in the privacy of their own rooms or while I was away from them.

5:55 a.m. -- Home, Pickering, Ontario

The alarm goes off, but I've been awake for about 20 minutes. Even though she's 2 floors above me, Emily's morning shower always wakes me. It doesn't make it any easier to drag myself out of my warm, cosy bed into the cold morning air in our basement bedroom. Jim kindly turns on the light as I grope for my glasses. I don my smelly old running clothes (laundry today???) and come upstairs to 3 teenagers shuffling around the main floor.

6:30 a.m. -- Our church, Ajax, Ontario

Jordan 18, Emily 18, and Joshua 16, are in their Seminary class at church and I have an hour to walk/run, depending on how old my bones are feeling today.

7:30 a.m.

Not bad. I ran 2/3 of my 6K route today! We drive Emily to school. She is in grade 12 and is thoroughly enjoying it. We stop at the store for a newspaper and head home.

7:50 a.m. -- Home

Jordan heads back to bed, she needs to be at work at 11:00 am today. Josh checks his e-mail and I put on the kettle. Jim has left for work while we were gone. Usually he works from the house, but has been consulting with a little company in Toronto for the past month.

8:15 a.m.

I am relaxing with an herbal tea and the morning paper as Edward (Ted, 9) makes his way downstairs in satin boxing shorts given to him by Jim's friend who is a champion boxer. Ted snuggles up with me on the couch and looks over the newspaper with me. Josh finishes on the computer and heads up to bed for another hour's sleep. Ted takes over on the computer, landing in his favourite new site where he can play chess with partners around the world. Great! A partner is found -- someone in New Zealand. I continue to enjoy the paper and my tea, occasionally calling out the spelling of words down to Ted who is chatting with his partner while playing chess.

8:30 a.m.

Alison (13) comes downstairs fully dressed and ready for work...she walks a little boy to and from nursery school each day.

8:45 a.m.

When Alison arrives home, she brings Posey her guinea pig down to the kitchen for her medication. Posey has conjunctivitis and needs ointment in her affected eye twice a day (the result of a visit to the Vet yesterday that cost more than the guinea pig did!) Nevertheless, the substitute Vet turned out to be an eager sharer-of-information, teaching Alison what symptoms to watch for in piggies, showing her how to listen to Posey's heart, how to weigh her, and trimming her nails. After Posey's administration of medication, Alison and Ted (who lost his chess game) prepare breakfast together.

9:15 a.m.

Alison cleans and cares for her guinea pigs Posey and Dot. Ted continues work on a large, detailed diagram of a pirate ship he has been working on the past few days. I shuffle the piles around on my drafting table (I have several illustrations that need to be started) and then check my e-mail.

10:00 a.m.

Alison takes our border collie Bingo out back for a run. Ted and I laugh at some poems from the book "Where the Sidewalk Ends". He chooses one to memorize for his cub badge. Jordan emerges, having had an extra hour's sleep, a shower and now getting ready for work. I announce a trip to the library and Jordan asks if I can return a book for her. A Clockwork Orange. Was it good? "Not really. I didn't enjoy it. But my friends at school HAD to read it and I was curious as to what the required reading was this term."

10:30 a.m.

Emily arrives home from school for breakfast/lunch before she leaves for a co-op placement at our local elementary school.

10:45 a.m. -- Library, Pickering, Ontario

Alison chooses to stay home, while Ted opts to join me at the library. We drive Jordan to work beforehand. At the library Ted chooses 3 books on dinosaurs, which surprises me. The past few weeks he has been devouring pirates and ships. Hmmmmm, a new interest developing? Ted plops himself at a table in the adult section entranced with his books while I find several books on frogs and toads in Ontario, having recently been bitten by the 'nature journal' bug thanks to Fred and Aleta! We share our favourite parts of our new books. We also choose 2 CDs: the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof, and a classical violin CD by Midori. Ted chooses a video and we are off.

12:00 p.m. -- Home

Lunch. Josh works on his new website. He recently started his own website design business and has his first paying client, a trucking company in Toronto. Ted and Alison play upstairs. I relax with my books from the library. Various reading of books by everyone happens in the living room over the next couple of hours with sharing aloud of interesting parts.

