We’ve spent the past couple of weeks inundated with back-to-school photos from friends across the country on Facebook, but for a “living is learning” family like us, there’s nothing special about this time of year… except that, for the sixth year in a row, I get to join the iHomeschool Network’s Not Back to School Blog Hop for “curriculum week!” This time, we’re looking at what unschooling 12th grade-style might look like, for our last year of mandatory reporting under Pennsylvania law.
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 previous ideas:
- An unschooling 11th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2016-17)
- An unschooling 10th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2015-16)
- An unschooling ninth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2014-15)
- An unschooling eighth-grade-ish curriculum plan (2013-14)
- An unschooling 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 12th grade plan
We like books.
We like history.
We like alpacas.
We like taking trips – to well-known destinations and, uh, some crazy out-of-the-way ones, too.
We like giving away stuffed penguins.
We like Shakespeare.
We like family sports days.
We love going with the flow.
So how does this turn into “curriculum” – and what else will we be mixing in?
Read on to find out!
Important starter notes
We have been keeping a transcript of Sarah’s credits earned throughout high school. If you’d like to see how that’s shaping up so far, and get some advice on how to fit your own eclectic, relaxed or unschooling activities into a transcript, check out unschoolrules.com/transcript.
Meanwhile, under Pennsylvania law, Sarah has actually completed everything required for graduation except for one language arts credit. So, if she wanted to, she could start the process of getting a diploma once she has 120 hours of English study, and whether she applies to graduate early or not, if she does nothing else this year, she’s still fine. If you’d like to know more about what Pennsylvania requires for graduation among its homeschoolers, check out unschoolrules.com/pennsylvania.
That said, there are a lot more cool things that Sarah wants to explore this year. Meanwhile, as life learners, the rest of the family has goals and plans too. So starting this year, I’m going to also include some of what the rest of us are learning and pursuing.
I see this as a good springboard to future years, when we no longer have to report anything for Sarah, but during which time we’ll still be enjoying the living and learning together experience – all of us! So expect to see “learning plans” from us even after high school is technically over!
Our big plan for the year: Family Learning Journals
About a month ago, I started noticing a bunch of fellow homeschool bloggers talking about the Learning Journals from Thinking Tree Books. These are huge books (380+ pages) full of prompts and ideas, all themed around a list of topics you pick to explore.
There are dozens and dozens of these books, with different themes and geared toward different age levels. One note: Some are religious, some are secular – we actually returned the original one we got because we were looking for a secular version, and hadn’t realized the one we chose wasn’t.
They aren’t cheap, but they’re designed to be the centerpiece to a “curriculum plan” for at least 60 days, so if you were otherwise spending money on some curriculum-in-a-box, this is way more customizable and reasonable.
What we ended up with was this one – the Do-It-Yourself Homeschool Journal and Eclectic Learning Handbook, Vol. 4 – for Sarah to try. We spent a Sunday going through and coming up with topics she was interested in, and sorting our books, and coming up with other ways we might learn about those topics, and it was a ton of fun.
So, of course, the adults couldn’t be left out. Chris was so into the idea that he ordered the same journal for himself, me, and Dan, and now all four of us have one!
I should add that there are “parent-specific” journals available from Thinking Tree (and its creator, Sarah Janisse Brown), but we figured why not all have the same experience?
Since then, we’ve all picked our topics and gone through our vast book collections to get our “starter lists” organized, and we’ve all done some pages beyond that. Our goal isn’t for any of us to sit down and do these at a rigorous and well-defined pace, but rather to have something cool to work on together that helps give us some ideas about ways to learn about the topics we’re into.
If you’re interested in exploring more, a few links you might like:
- The Funschooling with Thinking Tree Books Facebook Group is a great place to connect with other families. (There are a bunch of subgroups, too, like one for middle- and high-schoolers specifically.)
- Thinking Tree’s website is a great place to see the books divided by subject and age level.
- Flipping to Fun-Schooling is Sarah Janisse Brown’s description of how to move from a more traditional homeschooling method toward “funschooling.” Obviously that wasn’t something our family needed – this IS the most formal our learning gets – but it’s definitely good reading if you’re interested in moving closer to unschooling but still want a little bit of structure.
- The blog Balancing It All While Homeschooling 6 has a great, well-sorted guide to all the journals – which are secular and which aren’t, which are for what grade level, which cover what topics, you name it!
Other than linking to these journals using Amazon affiliate links above, I just want to make it clear that we’re not affiliated with these in any way – we just think they’re cool, and it seemed like a fun, different thing to do as Sarah decides where she wants to go from here!
Sarah’s starter topic and book list
Here’s the fun part: getting to see our lists of topics! Sarah’s first nine topics to explore are:
- Hamilton (Mostly the musical, to some extent the person.)
