My slightly-outside-the-box educational philosophy

If you follow my Facebook page you know that this post was coming. Now that Stefan is 7 I feel like we’re true, legitimate homeschoolers. Not that we weren’t before, but things have definitely shifted a bit lately in terms of how we do learning at home. I’ve been considering how in the world to write out my current philosophy of how children learn and what fits our home and life right now in a single post. I’d rather have you over for a cup of British tea and discuss it in person, but here goes my attempt. πŸ˜‰


Dunnottar Castle–breathtaking!

It’s a personal passion of mine to read about child development and education. How children learn isn’t just something I need to know in order to homeschool effectively, it is something I love learning about. So I read a lot. Articles, books, and other moms’ experiences are all part of the equation. I love it so much that I have to hold myself back from discussing it with people, because not everyone loves the subject quite as much as I do. :)

I’ve learned so much over the last few years from following other moms that I think it’s time I start sharing more about that part of my life here. If something catches your eye and is helpful, great! I consider it an honor to share how we are trying to implement learning into our daily lives.

But please understand that I am always learning and growing and trying new things. I feel like as soon as I write down how something is working it will likely change because we’ll be in a new season or any other multitude of possibilities. So this is simply me growing and learning and sharing tidbits of it along the way. Okay? Thanks, friends! πŸ˜‰


Drawing at the Botanical Gardens that are literally around the corner from our home!

Now to a philosophy…

I feel like when the question of educational philosophy comes up, you are almost expected to pick one. Not only do I find it hard to box myself in that much, but I also feel like that sometimes lends itself toward accepting one philosophy as being the absolute best. That’s always a bit dangerous because every child, family, and situation is different. I’ve found a lot of valuable input from every end of the educational spectrum (Unschooling, Leadership Education, Charlotte Mason, Classical, etc). So rather than choose a single philosophy, I’m going to share a few ideas that influence how we learn in the day to day.


A little nighttime reading

  • Delayed formal academics.
    Based on a lot of reading, I have come to the conclusion that, in general, we are pushing kids too young. There is a lot of emphasis in the preschool and early elementary years to push kids to read earlier, know more facts, and in the process they lose a lot of free time just playing and exploring the world. Some kids are ready for this, but many aren’t. While we do a lot of learning every day (including daily reading practice) we had decided to not do “formal” academics until sometime in the year that Stefan turned 7 (based on my reading on child development and a shift that seems to takes place around that age). I planned to follow Stefan’s natural shift, and interestingly enough almost to the date of turning 7, I watched it happening before my eyes. He was (is) ready for more. I had things ready to go for when that happened and so we have moved almost seamlessly into a more structured way of learning. It’s been completely fascinating to watch! Just to note, I do think Olivia will move into this much sooner mostly because she is watching her older brother and enjoys learning right along with us. I’m not for holding them back if they want to move forward, but in these early years I certainly don’t want to push ahead before they are developmentally ready. It’s a fine balance for sure, and I think every child will be different.
  • Lots of free play. Because my kids are still very young, there needs to be lots of hours of free play. The time will come soon enough when my kids will be spending the bulk of the hours of their day studying and learning, but right now isn’t that time. They need lots and lots of play both indoor and outdoor.
  • Integrated subjects. As we move into more formal academics I am seeking to try to give my kids an integrated approach to learning. (This is where I appreciate the Classical approach). I see a huge benefit in studying history, science, art, literature, etc, in an integrated format. Isolated subjects are arbitrary and I think there is great value in studying time periods and what is happening in each of those areas at the same time. I hope I can give that to my children.
  • Literature-based. Here is where I lean very heavily toward Charlotte Mason. I think children learn best from real living books. They can grasp ideas and concepts much better in a story than in a little box on a page of a curriculum. So reading aloud and individually will continue to be a huge part of our learning.
  • Children have ideas. Again this is a big concept in Charlotte Mason’s works. Children are capable of having and relating to big ideas, not simply facts. This is where I differ a little from some people’s idea of Classical education (I say some, because Classical education has become quite popular and with it a variety of ways it is applied can be found). I think young children are capable of a lot more than merely memorizing a lot of facts that they can then later attach big ideas to. I’d rather discuss the big ideas right now and this follows closely with my love of using great literature to accomplish that.
  • Interest-led. Going along with leaving lots of free time to play, there is an aspect of learning that I want to inspire and engage my kids in, and there is room to let them have their own interests as well. How exactly to find that balance will, I think, be constantly shifting as they grow and change and as our life situations changes, etc. But I don’t want to so overcrowd their educational life that they have no room to explore things on their own.
  • Hands-on learning. Whether it is taking them to museums (or castles!), or making things at home, so much of learning becomes real and alive when we can relate to it in the physical world. I want to move away from just “textbook learning” and give them as much hands-on experiences as possible. (Admittedly, being in Europe makes this part very interesting!)