2:00 p.m.

Josh and Alison play a game of chess. Alison wins. Ted and I convince Josh to join us for a walk down to the lake. Alison stays home to listen to music.

2:15 p.m. -- Frenchman's Bay, Ontario

Josh, Ted and I make our way through the tall dry grass, crossing a deserted beaver dam, on our way to the water's edge. We discuss who is going to find the "neatest treasure" on this trip. I start by finding a pure blue marble out here in the middle of nowhere! Ted begs for it for his collection. Fine. Josh finds a disposable lighter and keeps it, so other curious children won't find it later. The tall grass is so dry we discuss how awful it would be if that lighter landed in the wrong hands.

We make our way to the shore of the bay, disappointed that we haven't caught a snake yet. Ted picks a cattail and asks the deep question "if a rhino and an ape got in a fight, who would win?" It is debated lively for quite a while until we arrive at the old deserted barge washed against the east shore of the bay. Josh finds a huge clam shell with a beautiful pearl interior. There are humbug snails everywhere (we don't know their 'official' name, but they look like humbug candies, so we call them humbug snails.) Red-winged blackbirds express their anger at our presence. We also find a perfectly dried out catfish and an old broken fishing rod.

We decide to try Josh's old favourite stick pile where he has had good success in the past finding snakes. The debate over the rhino and the ape continues, and even changes to "if a grizzly bear fought with a king cobra, who would win?" No snakes to be found today. We make our way through the tall grass -- marble, humbug snail shells, clam shell, cattail and beaver-chewed stick in tow.

3:30 p.m.

Emily has since returned home from school and left to go rollerblading. Alison has been creating new artwork on the computer in the Printshop program. (She has recently began creating her own JPEGs and GIFs for her web page.) I grab my frog and toad books and head to the backyard to enjoy the sunshine. Ted heads outside to play with his friends. Josh sets up the papers for his 3 routes, which need to be manually 'stuffed' with 4 flyers today.

4:00 p.m.

Jordan arrives home and blasts one of her favourite CDs on the stereo, which the whole neighbourhood has the opportunity to hear while she chats with me outside. Ted and his friend Erica stuff Joshua's papers (Josh pays him $25.00 per month for this service.)

5:00 p.m.

Jim arrives home early. I begin to prepare dinner (sautéed veggies in a marinara sauce) while Jordan tidies the kitchen and sets the table for dinner. Emily arrives home just in time to turn around and go feed a neighbour's cat whom she is kitty-sitting while they are on holiday. Josh delivers his papers.

6:00 p.m.

We all sit down to dinner. Alison hates it, and makes herself a peanut butter sandwich. We share our day. It's hard to get a word in edgewise... much chatter.

7:00 p.m.

Ted has cubs. Jordan heads out to the movies with some friends. Emily meets with missionaries from our church for some volunteer work. Josh and I visit a frog and toad web site that has sound files of their various songs. We decide that if we are going to start listening down at the bay, we will need to be more familiar with their songs. Perhaps we will 'quiz' each other starting tomorrow.

7:30 p.m.

Jim and I relax. I still am engulfed in frog and toad books and he checks the scores on the sports channel.

8:30 p.m.

Ted home, chattering about the upcoming Cuboree. Alison and Joshua leave to walk to the Dojo for their Jiu Jitsu lesson. Mom and Dad continue to relax, checking e-mail, watching the hockey game on TV, reading, etc.

9:00 p.m.

Emily home... goes over to play with the kitty again. Ted goes to bed, still making plans for his upcoming Cuboree and hoping for a visit tonight from the Tooth Fairy.

9:45 p.m.

Jordan phones from the movie theatre begging for a ride home because the movie scared the daylights out of her and she doesn't want to walk home.

10:00 p.m.

Jim picks up Jordan from the theatre and heads over to the Dojo to pick up Josh and Alison from their class.

11:00 p.m.

Everyone else to bed. Looking back over my own day I realize that thanks to my new frog and toad books I didn't get a single load of laundry done, let alone the illustrations I was supposed to have started 3 days ago! Tomorrow perhaps?

5:55 a.m.

Emily's shower wakes me up.

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Topics: Unschooling