The unschooled version of a ninth-grade-ish curriculum plan for 2014-15

Wow. We’re going into our third full year of homeschooling and this year, unschooling 9th grade, and Ashar 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 Ashar, 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 12th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2017-18), the unschooled version of an 11th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2016-17), 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.

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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 Ashar 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 Ashar’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
  • Shakespeare
  • 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.

Language arts

Ashar’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:

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!

Ashar 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!)


Ashar 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 Ashar 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: Ashar 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 Ashar will succeed.

Any resources we use above and beyond that are only if Ashar is interested, and not anything we do “formally.”

But Ashar’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. (Ashar 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 Ashar 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. Ashar 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 – Ashar 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!


This was a rather out-of-nowhere request of Ashar’s after first watching the Matrix movie trilogy, then digging deep into The Matrix and Philosophy, a book she’s loving.

“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?”

“Well, sure.”

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 Ashar 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 Ashar’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.

Ashar 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, Ashar’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. Ashar 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 Ashar 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.

How to homeschool at nightFor 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!

Join the NOT Back-to-School Party!

Not Back to School Blog Hop calendar 2014Want to see what my fellow iHomeschool Network bloggers are learning this year?

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!


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22 thoughts on “The unschooled version of a ninth-grade-ish curriculum plan for 2014-15

  1. So much awesome stuff here for our super-cool daughter! Some various thoughts, in no particular order:

    — Some things that might make for fascinating side learning opportunities related to her interests are the London Underground and a fun look at the kinds of odd jobs that people held in Britain during the 19th century. Also, there is a lot of interesting stuff happening right now related to the 100th anniversary of World War I and how that affected the United Kingdom.

    — As far as related media goes, we are absolutely in a Golden Age of Sherlock Holmes adaptations!

    — The forensics class in October sounds awesome. As you said, she had a blast at the summer day camp for forensics at Central York.

    — I think it’s so cool that all of those “Philosophy and xxxxx” books exist, and that Sarah has a keen interest in them.

    — Looking forward to Version 2.0 of the Wall Timeline!

    — Some other travel thoughts that might tie in: (1) I know you’ve already mentioned the desire to get back to the Mutter Museum, (2) The Americana Museum of Bird-in-Hand, (3) return to Jim Thorpe and check out the Asa Packer Mansion, which is filled with Victorian era furnishings, etc., (4) Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, (5) we still need to get to Fallingwater! (6) NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, (7) Even though the Phillies are terrible, Sarah’s interest in baseball remains high and Cooperstown would make for a great trip, (8) Finally, did you know that there’s a place in Pennsylvania called the Donora Smog Museum?!?

  2. Hi, I found you on the NBTS blog hop. I have a 9th grader, too (and a 7th grader who is doing mostly high school work this year.)

    My kids are into philosophy, too, so I am definitely going to check out the links you posted!

    I don’t know if this would be too “schoolish” for your tastes but I think there is a free course on the Beatles on Coursera right now.

    I love how you start this post with a list of what you like–what better place to start than the stuff that makes you happy? It sounds like learning really is a lifestyle for your family. Have a great year!

    • Sparklee, nice to meet you! I bookmarked your post from the hop too and my daughter and I can’t wait to check it out! It’s too funny you mention it – we actually did that Beatles course last year on Coursera; we’re big fans and often take courses together there! It was awesome!

  3. Great! Again you’ve made me add to my book wishlist! :)) We’re looking forward to a great year too. Many of the same things you have listed but with more motorcycles!

