Melissa’s unschool day in the life ~ Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
Here’s what you should know right up front: we have six kids, I work from home (I’m a writer, my first book-in-bookstores comes out later this year), my husband Dane works not-from-home, and we unschool.
Our oldest daughter is away at college this year, so that leaves five kids at home, from kindergarten-age to high school. Owen’s fifteen, Audrey’s twelve, Sadie’s eleven, Eli’s eight, and Evelyn is five.
So what do our days look like?
I considered just writing “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” one thousand times, because some days that would be accurate. Or I could write about the days when everyone is cranky—so cranky—and half the day is spent on crankiness intervention. Or some days—some day we have to go to the GROCERY STORE.
But I’m guessing you know what all that looks like already.
Instead, I will say this: every day is its own kind of wild. The details vary, but—if we’re at home and it’s not a writing day for me—the overall shape of the day stays more or less the same.
(Also I would like to point out that remembering to take photos is the actual hardest thing ever. I did my best.)
Melissa’s Unschool Day in the Life
After breakfast and morning chores, everyone heads off to do their learning activities.
We want our kids to be learning things about math and science and history and literature and, well, everything, but that doesn’t mean they need to follow a pre-set curriculum. Instead, we check in regularly to discuss what they’re learning, what they want to learn, and what they want the learning to look like.
Sometimes that means they’re learning through projects, sometimes books, sometimes YouTube or Curiosity Stream, sometimes curriculum-ish things (like Singapore math, or Khan Academy’s lessons in Music Theory).
Before lunch, we have Buddy Time. The oldest two kids each play with one of the youngest two kids for an hour while I do Other Things.
Owen and Eli are baking brownies today, while Audrey and Ev read a book and then check on Evelyn’s container garden. (She’s having trouble keeping the neighborhood bunnies out of the kale plant we picked up at the grocery store, but she gets to wear her gardening gloves, so all is right with the gardening world anyway.)
We end the hour with the older kids helping the littles get lunch, and then we’re off to quiet time.
After lunch, everyone has quiet alone time. Owen has been teaching Eli to solve Rubik’s Cubes, and they’re both practicing cubing today. Evelyn is watching an episode of Odd Squad.
I don’t ask what Audrey and Sadie are up to, but they’re both quietly at work at their desks in their room. (One day they’ll come out having invented personal jetpacks or something and I will have to question this parenting choice.)
I take a couple of photos for Instagram, because for some reason I thought giving myself a daily challenge and posting it to stories this month would be a good idea. I can’t quite remember how I talked myself into that one. (I know how I talked myself into the challenge. The daily posting part is a different story.)
After quiet time, everyone’s free to work more on their projects, or on whatever else they choose until dinner. Today Owen heads out to his workshop in the garage, where he’s working on all kinds of things: carving stones, whittling, recreating a Harry Potter Death Eater costume, carving wizarding wands.
Audrey and Sadie ride their bikes while Eli and Ev and I play a round of Potion Explosion, and Abigail texts me from her dorm to tell me all sorts of fascinating things. (Including this: within the last fifteen years, humans have apparently developed a new secondary synaptic cortex to cope with digital life. I am going to assume that’s why I’ve been so tired for the last two decades.)
After the game, Evelyn is ready to glue some feathers to pipe cleaners—an important part of every day, obviously—and starts pulling things out of the craft cupboard.
This is also when we would have read-aloud time, if we were going to read aloud aloud, which today we are not. (I can’t do everything in one day. There will be other days.)
When it’s time to make dinner, Eli and Evelyn will watch an episode of Between the Lions or Wild Kratts, and I’ll grab my headphones and turn on a podcast while I sauté the sweet potatoes and carrots.
Dane will be home in time to eat, and then it’s bedtime for Eli and Ev while the older kids help clean up the kitchen, so we can do it all over again tomorrow.
The Unschool Day in the Life FAQ
And now for all the things you’re still wondering about…
When do you work?
Smaller projects and other details get knocked out during Buddy Time and Quiet Time. For longer projects, I have writing days, with childcare.
(When my older kids were small I would write late at night, but my brain no longer thinks that’s a really fun plan—partly because teenagers stay awake until forever.)
If I have a bigger project to finish (for example… if copyedits are due back to the publisher very very soon, just theoretically speaking), I’ll write all day long while someone else—Dane, or my sister, or a friend—hangs out with the kids.
Wait, but if you’re not with your kids, how do you know they’re doing school?
The older kids have routines for working on their learning activities every day, whether I’m the grown-up in charge or not.
And when it comes to the really important stuff—their personal projects—they spend hours immersed in those because they want to. This is the real meat of our homeschool, and as long as they have the supplies they need, it’s not dependent on me at all.
Besides, all the other things they might spend time on without me—going to the park, riding their bikes, playing board games, reading more books—is all valuable stuff.
How do you delegate?
See: Buddy Time. Also, everyone has morning and evening chores that keep the house from falling in around our ears. And the older kids take turns planning and making dinners, too, so that’s not all on the grown-ups.
And then we outsource where we can. My lunch-making was outsourced to the salad section of the deli all this week. Deep-cleaning our kitchen and bathrooms is outsourced to professional housekeepers.
We have someone else hang out with the kids sometimes, like I mentioned. Folding laundry is outsourced to the laundry basket. (By which I mean: some weeks it never gets folded.)
How do you do it all?
I don’t. It’s not all going to get done. But I think we’ll all turn out okay anyway.
How does your unschool not turn into chaos? (Or DOES IT?)
It kind of does! But I don’t thrive in chaos—actually, none of us thrive in chaos around here—so having a routine for what kinds of things happen when helps a lot.
Cleaning up everything before dinner time also helps. Having a “No projects after dinner or before breakfast” guideline helps, too. (It’s only a guideline, though. Teenagers regularly keep working on projects after dinner around here. Rogue crafters who wake up super early might work on their projects before breakfast, too.)
So tell me, what do YOUR days look like? And what else would you like to know about mine?
My, how the days have changed:
- 2018: Melissa’s day (with a 4-, 7-, 10-, 11-, 14-, and 17-year-old)
- 2017: Melissa’s day (with a 3-, 6-,9-,10-,13-, and 16-year-old)
- 2016: Melissa’s day (with a 2-, 5-, 8-, 9-, 12- & 15-year-old)
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