Can we talk about something other than the cold? Okay. Homeschooling.

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels | Clean

Homeschooling without labels. | Clean

Homeschooling without a name | Clean

Homeschooling without a name | Clean

Homeschooling without a name | Clean

Oh, my. It is all kinds of cold out there.

The sort of cold that chases even the sheep inside to escape the wind.

The sort of cold that has the eggs – just laid this morning – frozen solid before we can hurry them into the house.

Last night the wind shook the whole house, and I gave thanks for the strong branches and deep roots on the trees outside our bedroom.

That kind of cold.

Yes, this is Wisconsin. And yes, it's January. But still. That cold wind means business.

Enough so that schools are cancelled for the fourth? fifth? time this winter. 


I briefly contemplated us taking the day off, too. A homeschool snow day! How fun is that?

And then my kids, just in from farm chores, set to work on their learning projects.

No one asked them to. Or told them to. Or even hinted.

It's just what they do. Day after day.


Sage is making a model of a nuclear reactor out of straws, bottles, and cardboard.

Lupine is creating her own letter book with each letter representing a country ("What 'I' words come from Japan?…ooh! Island!")

I guess that settles it. Homeschool as usual.


Because we don't follow a curriculum.

We don't sit down and "do school".

We learn – all day, everyday.

But that said, I'm not sure there is a name for what we do.


When the kids were small I identified myself as a Waldorf-inspired homeschooler.

I think mostly I liked the soft colors and the wooden toys, an understated contrast to the flashing lights and bright plastic found in most playrooms.

I loved the dolls. The blocks. The songs. The magic.

I loved that children are not taught to read until eight or nine years old.

Okay, mostly I loved the gnomes.

Love, love, love.


But as the kids got older I discovered that I wasn't really Waldorf.

What I adopted was mostly the aesthetic and the commitment to natural materials.

Waldorf homeschooling schedule for learning? Not so much.

I wasn't ready to dig in and do school at home in a Waldorf way.

But I took so much away from Waldorf that we still enjoy, day after day.


So I sat with it a bit and realized that what we were doing was much more like unschooling than Waldorf.

Everything in it's own time.

Self-taught readers.

Math from real life.

Children in charge of their own reality; their own learning.

No pressure.

No schedule.



Oh, yes. That felt so right… at first.


But lately I'm realizing that we might not be unschoolers either.

Not in the "radical unschooling" definition that has become the norm anyway.

Because unschooling as a philosophy can bring with it a whole package of things we just don't do either.

We limit media.

We actively encourage projects (nudge! nudge! push!) that will help our kids acquire skills.

We make our kids do chores. (Lovingly, yes, but we make them do it just the same.)

And we hang out around the table every day, doing lessons – working on skills that we want to develop, even if they are hard and we sometimes want to quit.


I think I was drawn to the freedom of unschooling, but just enough to fit our personalities.


Maybe that still makes us unschoolers. But maybe not. I don't really know.


So today I'm not sure what we are.

Like other parts of my life, I'm happy to just make it up as I go along without having a name for it.

I think if I had to choose a name for what we do I would call us "interest-led, project-based unschoolers."


Because our days are driven by our interests.

And almost everything they learn comes through hands-on, real-life projects, of their own choosing.

Like the business my kids are starting (together).

Like the lessons they take each week in town.

Like the only "schooly" thing we do – math lessons – around our table each morning. They chose that. They wanted to take their skills further. And I'm pushing them along to stick with it.

And the thing is, even when we don't make time for math around the table learning is happening.

Through exploring the world.

Through walks in the woods.

Through projects and baking and crafts and books.

Through this life, lived deeply every day.


Because, you know what? We couldn't stop learning – even if we wanted to.





47 thoughts on “Can we talk about something other than the cold? Okay. Homeschooling.

  1. Karen says:

    Such reassurance is what I need these days….
    Most times I agree completely with your words, and the reasons behind them. Sometimes the voice of doubt creeps in to my head….and I need to read these words. And, as silly as it sounds, be reminded that it is okay to do things differently.
    Happy Monday Rachel.

