What kind of homeschooler are you? I am undeniably and unashamedly a relaxed homeschooler. We’ve embraced the so-called ‘lifestyle of learning’ by recognizing that new experiences and education happen everywhere at any time, not just at a school desk during certain hours.
I am thrilled to bits today to be interviewing Dr. Mary Hood – The Relaxed Homeschooler® herself! I first came upon Mary’s writings less than a year ago but was instantly hooked. She is very encouraging and inspiring, and her family is living proof that a rigid life full of textbooks and worksheets is not necessary for success.
Welcome to Fenced in Family, Mary!
Did you start out as a relaxed homeschooler or did your homeschooling style change over the years?
Mary: When we first started, I had been involved in a couple of free schools, like those advocated by John Holt and other unschoolers, and already had some of the same ideas about education that I have now. However, I had also been raised in the public school system myself, and still had some of that influence in me, too.
When we first started, there weren’t many curriculum materials available to homeschoolers, but I did find a few texts and workbooks and started out sitting the kids down at the table in the mornings doing that kind of work. Luckily, I was also very busy at the time, working on a master’s degree in education. Every once in awhile, I got very busy with a test or a project, and would start to feel guilty about not keeping the kids on track.
Gradually, I started to notice that when the structured schooling was in place, the kids did the work, sort of grudgingly, but well . . . However, when the structured school fell by the wayside, I noticed that a lot more real, enthusiastic learning was taking place! So my kids gradually taught me to lighten up and act more like a family.
Then, just as I began to look a bit like an unschooler, Dan came along and needed a more structured approach. He’s the one who taught me that it is really most important to do whatever works for each individual student, and ultimately helped me to figure out the “relaxed approach,” which is a mindset that emphasizes living together as a family and working with each child as a genuine individual.
It seems that many parents abandon a relaxed style of homeschooling when their children reach the high school years. How do you recommend that parents keep the spirit of relaxed homeschooling alive throughout high school?
Mary: When teenagers are entering the high school years, many parents get extremely concerned about having all the “correct subjects” and getting their transcripts in place, looking as much as possible like a traditional high school. That is a natural concern, and should be given consideration. However, it is still important to work with your students as individuals, to emphasize your own goals more than the “goals” of a college admission’s counselor, and to help your teenagers develop their own goals. At that point, the role of the parent should become more of a facilitator and coordinator than a “teacher.” Of course, not every student has the same readiness to take over the planning and development of their own studies, but as much as possible, that should be the goal.
In addition, just because you need a particular subject on a transcript does not necessarily dictate the methods or materials you use. I’ve known students who did biology with an emphasis on botany and did a greenhouse rather than dissections, or even did an apprenticeship at SeaWorld and called that biology. Foreign languages can be learned through community service or overseas missions. There is no reason to stop creative decision-making just because a student enters the ninth grade.
One of the parent’s roles is to help the students understand the potential consequences of decisions they make, now that they are in high school. If a student does not make the effort to “cover” all the required subjects, he or she might not be able to walk in the front door of a given college. However, there are always back doors, and the lack of a pristine transcript will not harm them for life. This is a very big topic and too much to deal with here, but our organization has worked with hundreds of teens over the years, and we’ve never had a problem helping them get into college or the military if the goal is their own, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
Thank you very much, Mary! My oldest is almost 11, and I’ve already found myself a little anxious over the approaching middle and high school years. What you say here makes so much sense, though, and is very encouraging.
Be sure to check out the other interviews at The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart blog. You’re sure to be inspired!
© 2011, Cindy. All rights reserved.