- U.S. history
- Evil history (This includes serial killers, dictators, famous criminal cases, all that good stuff.)
- Philosophy (Mostly ancient stuff, like Plato and Socrates and Aristotle.)
- Alchemy (This was an interest of Sarah’s several years ago that she really wants to revisit.)
- Writing fiction
- Rose-haired tarantulas (She wants one as a pet – I am not a fan – we’ll see.)
She had WAY more than nine books on these topics, so her starter list is already on the “overflow” pages of the journal, which we helpfully marked with a Post-It flag. The books she’s starting with:
- Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
- Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Twisted History by Howard Watson
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Tempest by Shakespeare
- Serial Killers and Psychopaths by Charlotte Grieg and John Marlowe
- Macbeth by Shakespeare
- Barnes’s School History of the United States (a 1903 textbook)
- Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Plato: A Very Short Introduction by Julia Annas
- Alchemy and Mysticism by Alexander Roob
- William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
- Alchemy, the Great Secret by Andrea Aromatico
- A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- The Republic by Plato
- Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
- The Matrix and Philosophy by William Irwin
- More Matrix and Philosophy: Revolutions and Reloaded Decoded by William Irwin
My starter topic and book list
I should be clear: Books like this journal were basically made for me. I am the child who asked for workbooks for fun. I love filling in blanks on pages. I love organized learning experiences. I’m in freaking graduate school and LOOKING TO DO EXTRA LEARNING WORK, for crying out loud. So you can guess I’m particularly excited about these.
- Ethics in public health and homeland security (This is also known as the topic of HLS 803, one of my two grad classes this semester.)
- Homeland security threats (If you guessed this is the topic of HLS 805, you would be right!)
- Viruses (While related to grad school and my degree in public health preparedness, nope, this is not school-based, it’s just for fun.)
- Geographic oddities (I learned something from Chris’ list here – what I meant is actually a real thing, called psychogeography – the idea that place impacts how people think and feel and behave; this will make more sense when you see my book list!)
- Howard Garis (This is thee author of the Uncle Wiggily book series I loved as a kid.)
- Prison conditions and reform
- Tae kwon do
- Alchemy (This one, Sarah and I can explore together!)
My book list:
- Human Rights and Global Diversity by R. Paul Churchill
- Ethics for Disaster by Naomi Zack
- Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy by Steven Cahn (Well, that got the grad textbooks out of the way…)
- Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC by Joseph B. McCormick
- The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
- The Geography of Madness by Frank Bures
- House of Happy Endings by Leslie Garis (This is about Howard R. Garis, written by his granddaughter.)
- Incarceration Nations by Baz Dreisinger (I finished this one – it was an amazing look at prison conditions and philosophies around the world, which ended up fitting with both my interest in prison reform and my psychogeography topic)
- Alchemy, the Great Secret by Andrea Aromatico
- Alchemy and Mysticism by Alexander Roob (Yes, these are shared with Sarah’s list.)
- Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories by MariNaomi (A graphic novel I borrowed from Chris that is not super-closely tied to any of my listed topics, but I wanted to add a cultural diversity topic anyway, so it’s for my invisible 10th topic.)
Chris’ starter topic list
Chris has A LOT OF BOOKS he wants to read. He used his list as a way to prioritize his to-read pile. His topics:
- Folklore (Chris is a longtime folklore enthusiast, and serves as the unofficial biographer of a noted folklore author, Ruth Manning-Sanders.)
- World history
- Psychogeography (See, I told you I learned this from Chris – we got to learn even before we got past the first page!)
- Other religions and cultures (Yes, I stole this one too.)
- Science-fiction fandom
His book list:
- Ring Around the Sun by Clifford Simak
- Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories by MariNaomi
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
- The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson
- The Power Broker by Robert Caro
- A Contract with God by Will Eisner
- On Roads: A Hidden History by Joe Moran
- Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Dan’s starter topic and book list
I should point out that Dan is very much a digital reader and learner, so this journal thing is probably the most outside his wheelhouse, of any of us. But he is also by far the most artistic and visual, so his book looks amazing! You can see he actually drew his books’ covers, rather than our “We’ll just write them down in colored pens and call it good” style.
- Python (The programming language, not the thing I like as little as I like the rose-haired tarantula.)
- Functional programming (I don’t even know what this is, let me be honest.)
- The 1980s pop culture (Dan says this was just an excuse to put Ready Player One by Ernest Cline on the list.)
- Coding (I want to point out that there is some major overlap here with his other topics, but, as Sarah pointed out on her first day, “It is my journal, so I can do what I want with it,” and the same holds for Dan.)
Dan’s book list:
- Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland
- We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson (He already finished this one.)