  4. You have no idea how useful is this post for me!! It is because I’m kind of newbie at unschooling (2 years) and most of the time I struggle with “curriculum” haha I mean, the way you tell the almost step by step way of approaching this is totally amazing! [sorry, English is not my native language]

    • Paula, I’m so glad you found it helpful! I was checking out your blog and while my Spanish is not great (trust me, WAY worse than your English) I could pick up enough to see that it sounds like your daughter likes a lot of the things my daughter does – she also dreams of being an artist and loves Minecraft! It’s so nice to meet you. 🙂

      • Joan, I’ve realized that, too They seem to have lot things in common. In fact I’ve discovered this blog a year ago when I read an article (I don’t remember which one sorry) for a blog hop about people criticism about homeschooling and unschooling. I remember I felt completely identified as we all love video games, we are night olws, etc… I always read your articles but not always leave a comment.
        Oh!! and thanks for your visit!!!

  5. You had me at the post title! 🙂
    Love seeing how others are following their interests as we enter the high school years!

  6. We are Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, but I thought your curriculum sounded lots of fun. She has to be introduced to Dr Who, if she hasn’t already. It is a British tv show and it seems like she will love it. (Found you via the blog hop)

    • Kaylee, thanks! What’s funny is that of the five people in our household who are all enamored of every kind of sci-fi under the sun, NONE of us are Whovians at all. It’s kind of weird! We keep saying we should watch it, though, so maybe one of these days! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Hey Joan and Sarah – one of my best friends recently got her Master’s in forensic anthropology (kind of like what “Bones” does. She’s down in the D.C. area — if you ever make a field trip down that way, I’m sure she’d be more than happy to talk to you about it.

  8. Thank you for helping MY education while we decide what to do with our daughters education! I love the way you are doing things….at least how it sounds. I’m so very overwhelmed at this point because we are still in the “are we really going to do this” point and also how/what/when/help me please! stage.

    From all I have read so far (9th and 10th grade plus a few links on those pages) you may be my role model 🙂

    Daughter taking (hopefully) her last 2 finals in 8th grade today. Two field trips and then some goof off days to fill in the required hours and that might be it. OK it probably will be it. She is ADHD and as I’m sure you can understand, just doesn’t learn the way public is taught.

    Luckily our state is one of the least requirement states for homeschooling (WI) but I know we’d still go above and beyond what is required. BIG plus…NO state testing!

    Life skills are really needed. She already is on a swim team with our local Y and plays guitar (has been playing flute in school but guitar totally took over since she got one for Christmas!) We’ll be starting our local rock school this summer along with getting back into swimming. I took her out over this last school year due to school struggle. (UGH I’m a huge night owl too and it’s too darn early for me to type and make sense at the same time 😛 )

    Soooo now that I wrote a book I’ll stop. For now….. I do tend to babble….

    Ohhh one more thing. I stink at math….Fred looks very interesting to me. Now to not only figure out if we’re going to jump into this (and how) but also which Fred books we need. Might grab a few Fred’s either way to play catch up.

    Anyway….THANK YOU for doing this. You have helped greatly in unconfusing (is that a word?) this Mom. At least a bit.

    • Nancy, I’m so glad we can help!! I am so glad you commented and please, feel free to write me long comments ANY time. And, if you have questions or just want to check in and say hi, would love to hear from you in comments or at [email protected]! Here’s to you and your daughter as you move forward in your journey!!

  9. May i ask?Im debating within myself about unschooling my 14 yr old but what about college? i heard it is a problem later… Thanks

    • Liz, I can absolutely tell you that college does not have to be a problem at all in unschooling! Keeping a good transcript is key. Another option that many unschoolers pursue is dual-enrolling in community college while they are still high-school-age; that usually avoids the need for SATs, though I also know some unschoolers who have aced those.

      The biggest question I’d ask is, what does your child want to do in the future? Is college a need for them? If so, 14 is definitely a good age for your teen to start looking into what that would entail. What kinds of colleges are they interested in, if any? What are their requirements? How does your family’s natural learning fit into those? (For instance, my daughter, Sarah, has pursued, on her own, introductory foreign-language study using some free apps, and that is included on her transcript.)

      Fundamentally, the question becomes a bit different than “Is college a problem for unschoolers?” It becomes “If your child needs or wants college to pursue his or her dreams, how can you help them make that happen?”

      I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about!

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