On a forum I frequent there was recently a friendly debate over how people label themselves as homeschoolers. One party felt that semantics were very important and other parties should not claim to follow a philosophy unless they very specifically followed that philosophy. Others of us had more of a live-and-let-live attitude.

The issue was confused by the fact that the person who took issue admitted that the homeschooling label in question (unschooling) is a vague one to begin with, often co-opted by differing groups and further broken into sub-groups like Radical Unschoolers and Christian Unschoolers. What a snarl.

Making a volcano — just because.

So does it really matter?

To some extent I think it does. In our efforts to build community and provide support, we seek out those who do things like we do, who use the same curriculum, who follow similar methods. In that regard it is important that I be able to label myself as relaxed or eclectic or unit study — so like-minded folks can find me and say, “Hey! We do that too!”

There are times though, that the labels and the philosophies they represent, hinder the best of homeschooling efforts. I think this was most eloquently described by Sarah in a recent post on homeschooling mistakes. Oh, I can identify with that post. And I am grateful for Sarah and the folks like her who write of their own journey. I know reading about them helped me to move through my own all that much quicker.

Erupting the volcano — note the pajamas.

And what a journey it has been…

When I first started looking at homeschooling when Olivia was a baby I thought Calvert looked amazing! (I was Protestant then. If I had been Catholic, I am sure it would have been Seton.) Who knew this wonderful resource existed!

And then I saw my first Sonlight catalog. I had all twelve years planned out on a spreadsheet. Then I realized — great book lists, but nothing hands-on…

That lead me to Winter Promise and I actually bought a preschool curriculum from them. You can read what happened to our preschool efforts here. I found WP a little on the choppy side, but my friend Tyra enjoyed it greatly — especially since she ended up using my curriculum for free.

Next was Charlotte Mason and a foray into Ambleside and Andreola and Foss. Still love and use much of that (living books and narration and copy work — oh my!), but hours in the outdoors in Alabama summers? With bugs and snakes? No thanks.

The Well Trained Mind holds a certain appeal and their forums are my favorite online hangout, but the book itself and the classical method are a little more strenuous than we want to be in the early years. We keep parts — like some memorization and we are going to take a stab at Latin. I will say that Susan Wise Bauer comes off as much more flexible in her workshops than the book would indicate.

Montessori? You bet we shopped stopped there! And while there is much to like about the philosophy, it became evident that my children in an engaging home did not need a prepared environment quite the same as impoverished Italian children with working parents. Button frame? Nah, we’ll learn just fine on our jacket and pants.

Project-based learning? Check. I can see us doing this — especially as the kids get older and take more ownership.

Unschooling? So much to learn from John Holt and St. Therese’s ladies (and I do), but I feel the need to guide a bit more than what is du rigueur in those circles.

Unit Studies? This is mostly where we linger, but I don’t feel the need to make all subjects connect to the topic at hand.

Feeding the giraffes was quite the experience.

So the verdict? We’re UnCharlotteClassicMonteProject-based Unit Schoolers — or you can just call us Us-Schoolers — because we take the parts that work for us and throw away the rest.

Actually, we are probably technically Relaxed Us-Schoolers, but that would be splitting hairs, don’t you think?

Pam Barnhill

Pam Barnhill

Pam is the author of The Your Morning Basket Guide and Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace. She also is the host of three popular  podcasts -- The Homeschool Snapshots Podcast, Your Morning Basket, and The Homeschool Solutions Show. She lives in the Deep South with her husband and three kids, where she is the go-to lady for great curriculum recommendations or a just a pep talk on a rough day.
Pam Barnhill

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