Hiking in the Highlands

Those are the big ideas behind how I frame our learning. The day-to-day flows from those big ideas and I plan to share those as we go along. Sometimes there is textbook learning, sometimes it looks largely like play but it’s definitely learning, and always there is reading.

So what is my philosophy? Well, if I must… πŸ˜‰Β  Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Unschooling and how they all intersect somehow someway. If that isn’t confusing, I don’t know what is. But trust me, it is a pleasure to learn in our home, and I might be learning more than anyone.

Do you one or more educational philosophies that you lean toward?


  1. I love reading about people’s educational philosophies! I’ve definitely run into the different definitions of classical education problem, but two of the other terms you used also have pretty wide ranges of definitions.

    For example, I’ve seen vastly different definitions of “delayed formal academics.” Some people take the Bluedorn idea to the point where they REFUSE to teach children to read or add or write or anything until age 7 or 8 or even later (one family I know of stakes their claim at age 10). On the other hand, I would say I delay formal academics until the 2nd grade year (age 7 in August) because that’s when I ask the kids to start writing things independently, to do a page of math problems independently, play a matching game with Latin words, etc. But I do teach them to read when they start asking, and do math together with them, help them learn to make letters (although in an ad hoc way, not using a big curriculum), sing songs in Latin, etc. To me, “formal” means “independent, more rigorous, using a structured curriculum” but for some people “formal” means “exists.” :)

    The other one is “child-led learning.” I’ve heard parents claim that term to school-ify playing all day. I love that my kids have hours of play time, and consider that crucial for their learning, but I don’t call it school because they are pretending a battle between Boadicea and Julius Caesar (a bizarrely frequent game at our house!). There are some things you just have to know in order to learn more later and I think it’s unfair to assume kids will know what to ask to learn about as a pre-requisite. Many skills and fields of knowledge build sequentially. However, in elementary school science I think interest-led learning is the way to go–my 7 year old developed a sudden passion for birds, so we spent the fall learning all about birds. Now we’re reading about the Oregon Trail and the California Gold Rush for our history/literature studies, and so we have detoured into prairie ecosystems and habitats.

    Anyway, I think you’ve done a good job of defining your terms! So much of homeschooling seems to be what works for the teacher and what works for each individual student. I’ll be interested to hear more about how things go for you and your family!

    • I totally agree! Which is why using terms is a bit complicated. I’ve seen people refer to unschooling that refuse to use any curriculum EVER and others that use it to simply refer to using curriculum carefully while still leaving plenty of room to explore on their own. It gets confusing which is why I think it’s best to just show what you are doing and not get too terribly caught up in terms.
      And I expect that as they get older the studies side will get much more rigorous. The majority of my kids are still quite young so everything leans toward the more natural/play based. I see that shifting quite a bit in the coming years.
      And as to reading…Olivia turns 5 in a few weeks but has been begging to read so we have started regularly reading lessons. So, yeah, it just depends and we have to keep open about what works for each child/family. (And thanks so much for sharing your journey. I’ve gained so much from your experience!)

  2. Interesting! I so agree with you on so much of what you shared. The points I most agree with are: each child is different, going with their interests, and integrating subjects where possible. I am not exactly in favor of “un-schooling” (if the definition is no schooling–no making the children learn math facts, for example), but I am really wishing I had done more to make schooling more natural and flowing, instead of sitting around a table with workbooks. At the time, I did the best I could with the materials available to me. I am so glad both children were readers and had such a wide array of interests. I believe it would be more challenging if the child had severe learning disabilities and wasn’t self-motivated. I am so in favor of home schooling for most children, if possible. It gives parents the flexibility to invest their lives into their children. THAT is the best education!

  3. Jessie Wittman says:

    Oo, been wondering for a while about your thoughts on homeschooling, so I was so happy to see you write up a post about some of it! Your mixed approach sounds almost exactly like what my mom did with me, and I LOVED it. Especially the “delayed formal academics,” I’m so thankful my mom let me be creative and play with my own mind for so many years.

    What are three or so books (or articles) that you would recommend an aspiring homeschooling mom to read? I need somewhere to start, could you point me in a direction?

