(Been here before? Scroll to the bottom for March updates!)
It seems like every other day I’m meeting a new homeschooling family who has recently arrived in Greenville from another state, or a family with young children curious about homeschooling but not sure where to start. I love meeting these families and the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the past three years, as well as the list of amazing resources we’re fortunate to have here in The Upstate.
Our family is having such an unexpectedly positive experience with what often feels like a monumental experiment for us all, that I get excited meeting others who are on this same journey or want to be. I hope they’ll be able to figure out what works for their family and enjoy a fun, meaningful, non-traditional rhythm like the one we’ve found for ours.
My excitement and enthusiasm for these new families typically leads to an overwhelmingly large number of links via text message — and in the back of my mind (or lately aloud) thinking I should really just make a list I can send to all these wonderful people.
So here we are.
First, a quick bit about my family to give you an idea of how we jumped into this lifestyle and utilize these resources:
Before Spring 2020, we loosely contemplated the idea of homeschooling our kids who were five (boy) and one (girl) at the time. I was an elementary school teacher in a past life and there were a lot of things about the school system that didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t sure I could send my kids to a place I didn’t enjoy being in every day. But back when we were throwing the idea around, we truly had no idea what homeschooling actually was (and wasn’t) and the many ways you can give your kids an education without school.
For our family, if something positive has come out of the past three years, our decision to homeschool has been it. If our hand wasn’t forced to some degree, I’m not sure we would’ve had the courage to just go for it. But it was. And we did.
And we haven’t looked back.
At first, it was the philosophy behind unschooling that resonated most strongly with me. We aren’t religious or highly structured as a family, and I couldn’t picture myself as a traditional homeschooling mom. I loved the thought of providing my kids with an environment that would foster their natural curiosity. We were also drawn to the idea that our kids’ education could be interest-led and driven by what we value most as a family. We didn’t know what exactly that would look like in reality, and it’s constantly evolving, but it’s a process we enjoy and are now dedicated to.
We love the “choose your own adventure” lifestyle we’ve been able to create for our family and the opportunity to stay true to ourselves and what we value most. For me, that’s been most gratifying.
At this point, if I had to name our homeschooling style, I’d probably say it falls somewhere between eclectic homeschooling and unschooling – but truly, the name doesn’t matter! I’m relieved to find that so many other families aren’t sure how to describe their style either, and we’re all okay with learning as we go and updating things as we evolve. It’s a natural part of the process when you’re creating the path in front of you.
In short —
- our family belongs to many communities, but not a co-op
- we believe teaching can happen anywhere and anyone can be a teacher
- we don’t plan formal lessons at home or follow any specific curriculum
- we focus our energy on taking advantage of learning opportunities as they arise
- we wrote a family mission statement, detailing our values and beliefs, that we use to measure our success
- we try to teach as much as possible in context and connect learning to our kids’ interests and core family values
- we have a flexible schedule with lots of room for spontaneity
- we invest our time in what matters most to each of us
- we reflect on life experiences and document learning through stories, photos and videos
- we keep family journals to summarize our experiences and write our goals for each new year
GameChangers from 2022:
- drop-off classes for both kids so I get a break
- mentally shifting to truly trusting the process (instead of just telling myself to trust it) and letting go of the academic expectations of school life (which are sooo deeply ingrained!)
- shifting my focus to asking, “what do our kids really need to learn to be good at life?” And doing that instead.
- writing our North Star and values/beliefs statement
- making new friends both inside and outside the homeschool community
- listening to the Life Without School podcast & joining the community
- having “morning meetings” with our kids
- the way we’re able to learn from each other and inspire one another to try new things
- the amount of learning that happens via conversations in the car
- how looking out the windows and talking about what we see has helped the kids learn to navigate their way around town
- just how quickly this kind of lifestyle is growing and how big the global community is
A few fun projects we’ve jumped into over the past year:
- keeping a tadpole and taking care of it until it became a frog
- adopting black swallowtail chrysalises from a friend and watching them turn into butterflies
- our second year helping the kids run their own seasonal “Cool Pops” business out of our driveway
- applying for the “Chief Candy Officer” position at Candy Funhouse
- helping my son start his YouTube channel and learn how to edit videos
Fortunately, I’ve also learned over the past three years that there is no shortage of opportunities to nurture my kids’ natural curiosity and turn it into authentic learning experiences here in Greenville. My son is now eight and my daughter is four, and both kids have more than enough to keep them busy learning through life each day. Thanks to the many local programs, events, facilities, businesses and daytime classes accessible to us, we’ve been able to build the life we want with the support of a diversely talented and caring community.
