Relaxed Homeschooling in a Tiny House

We are well into our older daughter's first year of school. We started "kindergarten" mid-September, and we'll probably finish toward the end of May, though of course the learning continues year-round.

The best description of how we homeschool is "relaxed homeschooling." It's not quite pure unschooling because we do feel that there are certain things our children need to learn, so we don't just completely leave them to their own devices. But our learning is mostly child-led with a few exceptions.

What a Normal Week Looks Like

On Mondays and Tuesdays, Sunshine takes classes at a local homeschool resource center, and this has been one of the highlights of our school year. For any other aspiring homeschool families, I highly recommend some kind of classes outside the home for kids like Sunshine, who can be overwhelming at times and who benefits from social interaction and a change of scenery. Living in a tiny house especially makes outside interaction an important guard against cabin fever during the dreary winter. Even if it's just community classes or martial arts or dance or any regularly scheduled activity to get out of the house and around other people, it can be hugely beneficial. Both of our daughters are currently taking dance classes through the homeschool resource center, but we've also done dance classes through our local parks and rec department in the past, and both girls loved it.

Right now, Sunshine takes literature, dance, social studies, and drama classes through the homeschool center. This takes some of the pressure off of me as the teacher as well. Most of her social studies content comes from these classes, where she learns about a new country every week with accompanying crafts and music and dance.

The rest of the week, we pretty much just go about our lives.

On days that we don't have class, Sunshine wakes before 10 am (she's not a morning kind of girl!), and she eats breakfast if she wants to or skips it because she often isn't hungry first thing in the morning. In the afternoons we take random trips to the library or the playground/indoor play place depending on the weather. A few months ago, we got a membership to the indoor playplace at our local mall to help give our girls an outlet for their energy in our rainy climate. Previous winters have seemed so long and dreary in our tiny home when the rain just won't let up for weeks at a time, and being able to take the girls somewhere to get their energy out has been worth every penny.

Sunshine is a curious kid, so we follow her rabbit trails. For example, we learned all about Hawaii one day because she asked a couple of questions about it. On another day we talked about what it takes to get hired at a job. A picture of a guillotine in a book about Beethoven led into a discussion of the French Revolution (simplified for a young audience, of course)We have a whole bunch of science kits, and we try to do one experiment a week, though admittedly I have been slacking on this one a bit lately. Having family nearby is wonderful, though, because they often help fill in where we are not quite as strong. My brother, who lives next door, recently purchased a 3D printer, and he has been entertaining our girls with how it works for months now. A couple of weeks ago, Chris's mom was doing science experiments with Sunshine using a jar and matches, and last week my dad helped Lucy work though some of the energy projects in one of the kits she got for Christmas. We love that our girls have the opportunity to learn from other voices besides our own as we feel that it leads to a more well-rounded education and a more open mind, and quite honestly we just don't know everything ourselves. Letting others share their expertise is hugely beneficial.

Sunshine is in the late stages of learning how to read, and she has a bunch of LeapFrog videos and tablet apps to encourage that in addition to sounding out words we encounter as we go about our day. I help her spell out notes to her favorite people, and we mail them or deliver them ourselves. We read for 15 to 30 minutes before bed every night. Right now we're working our way through Little House in the Big Woods. We do short chunks from different books so she doesn't lose interest, and she can play quietly while I read. Recently she started reading to us from early readers.

Most of Sunshine's math is done orally. She loves mental math, and I often quiz her on various simple arithmetic problems throughout the day. (She thinks it's a game.) She's figured out how to skip count all on her own, and we're even working on simple multiplication. We're learning to tell time and count money, especially quarters, which we award and take away as part of our disciplinary system in our family. One of our favorite things to do is play an escape room app together, and it's full of things like pattern recognition and jigsaw puzzles and basic math and problem solving.

Sunshine loves to play Minecraft. My brother created a Minecraft mod years ago and has written a couple of articles about the educational aspects of the game in addition to participating in a panel or two at various MineCon events back when it was a fan conference, and he is the one who introduced her to the game several years ago. Seeing her creativity come to life as she builds out her own Minecraft world, frequently asking how to spell words for all of her signs and labels and showing off her latest creations, is a beautiful thing that I don't mind encouraging. 

Sunshine is also learning how to be more self-sufficient in the kitchen, and I love to encourage that when I can. Admittedly Chris handles young chefs more easily than I do, but it's something I want to get better at doing myself.

Throughout the day, I note anything educational that we do or talk about in a note-taking app on my phone, and at the end of the day, I write it down in two places. One is in a school lesson planner where I can keep track of what we did each day for attendance requirements. The other is in a binder organized by subject with folders to hold artwork and samples of her writing and papers from her classes at the homeschool center.

There are a lot of different ways to homeschool, and this is what works best for Sunshine right now, and we're all having a lot of fun. When Sunshine was barely preschool aged, I determined to spend those early years learning about how she learns best, and this is it. As she gets older, our methods will likely change, but for now we are grateful that our little house gives us the freedom to be as present with our kids as we desire to be.

If you are interested in reading more about our evolving homeschooling journey, check out these related posts:

Deciding to Homeschool: One Tiny House Family Dream
Two Roads Diverged