  2. Kris says:

    Wow – I think you just described our homeschooling journey! We also adore the aesthetic and warm nature of Waldorf materials, and are even using some of the Waldorf math method of the four processes, but we don’t follow a Waldorf schedule for learning during the day. We very much identify as project-based, child-led homeschoolers with a deep infusion of waldorf, montessori, reggio, and charlotte mason’s love for nature.

    We also aren’t really unschoolers as we share those same restrictions and expectations for our children. Even the little nudges into certain areas of learning. There is so much goodness out there – why limit and label, right?

    And you know, you probably inspired some of that in me, as I’ve been reading your blog for so many years now! So, thank you!

  3. P Flooers says:

    Sounds pretty unschooly to this 15 year veteran of unschool parenting. Its a great life. And it works. An unschooled kid in my community just got an academic scholarship from his first choice college! How’s that for affective education?

    Child led learning doesn’t have to mean never setting a boundary for a child. Limiting media for young children is perfectly reasonable and doesn’t hinter their self directed learning, in my opinion. Neither does requiring them to brush their teeth, get in bed at a reasonable time, or use polite manners. Over the years I’ve known many unschooling families and all of them set age appropriate boundaries for their kids.

    Unschooling rules! Love your blog, by the way. Cheers!

  4. a little crafty nest says:


    Yes, yes, yes! I feel ourselves branching into other things with our homeschooling, too, as my oldest is inspired more by his own interests that are emerging. (I just wrote about this very thing myself the other day). I do thrive on rhythm, but that doesn’t mean it is regimented. And like you said to the commenter above, how fortunate we are to have so many choices to choose from and create our own way of learning for each of our children.

    xo Jules

  5. HeatherJoy says:

    Sounds like how I grew up. Play silks, wooden toys, dancing to classical music, dressing up like a Pilgrim… 🙂 Then I grew up, and forgot about all that. And then one day I “discovered” Waldorf on Etsy. I fell in love again, and now I have play silks that I wear in my hair, I have that Waldorf doll that I never had when I was a little girl, I have wooden toys that I use for decoration, and the gnomes, oh yes! I know what you mean about the gnomes. I have them, lots of them. I knit them, sell them and that makes my day. 🙂 Thanks for bringing back the good memories for a little while. 🙂

  6. Colher de Mãe says:

    Here, we are just homeschooling too. Not following a curriculum, not unschooling because here in Portugal we have to do exams, but doing school at our own pace and following their interests. We do school just the same way we do life, with heart! We don’t follow a religion,we just follow our hearts and respect ourselves and others.
    Love to read your blog.

  7. Emily says:

    I think it is important not to label your kids because then it doesn’t give you the freedom that you want. I am a homeschooling mom to my 4 and 6 year old and an in school mom to my 9 year old. We decided as a family and with my son that school was what he wanted and what we all felt good with. Today he is home and he got interested in a topic and we did a little research and learned some cool new things. He also helped his sister with some word cards she was working on and all the while not board, not wishing he were somewhere else, not trying to watch tv because he had nothing else to do. Today we are all homeschoolers and on Wednesday he will be back in class where he is not board, not wishing he were somewhere else, not trying to get out of work. Labels are unnecessary. Like you said, we do what we do and that is how it goes at our house. Stay warm 🙂

  8. Katie says:

    I had a conversation with another mom the other day about how her 5-year-old gets incredibly, frustratingly bored. I don’t think my two have ever uttered that word in their life. In this case, neither of us homeschool. Both of our oldest are in Montessori kindergarten this year. But her kids have been in full-time day care since they were young. This mom and I discussed it for a while and agreed that it was the “too much” of structured schooling/day care that often creates boredom. Inspiration (and the excitement thereof) comes most often from free, open time to explore slowly here and there.