- The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Learn Python 3 the Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw (He gave this one up and switched to another book, Python Crash Course by Eric Matthes.)
- Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology by Ellen Ullman
- Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (He finished this one too.)
- The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
- Big Science by Michael Hiltzik
What Mommom is working on
While my mom, Sarah’s Mommom, doesn’t have a journal, she has her own projects she’s working on. One of her interests is drawing in charcoals – especially portraits, of which she’s already made me some AMAZING ones of Sarah. She’s just started getting into it again and likes to spend her time that way.
Mom is also very involved in work at her church, most notably the Stephen Ministry group, which she leads, and that takes a lot of her time.
She also has some sewing projects -including some repair and patching of the “blankie” I’ve had since I was 6 years old – that she works on as well.
Potential “credits” for this year
Given Sarah’s huge list (and the likelihood that she’ll explore other people’s interests with them as well), I thought it might be nice to see what we are guessing at the outset will be “credits” for Sarah’s transcript this year, especially in the areas whose resources go well beyond the kinds of things that fit into our journals.
- Shakespeare: This is an easy one, and will almost certainly make for that last required language arts credit for Sarah. In addition to reading, she’s also:
- Rehearsing now for Antony and Cleopatra, which will perform at the end of September and early October.
- Getting ready to audition for Macbeth of the Dead, another local production with auditions in early September and performances in late October.
- Watching a bunch of Shakespeare adaptation movies and plays. We’re trying to have our own Shakespeare Film Fest, even.
- Theater: Well, see above. I’m not sure yet where I’ll allocate credit hours for Sarah, but I’m guessing she’ll have at least a full credit of Shakespeare plus another half-credit, if not more, of theater practice and performance.
- Music: Sarah takes weekly guitar lessons with Rod Goelz from Music at Metropolis, plus has her practice time at home between lessons. We also try to attend a bunch of different musical performances – mostly free or low-cost – around town, and I expect this will add up to at least another credit.
- Alchemy/history of chemistry: This will be COOL. When Sarah was interested in alchemy in seventh grade, we weren’t doing transcript credit yet. Now she’s interested at a more advanced level, so we’re looking forward to seeing how we can expand on what she already knows.
- Philosophy: This is a topic Sarah has already earned several credits in, and I’m expecting she may have at least another half-credit this year.
- Genetics: This is a really cool one. Last year, for 4-H, Sarah did a huge project on how alpaca fiber-color is determined genetically. For the year ahead, she plans to expand it to talk more about other traits, like fleece grade, eye color, conformation and gait, and I fully expect this will make up most, if not all, of a credit.
Other awesome stuff
- Life skills: 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 as much as we can, go biking together, and generally try to stay active.
- Travel: This is last, but definitely not least; it’s really one of the biggest parts of our learning each year. This year, Dan, Sarah and I are tentatively planning to drive to Arizona right after Christmas to visit Dan’s parents and some friends, and we’ll try to sight-see along the way and while there.
- Pen-pal fun: Sarah has a super-awesome pen pal in Taiwan named Christina, who she writes back and forth to and exchanges gifts and letters with, both by mail and email. As they’ve both gotten older and busier, their letters have decreased in frequency, but each time they do find time to write they get SO excited. I love it.
So how and when do we “do” all this stuff?
A lot of people want to know what unschooling days are like. I’ll give you a short version here, but good news: In a few weeks, I’ll have an updated day in the life of radical unschoolers post with more details!
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 8 to 11 p.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 try new foods and talk and laugh and pet cats.
It’s funny, because our days are often filled with work (for our house adults) and 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.
What comes next?
As I mentioned, our living-learning lifestyle is probably going to continue pretty similarly for the next couple of years.
Sarah is still deciding “what comes next,” and we’re in no hurry. She is looking at getting a job during the year ahead, and that may open some other possibilities; she isn’t going to be driving for a while yet, so there are some family considerations in how to make that work, but whatever she decides, we’ll figure it out.
She’s also tossed around the idea of taking a college class or two locally – she’s not interested in starting a degree program at this time, but she likes the idea of getting to talk about her favorite topics, like history and philosophy, with other people who love them!
So what comes next? Guess you’ll just have to keep reading throughout this year and beyond to find out!
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.)
- 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?”)
- The ultimate guide to real-world math (This is a big deal for us – as a math major myself, I feel like I can really bring some perspective into how math works in real life.)
- Video game and app learning (Yep, we play a LOT of video games. And we learn at the same time. Here’s how!)
- The ultimate guide to learning from movies and TV shows (Beyond the obvious, like documentaries, here’s what we’ve learned from sci-fi, horror, action and more.)
Join the NOT Back-to-School Party!
Check out the rest of Curriculum Week 2017 at the Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop here (and you can link up your posts, too!)