Wow. We’re going into our third full year of homeschooling and this year, unschooling 9th grade, and Sarah would be entering high school if she were still in public school. And while it’s a big milestone in some ways, in others, it’s just another year of living and learning together.
For the third year in a row, I’m joining the iHomeschool Network’s Not Back to School Blog Hop for “curriculum week,” and once again, I’m sharing our family’s radical unschooling take, this time showing what unschooling 9th grade-style might look like, mostly courtesy of Sarah, a young lady with a seriously fun plan about homeschooling through high school and what she wants out of the next few years.
Each year, I’ve heard from people literally around the world who loved seeing how an “un-plan” comes together. If you haven’t already, I invite you to check out our later ideas, the unschooled version of a 10th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2015-16), and our previous ideas, the unschooled version of an eighth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2013-14) and the unschooled version of a seventh-grade-ish curriculum plan (2012-13).
Most days, we have no idea what we’re going to learn about until it happens. We make plans – of sorts – but the best opportunities always seem to be those that just arise naturally.
But I see great value in joining the “curriculum week” blog hop, mostly because I want to show other not-exactly-planning, not-exactly-at-a-grade-level, not-exactly-textbook people – and I know you’re out there – that you CAN make this homeschooling thing work!
So with that, here is…
The Conciliottoman family’s unschooling 9th grade plan
We like books.
We like alpacas.
We like video games.
We like taking trips – to well-known destinations and, uh, some crazy out-of-the-way ones, too.
We don’t like quizzes, tests, requirements and reports.
We love going with the flow.
So how does this turn into “curriculum” – and what else will we be mixing in?
As well as I can, I’m going to try to do a subject-by-subject look; that’s NOT how we learn, and most of what we do is what would in my state documentation be called cross-curricular, but this way, if you’re using a planned curriculum in some subjects and want to mix in something we’re using in another, you can see how it might fit.
History, social studies and geography
When we started talking about the year ahead, this was actually the first thing Sarah asked about. She said “Is British history a thing?”
Well, yes. It’s very much a thing.
And so this year, at her request, it looks like we’re going to tackle a broad overview of all things British, with some stops at what I expect to be fascinations of Sarah’s in particular periods and, I’m guessing, a heavy focus on the 19th and 20th centuries as they relate to other things she’s interested in learning about. We’re going to use her giant map to figure out WHERE some of these things happened, and our giant timeline is going to get converted into an all-things-Britain-at-a-glance view!
Stuff that’s caught her interest:
- Knights, castles and all that good stuff
- Sherlock Holmes
- Jack the Ripper
- The British Secret Intelligence Service, aka MI6 (of James Bond fame)
- The Beatles
Altogether, these things work into almost our full “plan” for the year, as I’ll explain in the next couple areas.
Sarah’s goal this year is to read – a lot. She’s got all sorts of interests, and again, they’re essentially based on other topics of interest. The funniest thing is that we went to 2nd & Charles – a used bookstore near us that’s part of the Barnes & Noble chain – and she picked out a full set of “classics,” then wanted to know what “classics” meant. Talk about a fun unschooling conversation!
Here’s a look at what she picked out:
- Romeo and Juliet
- Sherlock Holmes
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Interestingly, this one was chosen specifically for the cover image you see here, which caught Sarah’s eye.)
If you’re sensing a death-and-dismemberment theme, along with the whole British thing, well, wait til we talk about science, and it’ll make more sense!
With all of these, we’re going to read not only the books but related stuff (like the Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes graphic novel), and we’re also going to actively seek out as many movie and TV portrayals as possible and compare and contrast!
Sarah also has her own story she’s working on writing – one set in, you guessed it, England, featuring an army fighting not only an enemy army but also possible zombies. (She’s writing it in a new format for her, too – as I mentioned in my July wrapup, she’s learned about what the epistolary style is and how to write in it!)
Sarah has one key interest this year, and we’re going to pursue it in as much depth as we can: Forensic science.
She’s always been a fan of shows like NCIS and Forensic Files, and in mid-July, she took part in a forensic science summer day camp that she absolutely loved and talked about nonstop.
