I have a problem every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I lose all motivation. I lose all ability to plan and think and keep people going. I get tired and distracted by all things Christmas. So this year, I tried something new. I didn’t plan. I didn’t try to motivate. I told the kids they needed to keep up with their math and reading and for the older two, any work from their outside classes. And then… I told them that they had to complete an independent research project.

How is this unschooling if I am telling them what to do???

Great question!! Let me remind you what I mean when I use the term “unschooling.”

I use the terms “unschooling” and “delight directed learning” interchangeably. In a nutshell, delight directed homeschooling is simply a method of homeschooling that uses a child’s natural interests and aptitudes to facilitate learning. Unschooling or Delight Directed Learning teaches students to intentionally find a passion, takes learning styles into account, creates lifelong learners, folds in well with other homeschool methods, applies learning to real life, and so much more.

I told my kids before Thanksgiving that I had a plan for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I told them my plan was for them to spend the time researching independently a subject that was of interest to them. I told them they could choose how they wanted to present their findings…. a poster, a brochure, an essay, a Google Slides presentation, etc. They would be in charge of this project. They had to decide the topic, the method of research, the presentation.

For my younger two, I didn’t give many guidelines. We talked about plagiarism and how not to do that! They have been doing IEW’s Structure and Style Level A this year in school and have learned all about making Key World Outlines and Rewriting a story in their own words. This project gave them opportunity to apply skills they have been learning all along and let them see a connection between the work they have been doing and and real life.

For my older two, I actually created a rubric to let them know my expectations. It contained 5 categories: mechanics, research, content, presentation, and bibliography. The most points they could receive on the project was 20, the least was 10. I gave them a framework of instruction in which they could work. I wanted them to have freedom to research and learn and also learn how to meet expectations and do their job with excellence.

Feel free to download and use the rubric and instructions here:

My son (10th grade) battled on what he wanted to learn about. His firs thought was to research “obscure 80s technology… like beepers and shoe phones.” But he settled instead on what people of the past thought life in the year 2000 would be like. He found some really great items to include in his presentation including a series painted by artist Jean-Marc Cote from 1899. Among the predictions was video chatting… pretty crazy! My son had a great time with this project. He presented with a Google Slides project.

Next up was the 8th grader. This has been a year of learning for her… learning to meet expectations… learning that you cannot just do the minimum and expect to get a good grade… learning that you actually have to turn in work to get credit. She *almost* hit everything on my rubric. I have yet to see a bibliography. Her project revolved around bears. She is my animal lover and it did not surprise me at all that she picked an animal related topic. It came down to either bears or animal related jobs. She chose to make a series of posters to present her work. She did not like that I required multiple sources and that all her research couldn’t come from just YouTube. A couple of days before the project was due, she asked if we could go to the library.

The 5th/6th grader took on quite a bit. She decided that she wanted to study cultures around the world. The first trip to the library, she gathered armfuls of books about various countries. At first, she made little books to go with each country, but then she decided she wanted to make a display board. This is my girl who has trouble concentrating and struggles with cognitive delay and other issues caused by damage from radiation for a brain tumor. She has a difficult time problem solving. I did not do a great job accounting for this when I assigned the project. I need to remember that even when she has a hands off project, I actually need to plan to be hands on. She ended up presenting about China, Greece, Italy, and Canada. We broke it down to just a few things from each country… like national animal, climate, and “nature.”

The 3rd grader chose turtles for her independent research project. She started strong. She checked out several books from the library and found many facts she wanted to record. She is my child who is a perfectionist. She does not like making spelling mistakes or coloring outside the lines. If she cannot do it perfectly, she does not want to do it at all. As we entered the presentation part of the project, she started getting really anxious and shutting down. I helped her pick some pictures to print and organize her thoughts while encouraging her to be proud of her work and share the things she found interesting about turtles. She wanted to print out a picture of the life cycle of a turtle, but had already drawn a great one. After some mental battles with herself, she went with her drawing and I’m glad she did.

When all the projects were completed, we took time after dinner one night for everyone to present their findings. It was a sweet time. Each child got to present and then everyone else had a chance to ask questions. I ended each presentation by asking them what fact stood out to them or took them by surprise. At the end of it all, the sense of accomplishment felt by each kid was obvious. They all took this idea and ran with it. I didn’t have to remind them each day to work on their project. They wanted to do it. I would hear them and watch them carve time in their day to devote to their research. I wish I had started this sooner, but it will definitely be a yearly staple in our homeschool moving forward.

Do you do something special or different for school during the holidays or is it business as usual?

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