There’s nothing I’d like more than to see this community grow and these businesses thrive, so making this list feels like a logical next step for me and hopefully a win-win for anyone reading this or mentioned below.
For me, the decision to move ahead with homeschooling (and never look back) began with this book:
Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto.
As a former classroom teacher, this book resonated most strongly with me. I have a shelf full of other books I’ve started, but this one I read in one night. It clearly articulates many of the reasons why I couldn’t continue my career in the classroom and why the system cannot be fixed. It reinforced why I didn’t want my kids spending their days in a place that I didn’t want to spend mine.
I also want to share that my decision has nothing to do with a lack of respect for teachers or the incredibly difficult job they do under often challenging circumstances. I know what it’s like to be part of a system that doesn’t work. I also know that for many families, traditional schooling is their only option and what works best for them.
My hope in choosing this path for our family, and supporting others who have also left the traditional classroom, is that we are paving the way for more families to have more choice about how their kids are educated in the future.
Most helpful podcast:
The Life Without School Podcast
- On Being Their Coach, Not Their Teacher. Have listened multiple times and plan to listen every few months. This framework is most closely aligned with what I’d like for our family.
- You Are Enough. Most recent episode. Inspired me to write our North Star document.
The creator of this podcast also started an online community last spring. My engagement has been minimal, but simply knowing this community of like-minded homeschool parents exists has made all the difference for me:
Programs, classes, events and/or memberships we currently attend or participate in:
All are highly recommended. A typical month sees us mixing in these activities with playdates, time at our favorite playgrounds and outdoor spaces, playing and projects at home, running errands together and often exploring somewhere new.
We’ve been part of this amazing community since Jan 2021. Classes are hands-on and nature-based, integrating math, science, social studies, literacy & art in a beautiful outdoor learning environment. Both of our kids take a drop-off morning class.
Drop-off STEM learning lab with weekly themes for ages 4-12, offering monthly membership and camp options. Just opened summer 2022! Both of our kids have a monthly membership and usually go 3x/week for 3 hours (my break time!).
Offers half-day and semester-long classes integrating art and a variety of engaging topics. Our son has been attending occasional Friday am classes based on his interests and our schedule for the past year and a half.
Bright, clean and welcoming space for little ones to take introductory classes in dance or gymnastics. And parents can see the entire gym through a giant wall of soundproof glass! Compared to other dance studios, this place is as casual and relaxed as it gets – you can feel that the focus is on having fun. Our daughter has a monthly membership that includes a weekly one-hour gymnastics class and a second 45-minute open gym time.
We have a family membership here and go about once a month for an afternoon on average. The Nature Exchange with Miss Ann is their favorite. They’ve just updated their schedule to include “First Friday” and “Third Thursday” events. See their website for details.
Our son joined this community about six weeks ago and it is the perfect fit for him. He started with a Motive Mini class upstairs in the ninja gym and since turning 8 last week, he’s joined the homeschool parkour class. For a $30 upgrade, he’s also able to attend open gym sessions multiple times per week.
My husband and I both grew up playing baseball, so we were both hoping to be a baseball family when we had kids. Fortunately, our son came out swinging and one of his first and favorite words was ball. Now it looks like his sister is interested in joining in the fun! This is my son’s third year with this league and we love everything about it. My only warning is that you’ll want to be sure your kid loves baseball before signing up, as it’s usually a 3x/week commitment (compared to other beginner leagues that are once a week).
South Carolina Children’s Theatre
My daughter has done camps and classes at the Children’s Theatre and is completely in her element in this space. She can’t wait to be five, so she can sign up for some new classes next fall. Currently, we attend their free monthly Tell-Me-A-Story events and (since seeing it on their website when pasting the link in here!) will also look forward to the Once-Upon-An-Orchestra events.
My daughter is aging out of the Music Adventure for Kids class on Monday mornings, but she still loves to go! We also love dropping in for pastries and playtime. The fact that we can ride bikes there from The Commons makes it a perfect half-day adventure. Looking forward to their Mardi Gras event coming up soon!