  9. Trace says:

    Oh, this is a great post for me right now! And, now I need you to write another one. 🙂

    We’re very much in the thick of Waldorf-inspired homeschooling right now as my oldest is 6, about to start first-grade in the fall. I am planning on purchasing a Waldorf curriculum because I really feel like I need someone to hold my hand and tell me exactly what we “should” be doing each day.

    At the same time, I’m very drawn to the project-based, unschooling life, but . . . I just don’t get it. I don’t understand what we’re supposed to “do.” For example, when you say you’re doing lessons, are those worksheets? Something you’ve prepared? Something the kids found themselves? I just can’t quite wrap my head around what a day looks like as an unschooled with elementary-aged kids. Know what I mean?

    I would SO LOVE to read more about your days. How you actually facilitate learning. What you do after breakfast. When you do read-alouds (if at all). That sort of thing.

    Thanks for this post!

  10. Danielle | Crafting Connections says:

    These glimpses into your homeschooling life are always so good to hear. We are just starting our homeschooling journey – with a nearly three and a nearly five year old. With most of our friends off at preschool learning letters and numbers and how to write and, for some, read! I’ve been feeling a little guilty. A little pushed to, well, push my little guys. You see, right now, all we really do is play. We go to parks. We play in the sand. We hike through forests. We visit farms. We don’t do any lessons. And when I say that to some friends, their jaws drop. And I start to worry. But then I read something like what you’ve written and I can only guess that you’d reassure me. Let them play. And so, I will. And I will try try to be at peace, knowing that my little ones are doing (and learning) all that they need right now.

  11. KC says:

    We are so far away from cold here I can’t even imagine the eggs freezing while you bring them from coop to the house. I suppose there are some perks to being in the desert! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your homeschooling journey. There are many others out there, us included. Our whole homeschool group could more or less be described the way you describe your home. 🙂

  12. Maria says:

    I’m so glad to read this. We are very much the same and I’m often unsure if our interest led way of learning was off course with what we should be doing. We live in an area where kindergarteners have an hour of homework or more! As new homeschoolers we are finding our groove and what works best for us. I just can’t imagine doing schooling in a conventional way. It’s so good to hear that others are having success with this type of homeschooling. Thank you so much! Just what I needed to read!

  13. Pamela R says:

    It occurred to me, as I hit “post” that it’s sort of strange that we feel like we might not fit into a category because of this, or maybe we are something else because of that. Every homeschooling family I know does things differently. It’s kind of too bad that we feel we need a label for what we do. Yet, I’m asked regularly what kind of homeschooler am I. Eclectic is liberating for me, since it isn’t really a specific answer, yet it completely reflects our homeschooling style.

  14. MamaAshGrove says:

    well this sure sounds like our experience as well. first waldorf-inspired, then realizing it didn’t truly fit us- to unschooling- to no longer attempting to, or wanting to box ourselves into any label at all. we learn at home, that’s all. 🙂

  15. Nahuatl Vargas says:

    I did, just because that reason, but is not easy. I think you can offer some of that calm and joy along with the mandatory, even little bits of time that will build beautiful memories for your kids.

  16. Nahuatl Vargas says:

    What a great post, thank you for sharing. It also catched me were I needed it. We are going back to homeschooling next month, in the middle of the school year, we decided together, my son and me, and I’m so sure of that is the best, while at the same time panicked with the close family’s reaction.

  17. Nahuatl Vargas says:

    I will like to hear more about the clases they take, since I have only one child I worry about this, and there is no co op were and I live and I don’t even undersatnd very well how this works. How much time with other kids would be necesary? is a question I have at all times.

  18. renee~heirloomseasons says:

    You have helped my in the past year-ish or so to let go a little when it comes to homeschooling, and mostly to let go of much of the silly worry.

    (I suppose you might already know you are going to get a rambling from me…)

    I said to someone the other day, “Silly us if we thought homeschooling was going to stay the same all these years!”

