How We Became Us-Schoolers

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?



  • Sarah says:

    Hey- good post! And have I ever mentioned how much I adore your daughter’s hair? Positively adorable.

  • Faith says:

    Love this post!

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    Thank you Sarah. Ah, that hair. Talk about snarls. It is beautiful, but she’s already longing for “smooth.” Poor thing. I wonder how long it will take her to come to terms with what she has.

    Thank you Faith!

  • Us-schoolers!! I LOVE that term. I am a bit obsessive when it comes to researching educational philosophies so your post really hits home. For some reason I have this ridiculous fear that I might miss *the one book or that one article or the webpage that would make our homeschool perfect. Your post reminds me that perfection lies within my home already. Maybe if I focus some of my “research” there I’ll find our own innate natural groove as well.

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    Teachingstars – Yes, yes, yes. You are singing my song! It is so hard, but so fruitful. For those of us who like to research and read I think the hardest thing is no one has written that book yet — the how to find your own groove by mixing what works for YOU and YOUR kids book. So we are forging our own path. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Annette says:

    Great post! Found you through Simply Homeschool’s Weekend Links! I have tried so hard not to label how we do school, but it is so tempting so you can have those “hey, we do that too” moments with people.

  • Martianne says:

    I searched and searched and searched to find this post since I could not remember which blog that I enjoy it was on and had lost all my links with a computer crash in the time since I first read it. So glad to find it again. I needed to read your thoughts again as they offer such support for my own. Thank you!

  • Lisa Healy says:

    Oooh, I love that “us-schooler” label, and just might have to steal it! 🙂

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    You know you can!

  • Lucinda says:

    Hi – I just found your blog via the Brave Writer Lifestyle Facebook group. I LOVE the “us-schooler” term – so inspired and cute! We do a similar kind of homeschooling. 🙂

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Oh cool! I did not know there WAS a BWL Facebook group! I need to go check it out. Welcome!

  • Andrea says:

    Pam, I’ve been enjoying your podcasts for at least a year and this is the first time I’ve read this post! Probably providential because I can really relate to your journey and approach now that I am farther along the homeschool journey than I was last year. We’ve been inspired by many of the same methods as you, particularly Charlotte Mason, but I kept returning to the ideas I had from the very beginning as they seem to fit our family culture and way of life best. Ultimately I think this is what most “successful” homeschool families do because every family is unique and so each family’s curriculum and methology should be customized to meet those particularities.

    My own faith journey is also similar to your’s- raised a practicing Catholic, then an unhappy agnostic, and finally a practicing Catholic once more. So happy I reached this place before having children and homeschooling them, so that we can take advantage of the richness of the Catholic faith in our education. We study the “four cycles of life” through each natural season- the liturgical calendar, the sanctoral cycle, the corresponding season in a human life and human history in the season, and of course the changes in nature during the season. I blog a bit about it all on but it needs significant updating, whenever I find the time to do that. I really don’t know how you manage to do all that you do, but am glad you do because I’ve certainly benefited from your efforts!

    All the best,

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      I remember you and your blog! I thought it was so delightful. And yes, I agree that you have to do the things that work for you. Thanks so much for commenting.

  • Stephanie says:

    Love this! Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Pam. I’ve told people I see teaching as cooking – you have a general recipe you want to follow, but along the way you might add this or skip that. I’ve been told by some that I need to figure out what kind of homeschooler I am and what philosophy I want to follow, to which I respond, “but that is my philosophy!” Haha. I think the number one thing I’ve learned about homeschooling is it is a sanctifying experience for mom and a very tangible way God can pour his grace out into your family. It’s a journey I’m glad we’ve begun. Thanks for your blog and podcasts! You give me so many ideas and inspire me!

  • Tasha Swearingen says:

    From a 14-year homeschooling veteran…I couldn’t have put it better myself! EXCELLENT post, Pam! 🙂

  • Dzintra says:

    So much yes! I think coming into your own homeschooling philosophy is a process you have to go through. So while in some ways I regret my “strictly Montessori days” or WTM days or “how about Charlotte Mason?” Phase, as I read so many homeschool moms go through this, I realize it’s a natural part of the development of a homeschooler. Just like structured pre-school with the first child compared to the educational goals of the youngest at 5 consising of not eating paste and keeping markers off the walls.

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