Classical Conversations / Montessori Thoughts

The Joy Of Montessori Unschooling

I’ve mentioned before that I divide our homeschool year into “CC” weeks (24 per year) and “off” weeks (all the rest.)

During CC weeks, we use the comprehensive learning outlines from the Classical Conversations program.  I introduce the new material on Monday, and throughout the week we attempt to understand it well, using a variety of methods.  These are weeks which require me to be well-prepared and focused on schoolwork.  I posted a sample schedule of what we do during both CC and off-weeks here.

In our home this week, I had scheduled CC Week 19 material.  Last week we studied Week 18 very well.  However, the need arose for me to change our schedule.  This change was not due to sickness, just a deadline I was meeting for publishing a book I’ve been working on for over 7 years…  So I’ve been watching my kids joyfully “do their own thing” this week while contemplating how beneficial it is for them to have an environment where they are periodically free to choose their own “work” for hours on end.  We can push back Week 19 a week,  and still finish our school year by May 11.

If you were to be a fly on the wall of my house this week, or a visiting relative or a friend stopping by, it would appear that I’m a work-from-home mom, typing away at her laptop, while the children were off unsupervised, sometimes on their own, sometimes with a sibling.  To the “untrained” eye it just plain looks like we’re not doing school.  And my argument is that I firmly believe my kids are learning with intensity this week, relishing their freedom to choose their own work, contributing to the peaceful framework of their own minds as well as our household.

The “work” they choose always astonishes me.  My 7-year-old took everything off of our art shelves, dusted, organized, removed the paper which had been written on, put everything back in order, and took the trash out to the garbage bin.  Meanwhile, my 9-year-old dumped out an art-supply container, sorted everything to perfection and put it back.  He came upon a piece of lined-paper he hadn’t seen in awhile, and decided to write a letter to an uncle; I have no idea why.  (He is very proud of how his cursive-italic handwriting is coming along!)  These boys have read a dozen books each this week.  They got out rakes to clean up the garden and spent several hours outdoors.  They drew hilarious and challenging hop-scotch designs on the driveway with chalk.  They’ve listened to books-on-tape and painted. They have gone to PE, religion-ed, and violin classes.

Our homeschool has not always been like this, because infants and toddlers require a different environment and more hands-on attention from mama.  If you try to publish a book instead of watching your toddlers unceasingly, things like this happen:

(This photo is entitled Why I Only Purchase Washable Markers.)

Montessori observed and studied the dramatic difference between children younger than 3 and children who are older than 3.  I have witnessed the same development in my own home that she witnessed in the poorest children of Rome a century ago.  I’ve learned that when your “baby” turns 3 and is provided with an organized environment full of interesting educational materials and compassionate siblings and friends to interact with, Mama ends up with enough time on her hands to pursue her own interests.  This is a win-win for the family.

You could say that our style is “Montessori Classical” during CC weeks, and “Montessori Unschooling” the rest of the year.  The difference between flagrant unschooling and what I provide is that I have put a lot of detailed thought into the specific environment of our home.  There is a strict media schedule in place, no TV, loads of quality books, lots of out-door time, and a routine of morning chores to begin every day.  They sleep as much as they need to, and eat when they are hungry.  I take seriously all of the characteristics of a Montessori environment listed here.  If you ask my kids tonight what they “did for school today” they will say “not much.”  I used to cringe when they said that.

Now I know better.


2 thoughts on “The Joy Of Montessori Unschooling

  1. I just wanted to thank you for that article. I’m glad that you shared in detail what your “homeschooling looks like”. I’m new to the unschooling method and know some things about montessori (from a college ECE class)…we’ve done homeschooling awhile, but lately Ive been “letting them go, aka decide” I sometimes wonder if I’m stepping in enough. We are still working through a public charter school and I think I just get a vibe that I should be regulating more….but …since i have to log everything for their school. My experience is as yours….when I let them “go” they keep themselves busy and seem happy finding there own things to accomplish. My daughters constantly finding things to recycle and reinvent. What school do you go through to be able to work this way? How do you record progress? What method works best in this environment with out hurting our brains to remember all the details of the day. Lol.

    • Greetings, Emma, thanks for the comment. The state where I live requires nothing from me as a homeschooling parent other than registering myself as a non-accredited private school, a one-time 10-second online process. Each state has different requirements. We do have various curricula that we get through each year, and I make a point to assess how my children are doing in all of the basic subjects compared to their public-school peers. One of the reasons that I can have a relaxed attitude toward “unschooling” right now is because I’m confident that my kids are at or above grade level in each subject. Also, we school year-round and have the basic attitude that everything we experience is educational, whether it’s reading at bedtime or working with Mindstorms on the weekend. We use subject binders as portfolios to save all of the best work the children do in each subject – this is our “record” of what we have done. Hope that answers your questions!

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