    So we just happen to be a Waldorf family. Thirteen years ago much of it was by coincidence, but still every year we find confirmation in our path. (Our path! I’m sure that what works for us wouldn’t exactly fit another family, since another family is not just the same as us…)

    Yet I am just not sure of the Waldorf homeschooler label at the moment, because that’s not what it’s about to me anymore. Yes, we did the waldorf homeschool schedule/rhythm for our main lesson work through the elementary grade years (and still have one child in those years right now, and one who is still far off from even beginning) but in these middle school years things have changed. Waldorf is about so much more than just the school work. (I am not implying that that’s what you meant though!)

    Two of your comments here are from two of my best blog friends, and both of them know that I have been making all kinds of Waldorf unschooling jokes lately.

    But I’m of course not at all comfortable with that label either.
    We are just a Waldorf family naturally living and learning in a Waldorf home.
    I know that’s a lot of labels, but at least I would never try to put my labels on anyone else.
    And yet in the end there is still so much similarity between your learning day at home and ours.

    Also, it’s not cold here. We have had highs in the 40’s and even 50 for weeks now. And we live at 7,000 feet way up in the Colorado mountains!

    Thanks as always for the good words!

  19. meghann says:

    I think we are in a similar place to the one you are in (just with smaller children). A year or two ago I would also have described us as Waldorf-inspired, and while I am still drawn to many of the same elements of Waldorf that you describe, we are decidedly not doing Waldorf at home. I often say I’m not sure whether we are Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers with an unschooly flavor, or unschoolers with a Waldorf flavor. I’m not sure that it matters; what matters is doing things the way that works best for our families. xo

  20. Rachel Wolf says:

    The “lessons” we do involve (for my 11 year old) some time on the Kahn Academy site, practicing math. My daughter has bought some math worksheet books (with her own money!) because they are “really really fun”. She’s math crazy. But no, normally our lessons involve some books we’ve picked up second hand, some experiments, some exploration. It’s just that this year they chose math as what they want to focus on, so we’re finding our way. Today Sage is doing math games online, and we’re memorizing multiplication tables. Because it’s what they are craving. Mostly we just live our lives! We play fun games that develop all sorts of great skills. And we follow whatever passions my kids have at them moment. Case in point: tomorrow the kids are cooking a meal from France and we’re spending this week reading a book that is all about French history and culture. Why? Because Lupine loves France. It’s like that. I’ll do a post about an “average day” soon. That might help!

  21. Rachel Wolf says:

    Agreed, my friend. I think sometimes as we search for what will be a good fit (especially in the early stages of homeschooling) those labels help us feel like we’re not wandering into uncharted territory. Like: someone else has done this before and it turned out okay. Maybe that’s part of it. x

  22. Rachel Wolf says:

    In our family, the classes the kids take are based exclusively on their interests. Not academic even – Sage takes a martial arts class, Lupine takes violin. They have had lessons in dance, swimming, music, etc. Following their passions. As for time with other kids, it just depends on your little one’s personality. He’ll let you know. There are no rules.

  23. Rachel Wolf says:

    Yes, we sometimes joke about trying to get Steiner and Holt to get along. They just have such different approaches, yet both are beautiful in their own right. Thanks for your words, Renee!

  24. Katie @ Life With The Crew says:

    As the mom of a little babe, only 15 months, I have known since before she was born that I would not be sending her to mainstream school. I had all of the conventional schooling, but I just know that it is not what I want for my child. Just the other day my husband and I were talking about traveling for an extended period at some point in the future and I realized that we weren’t even thinking about school for our little babe. I just assumed that she would be learning as we traveled and there was no thought about “oh, we’d have to take her out of school”. At this point I have not done enough reading about the different approaches to home schooling, unschooling, but I find myself liking your approach. Plenty of encouragement with plenty of freedom. My husband and I are big into reading and we do not agree with the Waldorf approach to that. Thanks for starting this conversation – my fingers warmed up a little from all of this typing!

  25. Rachel Wolf says:

    Lovely! Everyone needs to find their own right fit. You might enjoy this little post about “world schooling”.

    With regard to reading, there are as many approaches as there are homeschooling families, I suppose! Many children are simply not ready to read until seven, eight, or even later. We have found this to be true in our home for sure. Here is a bit of food for thought as you find your own just right path.

