Relaxed vs. Eclectic and Unschooling
Defining terms is important and the word relaxed here is going to need to be clearly defined. The relaxed method of homeschooling is not the same as eclectic homeschooling, and neither relaxed nor eclectic homeschooling is the same as unschooling. You may utilize one or more of these educational philosophies or methods at one time, but each are very different at their core.
Eclectic homeschooling means that you use a variety of curricula or educational approaches within your homeschool. You can be very rigid or flexible in how you adhere to a schedule, and you may use a variety of different methods and curricula in order to fit your child’s individual needs.
On the other hand, unschooling can be relaxed in the sense that it is flexible schedule-wise, but there is one key element that sets unschooling apart from all other homeschooling methods: the child directs his own education. This doesn’t mean that the unschooling teacher never teaches. In fact, unschoolers often have a very full schedule because they are exploring their child’s many curiosities and questions. Unschooling just means that in an unschooler’s homeschool, the child determines what is going to be taught. Relaxed homeschooling and unschooling may have some initial similarities at face value due to their flexible schedules, but they are not one and the same. In relaxed homeschooling, the parent is still directing the child’s academics.
Defining the Relaxed Homeschooling Method
Relaxed homeschooling is a method all its own, really a philosophy of sorts, but it isn’t talked about nearly as often as other styles. You may have also heard it called flexible or rhythm homeschooling.
In a relaxed homeschool, the parent is still the educator, but there is a different tone in the relaxed homeschool that you might not find elsewhere in large doses. A relaxed homeschool method places a premium on flexibility of schedule and creating independent learners. There is a lot of room for every family to develop their own style of relaxed homeschooling. As you can tell this is a pretty broad definition, but ultimately it comes down to preparing a child properly for doing life and career, instilling a love of learning, but not putting a lot of stock into pre-determined standards of academic measurement, timelines, or often even modes of learning like formal curricula. (This Simple Balance has a great definition as well.)
The philosophy behind home education for the relaxed homeschooler is that homeschooling is part of the life of the family, or the natural rhythm of the family’s life. The life of the family is not determined by the homeschool schedule, but instead the family’s schedule determines the nature of the homeschool. A high priority is place on a child’s education by the relaxed homeschooler, but it is just one important priority among a myriad of other important priorities occupying family life. The relaxed homeschooler also recognizes that education takes place in a variety of important ways outside of the formal homeschool setting and utilizes these opportunities well.
“Life should always be balanced. Academics are very important, but so are other things.” – Mary Hood, author of The Relaxed Homeschool, quote taken from Successful-Homeschooling.com
Relaxed Homeschooling Works!
I consider myself to be a relaxed homeschooler. I homeschool seven children from toddler to high school and have had quite the success with this method of relaxed homeschooling. I am going to start by saying that I may not qualify as a purist relaxed homeschooler, because I do use formal curricula as a guide. In fact, I consider myself now to be a year-round, eclectic, relaxed homeschooler. I had no clue what any of those words meant until many years into my homeschool journey. Once I discovered that what naturally fit our family had clearly defined terms within educational philosophy and homeschool methodology, I felt a type of validation and freedom I had been longing for. I found these terms fit our way of life and learning best, and maybe they will fit your homeschool too.
I call myself year-round because we do not follow the standard school year and take breaks when we need to, not on a set schedule. I am eclectic because at different points along our homeschool journey we have utilized a great variety of homeschool curricula in order to meet the various needs of our children. I approach curriculum in much the same way that I follow dinner recipes while cooking, I never follow the script as set forth by the author. I do a little dash of this and a little pinch of that to meet our individual preferences, budget, and schedule.
When I started homeschooling, I just assumed I was supposed to have a pre-determined schedule and set of lesson plans. Every time I tried to lesson plan or follow a set schedule, it never worked. I figured I was somewhere between lazy and crazy for not being able to make a simple schedule work, but my children were still learning and in some areas doing better than their peers, so that made me start to wonder what was up. With no rigid plan in place, we were still getting things done, but on our own time and in our own way and it was surprisingly WORKING.
Reverse Lesson Planning
One day I ran across a blog post entitled, How to Reverse Menu Plan. This piqued my interest. The idea behind the blog was that you don’t set your menu plan up before you go to the store because you don’t know what is going to be on sale. You shop sales and then you write your menu plan down based on your grocery haul. It occurred to me that I was using this same idea, but as it applied to planning my homeschool.
I finally admitted that I wasn’t lazy or crazy for not being able to meet the expectations a schedule demanded of me. Our normal life is chaotic, busy, and constantly interrupted. I didn’t have time to shift the homeschool schedule forward for every little interruption. I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t the problem, the homeschool schedule was. It didn’t fit our family’s needs. It didn’t fit my personality. It didn’t fit our family’s rhythm of life. This realization was freeing in ways I can’t even express – that burden of homeschool planning was lifted when I threw my paper planner away, and began reverse lesson planning using Homeschool Planet’s Online Planner.