Since then, she’s grabbed every book she could find on the topic, watched a bunch of TV shows and movies featuring her favorite investigators and is already making plans for her next adventure, a continuing-education class taught at my college by an actual, working forensic investigator over a few evenings in October.
She couldn’t be more thrilled! We’ve also got a few field trips planned, some experiments and hopefully, if we can, a chance for Sarah to meet and network with some people working in various forensic fields locally. And, of course, as we get into things like reading about Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and so on, we’re going to dig into the history of forensics as well.
We’re probably both more excited about this than anything we’ve studied so far!
(And, while written almost as an aside but clearly not one: Sarah is going to continue to take part in the 4-H Alpaca Club she’s been a member of for a couple years now, and she’s definitely going to continue to learn more about her favorite camelids!)
What I said last year about math bears repeating: To be very clear, we don’t require any “book work” for math. We are huge fans of how math appears in the real world, and we firmly believe that learning through math-in-life is how Sarah will succeed.
Any resources we use above and beyond that are only if Sarah is interested, and not anything we do “formally.”
But Sarah’s been interested in algebra, and we have our favorite resource, the Life of Fred series, and specifically Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, which we started last year and hope to finish this year. (Sarah claims she’s also going to finish Pre-Algebra 2 this year in the Fred series as well, but … we’ll see. She can get very book-oriented and motivated at times, but her passion for history and forensics is probably going to get the bulk of her interest and time!)
I should mention that while Life of Fred is described as a Christian series, we are a secular homeschooling family and haven’t had any problems using the fairly few spiritual references we’ve found as talking points about what different people believe, which we like to do anyway.
Anyway, speaking of forensics, that’s another area in which I fully expect to see Sarah doing math in a way that interests her. She’s already learned how to estimate height based on footprint size and to calculate parts per million of a toxin, so I’m sure more such things will be a big part of our lives this year!
Finally, a couple other resources we’re likely to tap, starting with the Dragonbox (Apple/Android) and Dragonbox Elements (Apple/Android) apps. Sarah plays these frequently and has taught herself a ton of algebra and geometry!
We’ve also been asked to review an online, video and interactive-based set of courses from a company called Standard Deviants Accelerate – Sarah said yes to doing the review just because of the name – and one of the things she said we should check out was their take on algebra. You’ll be hearing more about this in a few weeks, after we’ve had time to dig in!
“What’s philosophy?” she asked me.
(Cue long, rambling answer from me as a philosophy minor.)
“Um.” (Long pause.) “Is that a thing I could study?”
So she’s been gamely reading through her Matrix book, which is… WOW. I’m not sure she’s ever read so deep of a text on her own, though we’re trying to grab parts of it to talk about together.
Next up is, apparently, Batman and Philosophy, along with Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant (HA!). Along the way, we’re just generally trying to talk to Sarah about The Big Questions in the world and how different people have tried to answer them, and I’m getting a lot of great guidance out of my friend Aadel’s Philosophy with Kids series on her blog, These Temporary Tents.
I admit, this is another interest of Sarah’s that excites me, mostly because of the conversations we have. I don’t really care at all if she can identify Kantian theory or tell Kierkegaard from Derrida, but I do love knowing that I can have a serious conversation with a 14-year-old about how we “know” things about the world around us and what makes us human.
This is another area that has broken out from “the extras” into “a class of its own,” whatever that means, unschooling-style.
Sarah is passionate about the particular style of art – acrylic ink on Yupo synthetic paper – that we do together, and this year, she has big plans to continue to build her portfolio of work. She’s already got a piece entered in the Yorkfest fine arts competition and has two planned to enter in the county fair, and she’ll continue to both work on this on her own and share workshops and classes with artist friends of ours.
In big news, she and I both are starting to sell prints of our works, so you’ll be hearing more about that soon!
We love to listen to all sorts of music (and, again, this provides us with a ton of discussion points!) We’re going to continue to dig particularly into the Beatles using movies, books like The Fab Four FAQ and The Beatles Graphic, our Beatles Rock Band game on PS3, and a lot of listening and discussion. We’ve talked about trying to see a tribute band show, but we’re not sure yet!