    • I’ll have to think on this a bit. Pretty much anything Charlotte Mason is a good place to start. I have several here you can look at if you’d like, but let me get back with you on a “list.” :)

    • I would also love to hear what resources you learned most from on child development. Especially the ones that talk about the shift near age 7. I noticed a big difference between second graders and third graders when I was doing student teaching, but I’m not sure how to translate this into watching for that shift to occur in my kids. (Of course, probably when they gets to that age I’d see it and recognize it with no problems :) )

      Thank you for sharing, and this describes much of what I’ve been trying to clarify to myself! :)

  4. I like your balance of philosophies a lot! I agree with delaying formal academics and just letting children be children in their early years. They actually learn so much through free play. I also love hands-on and interest-led learning. That is why unschooling resonated so much with me when I first began homeschooling my son. And what a beautiful environment to be raising your children.

    • I love how many families really make unschooling work. It’s so inspiring, and I’ve learned so much from reading and watching it in action.

  5. We’ve recently started looking into homeschooling and I am such a newbie {thankfully my children are under two!}. But your “out-of-the-box” philosophy seems to be where I am leaning in education. I don’t think education can be boxed in to one form of learning, and that is where conventional schooling has it wrong {in my belief}. You make homeschooling look inspired and fun, the best spirit for children to learn :)

    • “I don’t think education can be boxed in to one form of learning” — Yes! I agree! And while homeschooling isn’t for everyone, one big advantage is being able to tailor it to individual children’s gifts and needs! It’s a wonderful journey and I hope you find lots of encouragement from other moms along the way!

  6. I loved this post! You and I have very similar educational philosophies, even if I don’t know exactly what to call mine :) I am also addicted to reading child-related books, education, development, psych, etc. I’m a former (still?) school psych who fell into homeschooling unexpectedly. I haven’t looked back. Love that I found your site :)

    • An unexpected homeschooler! I love it. I was homeschooled the entire way through until college so it isn’t so new to me, but definitely different being on the mother end of things. πŸ˜‰ So nice to find a like-minded homeschooler! Thanks for commenting.

  7. Meg Johnson says:

    Hi Johanna, Something I’d be interested to hear from you, Johanna, is your take on bilingualism as part of your child’s education. I think your family, like mine, used primarily English at home but had a lot of French exposure outside the home through music lessons, church, shopping, etc. My husband knows “grocery store French”–that “lait” is on the back side of the milk carton, but since our marriage our home has been English speaking. Now we’re in an English-speaking culture, but I desire to have some element of French as part of my children’s education. How do you approach it? The die-hard francophones want one parent to speak French and another to speak English to the children. That doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’d be interested in your perspective. Thanks!!!

    • Ah. Totally know where you are coming from. I’ll probably do a post eventually. This is something that I’ve struggled with (Brian doesn’t speak either.) We speak English in the home and no matter how much I’d like to just speak French it doesn’t really happen. So, a few things that we are doing. We always have one song and/or poem that we are memorizing in French going. With that and the review of old ones they are at least speaking and getting the accent even if they aren’t yet understanding or talking. My hope is that when they go to learn french more formally, all that is in their head will start to make sense and they will have a “bank” to pull from. Other things that have helped are having specific things that trigger “french mode.” I.e. we have a song that we sing every time they are in the bath, while washing their hair. Another one we sing at the table before dinner, we count in french right before bed, etc… Brian has learned quite a bit this way as well and he is 100% behind (and possibly more insistent on it happening even than I am!) them learning so it works. Maybe that will give you some ideas to start with? It’s such a gift to give our kids, but I am so in agreement with you–it is MUCH harder than people let on!

  8. Hi!! I know I haven’t been around lately… er… what with a new baby and all that, but, then, what would you know about it? πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜€ I was very glad to read your approach to homeschooling… almost cried actually, because I thought I must have it wrong somehow when I LOVE Charlotte Mason, LOVE the Classical approach, but also LOVE letting them “lead” in what they like to learn – so, I’ve also created a mix between these three, without having put it so eloquently into words as you have, but suddenly I feel much better about it lol. so much for posting this!!! WOuld love to catch up on your posts; now that Sam has settled into a predictable routine I might be able to. BTW have you read The Storyformed Child? It’s excellent!!!! By Sarah Clarkson, I just discovered it a couple weeks ago and it’s one of the books I’ve enjoyed the most. It rang true to my heart. :)

    Big hug!!!

    • So good to see you comment, and YES, I know exactly what you are talking about! πŸ˜‰ Glad things are settling down. I think all of us outside-the-box homeschoolers should just unite! πŸ˜‰ I haven’t read The Storyformed Child yet but it’s been on my list since efore it was published. Thanks for the nudge. I might see if I can get it in kindle format. Thanks for reading…I haven’t blogged a whole lot so you haven’t missed much, but I have good intentions for this year, including lots of homeschool posts…we’ll see;)

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