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From The Graduates: Structure or Not?

We were young home schoolers in the 1980s-1990s. I was born just after the first edition of the magazine Growing Without Schooling was released. Our parents were cutting edge. Our mom did an amazing job with us, allowing us to grow and explore and learn in our own way. When I think about doing what she did, without the benefits of the internet and all its free homeschool resources, I’m really impressed. She followed her gut and taught us on what is now called an “un-schooling” model. There were weeks where we mostly played cards in our pajamas (math!) or wrote epic sagas to be played out by our dolls (writing!). We followed our own interests. Sometimes we did projects and reported on those projects (usually our own ideas). We took a variety of extra-curricular so that gave some form to our weeks… But largely our time was our own. So what do we think about un-schooling and structure? 

Just three kids in a "Box Car". The Herpetologist was probably in-utero for this picture.

Just three kids in a “Box Car”. I’m in the headband.  The Herpetologist was probably in-utero for this picture.

Can you remember times that your school work had more structure than you think was good for you? Can you remember times with too little structure? How would you balance structure and “un schooling”?

The Mama:
I craved structure. As a young homeschooler I would set out lesson plans for myself. But I was young – 8 years old, 11-years old – and I didn’t have the internal resources to make myself stick to my lesson plans. As an adult, I am a pretty organized, routine oriented person. I think that one of the places that un-schooling failed me was in the lack of structure. It’s something I need to feel good. When I went to high-school, my favorite part was the structure, and the reliable expectations. As I grew, baby sitting jobs and theatre helped me learn about external expectations and meeting deadlines on someone else’s schedule. However, it wasn’t until that first fall term at community college that I was fully aware of how the lack of structure and expectations had left me flailing, having to learn that skill set as a young adult. It was…incredibly educational…I suppose.

As I consider my experience, I think that there should be a balance between giving a child freedom to express, learn, grow, and sleep in. And they should have regular expectations – not to tell me who is on the dime or write a book report on Black Beauty, but to learn to accomplish something not on their own agenda on someone else’s timeline. It’s an important skill that everyone is going to need at some point.

The Body Worker:
This is a tough one. I did not ever feel like I had too much structure. I always wanted more structure. That being said, I think that I learned volumes about self-direction from often having to guide myself through projects and critically think on my own about how to reach goals. It makes me extremely functional at long and short-term planning now. I think though that it would have been helpful to have a bit more structure in school projects. I don’t think that it actually is necessary to overly dictate what kids are doing or give them strict rules/timelines about school projects if they are being unschooled. I do believe that having fluidity with projects in order for kinds to learn self-direction is great. I think what might promote a better structure situation for kids as they get to be 7/8/9 or so is to have regular check-ins with them about what they are working on and guide them through the process of planning and execution. When they are little, this could happen a bit but things for littler kids don’t really have to be so focused on bigger projects/long-term goals. But in terms of structure in general, I would favor a model of “guided self-direction”.

The Engineer:
I don’t feel like there were any times that I had to much structure. I feel like for the most part I would have benefited from a little more structure. Not necessarily a rigid day to day structure but due dates and expectations academically. I think that it is possible to allow children to learn about what they are interested in while cultivating other skills as well. For instance, when I was learning how to program at the age of 11-12, if mom or dad had given me a programming book and said “I want a weekly 1-2 page project report on something that you have programmed” this would have forced me to learn about writing without seeming like a burden of just writing something. This ”stealth” education would have been beneficial to my academic development.

As far as too little structure, during college I realized it would have been good for me to have been forced to write and read more when I was younger. I read a lot but did not write and wish that I had been made to do this more when I was younger.

Balancing structure and unschooling can definitely be a difficult task. I feel like it is not so much a balance as showing people that they can be autodidacts and that it does not take a teacher to help someone learn something.

The Herpetologist:
To be honest, my education was never extremely structured in any sense I remember. The most structure I recall, was being told to just write for some period everyday. At the same time, because there was no structure to what I had to write, or any goals to work towards, I found myself generally befuddled while I scribbled random thoughts on paper. I generally ended up doodling. I did not need a structured work day where I focused on assorted fields of study for specific periods, but I needed to be given some idea of where I was headed with my studies. I think the point here is that when you tell a child, “do this scholastic thing for 20 minutes” and follow that up with, “It doesn’t matter how you do it, or what the result is, just do it for while”, the child may find themselves unsure of what their parents’ expectations are. I am not saying that homeschooled children need to be expected to progress to any level by any specific time, but it is definitely important to make sure they know which direction they should be headed, and at what sort of progressions need to be achieved.


What do you think about structure? Some people are emphatic about the need for strong structure. Some are adamantly in the purely unschooling camp. Where do you fall?

If you are just joining us, this is a monthly feature written by me and my 3 home schooled – now adult – siblings. You can read our other thoughts, and get to know us better in the following links…


Perceptions and Stereotypes

The “S” Word (Socialization)


3 responses »

  1. I love structure. It suits me. I am a bit lost without it as I am inherently lazy (double Taurus that I am). I think, as with most things it’s nice to have a balance. I applaud your mindful approach to family and to education and thank you for sharing your unique childhood experience.

  2. Pingback: From The Graduates: Holiday Edition | Another Day - Another Mom

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