Technology, physical education and other good stuff
It’s funny: I’m devoting the least space to this, but this is probably the largest part of our learning, because it’s everything that happens in the real world that doesn’t fit neatly into a “subject” box, and that’s, uh, most of it!
I’ll try to list a few highlights here.
- Technology: Our biggest areas of technology education are still focusing on how to do “good research” online. When we do posts in our learning guides about famous people series, Sarah’s pretty much been tasked with finding sources. That’s great – and we don’t rule out things like Wikipedia and IMDB for background – but it’s cool to see her start to dig deeper, too.
- Home economics: We cook, we clean, we shop. In our family, those things aren’t “chores,” they’re just ways we interact together as a family, and we’ll keep doing that. Personal finance is another part we lump into this (and it’s also heavily mathematical)!
- Physical education: Our biggest source of exercise continues to actually be part of our science “curriculum” – walking alpacas, maneuvering them through obstacles and otherwise putting in the hard work required on a farm! We also regularly play household games of baseball, basketball and soccer, hike A LOT, and generally try to stay active as much as we can. This year, we’ve added in regular yoga practice, which is pretty awesome.
- Travel: This is last, but definitely not least; it’s really one of the biggest parts of our learning each year. We have a bunch of trips planned for the coming months. Among them, we want to go to the Crime Museum and return to the International Spy Museum as part of our forensics study; both of those are in Washington, D.C. Sarah wants to go back to Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, which she visited earlier this year and loved. This coming weekend will mark our second Steel City Con in suburban Pittsburgh, and Sarah is hoping to add LeVar Burton’s signature to her Star Trek: The Next Generation autograph collection. And we’d like to head to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, which will fit well with our study of British history. (Plus I’m sure there will be many more!)
So how and when do we “do” all this stuff?
I’ve mentioned before that the one thing we can count on almost every day is our family time before bed.
For night owls like us, this time might start anywhere from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. and go for a few hours!
This is our time to be together and be even more intentional than we try to be the rest of the day about doing stuff as a family.
We read together.
We watch movies and TV shows on Netflix.
We play board games and draw pictures and talk and laugh and pet cats.
It’s funny, because our days are often filled with work (for our house adults) and online gaming (for Sarah). We see a lot of benefits to that too, but people who only know us during the daylight hours probably think we don’t do much together! We’re proud of our approach, though – because we spend our “prime time,” the hours we’re most alert, together!
Meanwhile, we also love to travel, and that’s a big part of our lifestyle. I mentioned some of our upcoming trips earlier in today’s post, and we have dozens more that we’d like to fit in.
Read more about our unschooling approach
If you’re newer to Unschool RULES, maybe you’re wondering about this radical unschooling thing we do.
Here are a few posts that tell more about our lives!
- From homeschooled student to homeschooled mom: Going full circle, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 (This series details everything from my own educational background to the earlier years of Sarah’s life, and really is the best way to get to know us and why we’re in the place we are!)
- Our 10 homeschooling/unschooling must-haves (The library. I almost don’t need to say any more, but in true Joan style, I did.)
- 5 things I learned NOT to do in our first month of homeschooling (Well, that’s pretty self-explanatory, right?)
- 10 unexpected benefits to learning together from life (Among other things, we’re not bound by age or grade levels!)
- 10 great books about learning from life (Some are obviously “about” learning, but others simply inspired me to think differently about knowledge.)
- How we deal with critics of our radical unschooling lifestyle (This is also kind of a Q&A that addresses everything from “But all she does is play video games!” to “How can you tell if she’s learning?”)
- 5 days of real-world math (This series that I wrote in July 2012 continues to be one of the most detailed looks at how we talk about learning in real life!)
- 5 days of video-game learning (Yep, we play a LOT of video games. And we learn at the same time. Here’s how!)
Join the NOT Back-to-School Party!
Check out the rest of Curriculum Week at the Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop here (and you can link up your posts, too!)
This post is also part of the How to Teach Without a Curriculum linkup through the iHomeschool Network. Click the image below to read more posts on teaching without formal curriculum!