The unschooled version of an 12th-grade-ish curriculum plan for 2017-18

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:

Unschooling 12th grade: An unschoolish curriculum plan from Unschool Rules

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.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it's because we really do believe in the book or item!

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 Ashar’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

Meanwhile, under Pennsylvania law, Ashar has actually completed everything required for graduation except for one language arts credit. So, if he wanted to, he could start the process of getting a diploma once he has 120 hours of English study, and whether he applies to graduate early or not, if he does nothing else this year, he’s still fine. If you’d like to know more about what Pennsylvania requires for graduation among its homeschoolers, check out

That said, there are a lot more cool things that Ashar 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 Ashar, 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!

Unschool Rules: Our family's Thinking Tree journals

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 Ashar to try. We spent a Sunday going through and coming up with topics he 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 Kaitlyn, 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:

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 Ashar decides where he wants to go from here!

Unschool Rules: 17-year-old Ashar's interest list from her Thinking Tree Journal.

Ashar’s starter topic and book list

Here’s the fun part: getting to see our lists of topics! Ashar’s first nine topics to explore are:

  • Shakespeare
  • 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 Ashar’s several years ago that he really wants to revisit.)
  • Guitar
  • Writing fiction
  • Rose-haired tarantulas (He wants one as a pet – I am not a fan – we’ll see.)

He 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 he’s starting with:

Unschool Rules: Joan's list of learning topics from her Thinking Tree journal

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.

My topics:

  • 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
  • SCSS and minified Javascript
  • Alchemy (This one, Ashar and I can explore together!)

My book list:

Unschool Rules: Chris' learning topics from his Thinking Tree journal

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
  • Pennsylvania
  • Hauntings
  • Archaeology
  • England

His book list:

Unschool Rules: Kaitlyn's learning topics and book list from his Thinking Tree journal

Kaitlyn’s starter topic and book list

I should point out that Kaitlyn 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.

His topics:

  • Python (The programming language, not the thing I like as little as I like the rose-haired tarantula.)
  • Economics
  • History
  • Functional programming (I don’t even know what this is, let me be honest.)
  • Sociology
  • Science
  • The 1980s pop culture (Kaitlyn says this was just an excuse to put Ready Player One by Ernest Cline on the list.)
  • Javascript
  • Coding (I want to point out that there is some major overlap here with his other topics, but, as Ashar pointed out on his first day, “It is my journal, so I can do what I want with it,” and the same holds for Kaitlyn.)

Kaitlyn’s book list:

Unschool Rules: Our family's Thinking Tree journals

What Mommom is working on

While my mom, Ashar’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 Ashar. 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 Ashar’s huge list (and the likelihood that he’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 Ashar’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 Ashar. In addition to reading, he’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 Ashar, but I’m guessing he’ll have at least a full credit of Shakespeare plus another half-credit, if not more, of theater practice and performance.
  • Music: Ashar takes weekly guitar lessons with Rod Goelz from Music at Metropolis, plus has 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 Ashar was interested in alchemy in seventh grade, we weren’t doing transcript credit yet. Now he’s interested at a more advanced level, so we’re looking forward to seeing how we can expand on what he already knows.
  • Philosophy: This is a topic Ashar has already earned several credits in, and I’m expecting he may have at least another half-credit this year.
  • Genetics: This is a really cool one. Last year, for 4-H, Ashar did a huge project on how alpaca fiber-color is determined genetically. For the year ahead, he 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, Kaitlyn, Ashar and I are tentatively planning to drive to Arizona right after Christmas to visit Kaitlyn’s parents and some friends, and we’ll try to sight-see along the way and while there.
  • Pen-pal fun: Ashar has a super-awesome pen pal in Taiwan named Christina, who he 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.

How to homeschool at nightFor 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 Ashar). 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.

Ashar is still deciding “what comes next,” and we’re in no hurry. He is looking at getting a job during the year ahead, and that may open some other possibilities; he isn’t going to be driving for a while yet, so there are some family considerations in how to make that work, but whatever he decides, we’ll figure it out.

He’s also tossed around the idea of taking a college class or two locally – he’s not interested in starting a degree program at this time, but he 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!

Join the NOT Back-to-School Party!

Unschool Rules: Part of the 2017 iHomeschool Network Not Back to School Blog Hop 2017 Want to see what my fellow iHomeschool Network bloggers are learning this year?

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!)

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7 thoughts on “The unschooled version of an 12th-grade-ish curriculum plan for 2017-18

  1. You always inspire me! You have given me the tools I have been looking for. Thank you! I can’t wait to see how our school year turms out!

  2. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this post! Always exciting adventures with y’all!! Thank you for sharing so much with us, your readers

  3. Hi Joan, I’ve been reading your articles and am so impressed with your knowledge. I’d like to start “unschooling” my 15 year old. He’s been using cyber school and I am not happy with the education he is getting. I’d love to know where to start! Any suggestions to get the ball rolling?

    • Nicole, that would depend on your state’s laws! Here in PA you’d unenroll him from cyberschool and file paperwork with your home school district – has details on that. Other states my vary! As far as learning more about unschooling and moving toward it, you may want to read more about deschooling and how to take some time to begin a transition. My recommendation for that is always Pam Laricchia, at She is a great place to start!

  4. Hi! Thanks so much! A great place for a field trip in central Pa is The Kinzua Bridge in McKean county, and in Bucks County Bowman’s Hill Tower in New Hope Pa.

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