Prioritizing Stages of Maturity Over Grade Levels
Because our days are constantly interrupted by other important things besides academics, it just never made sense for me to lay out a set schedule that we were required to adhere to every day. Of course, we still buy all our academic curricula at the beginning of the year like everyone else. Sometimes due to delays we are still finishing up last year’s curriculum. Other times, if my kids are particularly gifted in a certain subject they will be ahead a year. This is the joy of adopting a year-round homeschool schedule.
So you are probably asking, “How do you know what to do, and how do you get it all done without a written plan?”
That is a good question!
I let go of strict grade levels a long time ago. We loosely stick to them simply because our state requires us to inform the local public school of what grades our children are in, and then our children are required to take annual standardized tests. What’s great about homeschool curricula is that it is usually aligned to higher standards than its public school counterparts, so even if my children are say a year behind in a subject like math, they still pass their standardized tests with flying colors – even my dyslexic child who is a “year behind in math” and struggles to no end with the subject.
We may not stick to rigid grade levels, but I do know which season of academics my children are occupying. The classical model of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages has been a fantastic guide to helping me understand the needs of my students. This isn’t based so much on age as it is maturity. I have found maturity in processing thoughts, asking of questions, and ability to logically interpret and express information to be a much better marker of my child’s academic success.
This less black and white approach to my children’s leveling of grades has allowed us much more flexibility in meeting our children where they are at instead of dragging them along kicking and screaming just to “get the grade.” When education is less forced and more enjoyed, it can foster a love of learning and build confidence in the child and encourage less stress for the educator.
Tips for Relaxed Homeschoolers
Here are a few tips from a relaxed homeschooler to aid you on your journey:
- Know your state’s homeschooling laws, as you will need to align your homeschool standards with your state’s standards for homeschooling to meet legal requirements. See HSLDA.org for more information.
- Consider not starting school with your young child until he or she asks or the child reaches the age of six or seven. Check out this article on how to know when your child is ready.
- Do not push your child to new stages of learning if your child is obviously not ready for it. This will only cause discouragement and a distaste for education.
- Do challenge your child to reach for the level of academics he is obviously ready for, even if he is hesitant or resistant. We are not creating lazy students.
- Prioritize conversation with your children in your daily life. This will help you get to know your child and gauge where your child is at academically.
- Regularly create and assess goals for your homeschool and students. Change course when necessary to meet the needs of your students. Download the FREE Homeschool Goals and Assessment Worksheets below.
- If your family’s schedule demands a large break from homeschooling, then take it because doing life together can be an education in and of itself (for example: bringing home a new baby).
- It is okay that your homeschool ebbs and flows according to your family’s schedule. Some months will be very productive in homeschooling, and others may look meager. The end goal is to accomplish your work and meet your goals on a timeline that fits your family’s needs and not conventional schedules.
- When your child reaches high school, you will need to align your child’s studies for your child’s chosen career path and university standards. Use this FREE 4-Year High School Planner.
How to Reverse Lesson Plan with Homeschool Planet
I have used Homeschool Planet for over six years now for our homeschool and I love how flexible it is. It is possible to utilize any kind of homeschool planning method when using Homeschool Planet’s Online Planner. Check out these step-by-step tutorials for block scheduling and loop scheduling. I most often use it over the year’s for my reverse lesson planning.
As I mentioned before, reverse lesson planning is not your standard lesson planning where you input your lesson plan before you accomplish your set goals. In reverse lesson planning, it is good to have your own idea of what your goals are in homeschooling, but you meet those goals on a different time table than most.
The way that I reverse lesson plan, is I add what we have accomplished in our homeschool after we have done it. I often don’t input it into Homeschool Planet but once every month or two. I do this for the purpose of having records in case social workers were to ever come knocking and want to know what we have been doing and when. I am always truthful on my reverse lesson plans. The only thing that may not be *exactly* correct would be the day that I place the work on that my child accomplished.
For instance, I utilize Homeschool Planet’s Assignment Generator ALL. THE. TIME. I love how I can input the amount of pages I needed my child to read, the dates it needed to be “done by”, and *poof* Homeschool Planet generates an even amount of reading across days. Most would do this before assignments are due, but with reverse lesson planning, I do this after my child has finished his required reading. The dates aren’t exactly correct to the day he read said pages, but I like the way it evenly spaces them over the time I select. He did the work, but that’s how I record the work.
How do I know what his required work is and when it is “due”? Good question!
Because we do use standard, formal curricula in our homeschool even if it is a variety of publishers, this curricula often come with a schedule of readings and assignments. My children know where to go to find these assignments. I equip them to do this and they just go in order. I check in regularly to make sure they are actually progressing to my liking. We rarely do it on the timeline the curriculum suggests, but it does get done on our personal timeline. This is how I know that we are completing assignments and meeting “standards”.
Other relaxed homeschoolers that choose not to use formal curricula would need to keep track of their resources and reverse lesson plan according to their own record system. The fun and flexibility of relaxed homeschooling is the fact that it is so malleable according to your personal teaching style, your child’s learning style, and your family’s daily rhythms. The sky’s the limit with relaxed homeschooling!
Download Your FREE Homeschool Goal Setting and Assessment Worksheets to help guide you in your relaxed homeschool journey: