We’ve spent the past couple of weeks inundated with back-to-school photos from friends across the country on Facebook. Some of our friends have younger kids; some have students still in high school; and many kids Ashar’s age are headed out to work or college.
For our “living is learning” family, this year – Ashar’s first since officially earning her diploma and finishing compulsory schooling under Pennsylvania law in May – isn’t much different than previous ones.
That’s why we’re still joining the iHomeschool Network’s Not Back to School Blog Hop for “curriculum week!” This time, we’re looking at what unschooling after high school might look like, not just for Ashar but for the rest of our family as well.
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 12th-grade-ish curriculum plan (2017-18)
- 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)
While our learning philosophy hasn’t changed, our year ahead is going to be an unusual one. But I talk to people all the time who want to know if unschooling can work when life gets weird. And the answer is absolutely yes, but sometimes I think it helps to see how.
So with that, here is…
The Conciliottoman family’s adult education plan
Probably the biggest question our family has fielded for the past couple of years:
What’s Ashar doing next?
Well, we know the answer. Have you been wondering? I know you’re all sitting at home going “What ARE those wacky people doing?” Good news! This is the post for you. Also, I’m very sorry. Get Netflix. It’s more interesting.
Anyway, in all seriousness, we haven’t talked about it much online up to this point, but Ashar is having major surgery in exactly a month. On Oct. 2, she’ll go to Nemours duPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, to have major spinal fusion done for her severe scoliosis.
Nemours duPont is about two hours and change from our house, but it’s absolutely the right place for us to be. Her team is nothing short of amazing – led by Dr. Suken Shan and nurse practitioner Alicia McCarthy, but including a ton of other great people just in our experiences to date.
We haven’t even talked much about Ashar having scoliosis, though we’ve mentioned it here and there, but… it’s pretty major. Like, whoa. Like her spine curves something like 87 degrees – almost a right angle – instead of going straight.
But you know what else is pretty major?
Ashar’s anxiety. She’s struggled with generalized anxiety for years, but there’s one thing that has always been a huge trigger, and that’s anything medical. Routine doctor visits were a no-go for years. (Thank goodness she was rarely sick.) The dentist and eye doctor were always all right, and chiropractic adjustments over the past few years helped her get used to it a bit more, but hospital? Nope. Not even slightly.
But after not actually bothering her for years, Ashar’s curve was starting to cause her pain – and other health problems. (Did you know that when your ribcage touches your pelvis, you cough a lot?) So we decided to see what we could work out. Thanks to an AMAZING physical therapist, Andrea Yaktus at Empower Physical Therapy in Exton, we found out about Nemours and were able to get things in motion.
Ashar’s doing her “prehabilitation” work with Andrea, which is amazing. (This woman is going to drive an hour and a half to our house after the surgery to go for a neighborhood walk with Sarah. I’m not kidding. She’s seriously the best.) After some recovery at home, Ashar will go back to Andrea for outpatient PT in the months following the surgery too. They’re saying she’ll be back to full activity in about six months, which is mind-blowing.
Relatedly, this whole experience has helped Ashar be ready to pursue counseling for anxiety and some of the other things she struggles with. We don’t talk a ton about it, but Ashar has ADHD, autism and OCD on top of the anxiety, and life is just hard for her sometimes. She is my hero, because every day she gets up and keeps trying. Adding a counselor and a psychiatrist (who’s going to help Ashar find an anti-anxiety medicine that’s a good fit) to the “medical mix” was also scary, but Ashar thinks it’s really helping.
As a fun side note, that is largely thanks to the Nemours team too. Ashar had to have a full-spine MRI, which was done under sedation, and they gave her some Versed to help her relax before starting the laughing gas and sedation. The change in her with the Versed was basically nothing short of miraculous. She wasn’t silly like she got as soon as the gas hit her – she was just CALM. “I feel OK,” I think is what she said. When we explained that medication absolutely can help other days be more like that, she – on her own – asked her counselor to make her a referral to psychiatry for medication support.
I could say tons more about this whole experience – and I’m sure I will – but for now, let’s just say that we expect focusing on the prehab, the surgery, the rehab and the accompanying anxiety to take up the better part of this year (and to be a learning experience for all of us).
Separately from that, though, Ashar has other plans and hopes. And we have four other adults in the household who are living and learning as well. Here’s a short look at some of the rest of our lives.
Ashar’s non-surgery goals
- OK, so this one is surgery-related, somewhat: Walking Dead Season 9 premiers Oct. 7 and her goal is to be home from the hospital to watch it
- Turn 19 (“I just feel old. That’s my last year with ‘teen.’ Then I’m 20.” That’s what she said when she was telling me what to write.)
