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How I Homeschooled My Children

I never considered myself to be an unschooler, but I really am one. I started "homeschooling" when my oldest turned 3. That was 1992. Now my youngest is 17 and my years as a homeschool mom are winding down, giving me cause to reflect on the adventures I've been on with my children.

I never taught my children to read. I never bought curriculum. I never joined a charter school. I let my children dig holes in the yard. I bought books and soundtracks instead of movies. "School supplies" included library books and stuff I bought at Home Depot. "School research" included going on lots of field trips.

Here's a run-down of what my children did for "school":

My oldest read a lot and wrote a lot. Math was difficult for her, but when the neighbor kid came home with an algebra book, my daughter decided she wanted to do algebra. In a matter of months she went from a third-grade math level to algebra 1. She worked real hard at it. Because she wanted to. At 16 she started taking personal interest college classes (psychology and others) at our local community college. She graduated from high school at 17. She scored exceedingly high on the language arts placement tests for the community college. She did not pursue an AA, but ended up getting accepted to a university, where she is now studying social services and getting straight A's. (2020 update: My oldest is now applying for a master's program.)

My second oldest started out seeming to be a typical learner, but we came to find out that he is dyslexic. He started reading at 6 and was never afraid to tackle difficult books. As a teen, his favorite author was Steinbeck. When it came time for him to learn long division, he chose to skip it. He taught himself long division when he was 17. This boy really struggled with spelling, but when he was a teen he enjoyed instant messaging with his online friends. Not wanting to appear unintelligent, he gained an increased interest in spelling and it really helped him. He took college art classes at 16 and designed the cover for a book that was published. He's now going to a university, where he is studying graphic design. The dyslexia still makes learning difficult for him, but he is getting through. (2020 update: this son has now graduated and has launched his career as a graphic artist.)

My third oldest has no learning delays, but was intimidated by books. He resisted reading and finally started when he was ten. By the time he was eleven he had read a stack of books taller than himself. This is my boy that would choose to play video games all day if he had he chance. I've never been a fan of unlimited screen time, but he is the one who talked me into offering classes online on Minecraft -- and I'm glad he did. He does and excellent job with both the technical and artistic aspects of these classes and I have been very pleased with how effective he is working with the children - much better than some of the on-site teachers I've hired (and had to let go).

My youngest is the one that taught himself to read at four. He didn't read much fiction, but tended to stick to non-fiction books. For a couple years his favorite book was one on bodies. His next passion was elements, which he read an entire series on. He introduced us all to the Schrödinger's cat paradox and the Higgs boson particle. Today this kid dabbles in higher math problems, Arduinos, and prosthetics.

(2020 update: my younger two children are following in the footsteps of their older siblings and are taking some time off before making college and career decisions.)

So many great adventures - I can just go on and on. So much good has come from learning through interests, by exploring, and by following curiosities. So many wonderful years!

Fortunately, I don't plan to be done with homeschooling any time soon. I have worked myself into a position where I get to be there for learning children on a regular basis. Seeing their little light bulbs come on is so rewarding. Some of life's simple joys!

- Heather Martinson

[Originally published in 2018]

Heather never used boxed curriculum, but encouraged her children to learn through curiosity, exploration, creating, and journaling. Anyone can follow her method found here.

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