  26. Heidi-Paul Krueger-Cummings says:

    Thank you for sharing!!! I also love all the comments…I don’t usually read them all but this topic is so part of our journey right now. I am a mama of 4 our oldest is 16 and is in a project based high school and could not be happier. Then I have a 6 year old who is in a regular kindergarden class and tho the class size is small and the teacher is amazing He is very unhappy. We started him in school this year because he is hearing impaired and thought the added help would be good. I guess I am writing because I find myself in a very difficult spot, and need some encouragement from like minded people. My heart is telling me take him out and don’t look back but then I feel an obligation to the school and the special teachers that come and help him on a weekly basis. He has really grown so much with the help of these special teachers and I know I can not do it all. I am putting this out there just in case there is some one else who has a special needs child that homeschools??? and can shine some uplifting words. I know that my heart is telling me right I guess I am just looking for some encouragement. Rachel thank you for sharing your day I really appreciate your blog so very much!!!

  27. Annie says:

    I loved reading this. I have a 4.5-year-old and a 7-month-old and I have recently discovered Waldorf and it is so exactly what my 4.5-year-old is needing right now. She needs grounding and rhythm and to feel like her life is predictable after a bit of a chaotic start to life. She also needs to be a kid! And exploring Waldorf has allowed us as parents to really slow down and realize that just because she is curious about volcanoes doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for her to watch a PBS documentary about volcanoes (scary!). So it’s totally working for us right now. But at the same time as I look into what Waldorf homeschooling would hold for us in the grades, I’m not sure that resonates with me as a mama/teacher. Honestly, it sounds like a lot of work for mama and like it wouldn’t give enough freedom for the children to pursue their interests and learn how to self-educate. I’m sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

  28. Maureen says:

    I loved this post for so many reasons. Though this is the fourth year since our ‘baby’ graduated (wow, tears & smiles), we went through much of the same journey. We found we took this from Waldorf, that from Unschooling, a bit from Charlotte Mason & Karen Andreola and so much that was intuitive to us. And my goodness did we raise awesome people! We also didn’t find a complete fit with any one type of philosophy but plunged on to develop our own. To give it a name, we said we were ‘Us-schooled’. Hope you get some warming soon. Being from Alaska, cold is one thing, cold with wind is a whole different thing. May you all be safe & warm.

  29. Ashley says:

    I enjoy so many different things about your blog, Rachel. I love the pictures of animals and farming and the winters I wish I could experience (I live in Arkansas where our winters are little more than occasional cold fronts, much to my chagrin. My family and I LOVE winter…real winter, that is). I homeschool as well, but I use a literature based curriculum based on the Charlotte Mason approach. I have 4 kids (8, 5.5, 3 and 4 mo) and I am definitely finding that homeschooling is a journey that takes you unexpected places. I was not homeschooled, myself, and so far, I’m finding it challenging to depart from the mentality of my own schooling and figure out what works best for us. We’re only 3 years in to our homeschooling journey and we’ve changed quite a bit each year, but I confess that I feel like I need a guide, a template to follow. Which is why unschooling and interest-led schooling sort of scares me. I am torn between wanting to make sure my kids are learning certain things and making sure the whole process of learning is something really fun. There is a rapidly growing base of homeschoolers where I live, but most of them are in co-ops where you do a curriculum they choose. I don’t want that, and truthfully, I prefer the autonomy of not being in a group. I just feel like I’m making things more complicated than they have to be, somehow.

  30. v says:

    We use the term “life learning,” because it encompasses not only our daughter but my spouse and myself as well. I know that some woudl call us unschoolers, but I’m not anti-school (we chose homeschooling simply because it works for our family) and I think “unschoolers” has a bit of a negative ring to it. (Also, I’ve noticed that some people equate “unschooling” with “unparenting.”)

  31. v says:

    Oops…didn’t really finish.

    I like “life learning” because, as I said, it encompasses our entire family and because it embraces the idea that we never really stop learning.

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