- Continue with Outschool – she’s taking a 10-week forensics class with one of her favorite teachers, Thomas Jones, who she’s had several classes with in the past year.
- Visit Georgia to see where the Walking Dead is filmed and eat at Norman Reedus’ restaurant
- See Alice Cooper in concert (spoiler alert: She does that this week with her best friend, Leah.)
- Go to another Walker-Stalker Con to see Norman and Jeffrey D. Morgan)
As a quick wrap-up of the past year, Ashar says:
- She didn’t know about Outschool before but now it’s a big part of her life
- We saw Fall Out Boy in concert (that was just on Sept. 1)
- She graduated!
- She did a ton of work on Shakespeare, including acting in Antony and Cleopatra as well as The Merry Wives of Windsor – and she points out that she would not have met her best friend, Leah, if they hadn’t done Merry Wives together, so she is super grateful for that
- She read a lot about serial killers, and did some related Outschool classes on unsolved crimes, which is how she found Thomas Jones, mentioned above. Seriously, if there was a Thomas Jones fan club, she’d be president.
Ashar’s Mommom’s plan
My mom, Ashar’s Mommom, is back on her feet again after a heart-medication tuneup over the summer. She may still have more adjustments in the future, but she’s starting to feel a good bit better and has a lot of fun stuff planned for her and Ashar to do.
Some of their highlights:
- Cooking and baking – including making more pretzel rolls, which Ashar loves
- Sewing – including making a “button monster,” which has been on her and Ashar’s want-to-do list for easily 3 or 4 years now
- Rock painting – which moved up on the list after Ashar found my mom a painted rock while Mom was in the hospital earlier this year; it was such a great experience that they’re going to spread some joy of their own that way
Mom also is staying involved with Stephen Ministry at her church. She started the program there, and campaigned and campaigned to get her friend Barb trained as a fellow Stephen Leader so that she could ensure the program will be successful even if her health keeps her from being as active in it. So her goal for this year is getting Barb fully up and running, and staying involved as much as she can herself!
She also wants to get to the beach, which I think sounds amazing.
- Graduate with my Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security – Public Health Preparedness next May – that’s a mouthful
- Get two or more papers published in academic journals
- Present at an international conference for work (happening in late October, because NOT LIKE I’M GOING TO BE BUSY OR ANYTHING)
- Finish the 2018 calendar year having read 100 books (currently at 75)
- Get back to tae kwon do and training regularly so that I can test for my third-degree black belt by summer 2020
Last year, one of my big topics of interest was prison reform, and I did a ton of reading in that area. That’s probably the deepest dive I’ve taken into a non-grad-school or non-work-necessitated subject in a long time, and it’s still something I’m exploring.
I also earned my second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, which was great. And then I promptly proceeded to stop going to class when grad school kicked my butt two semesters in a row. Which is why the goal above is to get back to it – again.
Also, Dan and I get married in March. So, again, not busy or anything.
Dan, being efficient, wrote me a great summary that I will not try to edit or paraphrase:
Following up on last year, I read 6 of the 9 books on my list — I still plan on reading Bit Rot (at some point); Full Dark, No Stars; and Big Science. Although I do think I cheated a bit by “reading” Ready Player One as an audiobook.
Overall, I think I did a pretty good job keep on-track with my topics, although I probably didn’t hit science as hard as I wanted to, so that’ll be something to focus on this year (and hey, Big Science will help). Learning Python turned out to be surprisingly useful professionally, as I used it both in our freelancing and at my day job.
This year my topics would look something like:
- Recent history of technology
- Science fiction
- Sociology of technology (how we interact with technology and how it shapes our world)
Man, my topics make me sound super narrow, but that’s really only a majority of what I’m reading, not the totality. Together, those probably equal 65% of my current to-read list, but the other 35% include some mid-70s history, American Revolution history, what I call modern history (in-depth dives into things that happened in the last 50 years), general fiction, and YA fiction.
Chris has been in the middle of a HUGE, HARD transition at work. He has been the sports editor for LNP (a regional media organization) for several years, and this summer he was named the deputy opinion editor. It’s been a long transition and it involved him working something like 24 days out of 30 or something crazy like that, so he has not had time to put together a full list, but when he does, I’ll add it here. I know that he and Ashar are still planning to do a model train setup in our basement, which should be awesome!
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 Ashar’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 2018 at the Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop here (and you can link up your posts, too!)