The Children’s Museum of the Upstate
My son is beginning to outgrow this place, but if we come about once a month, both kids usually still enjoy it. I wish our schedule was a better fit with when their STEAM lab is open (Tuesday and Thursday afternoons), but they never seem to tire of the giant climbing structure in the middle and the games they invent when they’re there.
This is one of my personal favorite places in Greenville and that has definitely rubbed off on my daughter. She loves the “Storytime on the Steps” (and free cookie!) at 10:30am on Saturdays.
The Greenville Symphony Free Family and Education Concerts
My goal is to not miss a Lollipops concert this year!
Our kids also love going downtown and we’re lucky that Greenville has done an outstanding job making this a child-friendly city. We go to the many free festivals, drop in at the occasional farmer’s market, go for walks in Falls Park & Cancer Survivor’s Park, attend events at Fluor Field and just go for a “downtown day” at least once a month – which are often some of our favorite days.
The wide sidewalks, water features, green spaces, walking paths, bridges and empty stages make a perfect canvas for a day of fun – especially on weekdays when nothing is too busy.
This is the Homeschool Association we’re registered with (and a great place to get answers to all your beginner questions!)
For $10/month, I don’t think you can find a more fun way for kids to learn about Reading and Math. There’s the odd lesson that I might’ve made differently, but I’m beginning to see that as just another learning opportunity and a chance to talk with the kids about how we could make it better.
If you have a kid who loves engineering and hands-on projects, they will love Mark Rober and these new subscription boxes he’s making. And you will, too. If you haven’t seen Mark on YouTube, you will want to see this famous Backyard Squirrel Maze video.
Another favorite YouTube channel at our house. I used to teach 5th grade and couldn’t dream of teaching a lesson like this guy does.
If anyone hears my 4y/o daughter running around reciting times tables or knowing the sounds that all the letters make, I give full credit to these YouTube videos. They are so well done and she loooooves the songs.
Other places we’ve tried and would recommend:
DEFY Trampoline Park Hands-down the best trampoline park with the best membership deal.
Gateway Park and Mountain Bike Fun! Pump, berm and jump trail system for mountain bikers of all ages to practice their skills.
Ignite Ingenuity My son was a member of this micro school for a year and a half. He enjoyed hands-on STEM projects with Miss Beth and his friends. They also offer summer camps.
Dance Without Limits My daughter had her first experience with dance here last fall. Her teacher was talented, patient and kind. All staff are friendly and helpful. The studio is bright and clean. I’m not sure dance will be our thing over the long term, but this was a great introduction.
Hollowed Earth Pottery My son enjoyed a week of summer camp here and we were really impressed with the quality of the pieces he created.
ReCraft Creative reuse center and maker space.
Plate 108 This is a little far for us, but my son enjoyed a cooking class here.
Aloha Windmill Farms This is far for us to travel, but the property is unique, science classes are a lot of fun, and Miss Ellen is a real character.
i9sports We had great experiences with beginner t-ball and soccer.
Soccer Shots Both of our have kids tried this. Recommended for a first experience with soccer.
YMCA Greenville We recommend the Y for Flag Football but unfortunately, not t-ball. We had a very disappointing experience.
Palmetto Proper Fun place in TR for little ones to play! My daughter loves to go here while my son is at TR Makers.
Play-Based Greenville A mindful group of parents who believe in play-based learning and embracing the beauty of childhood.
Upstate SC Forest School and Outdoor Learning Community A secular, inclusive space for the upstate community to share, inspire, and connect for child-led, nature based learning. Members organize free meetups in state parks and other nature areas. We did this in 2020 and it was a great way to meet a ton of the homeschooling families in the area and learn from moms who know a lot more about the SC wilderness than I do. Ultimately, we realized that we aren’t quite as wild & outdoorsy as some of our friends, but that’s okay, too. Great memories and now we love running into each other in town 🙂
Growing list of recommendations from friends and places we’d like to check out:
NEW! Yellow Bobbypins (art camp & classes) I have several friends who have tried these classes and highly recommend them.
NEW! Bricks and Minifigs Buy, sell and trade all things LEGO. Grand opening February 11th!
Greenville Center for the Creative Arts (classes and camps)
TR Makers Co. (Mini Makers) (guided play and hands-on learning for ages 2-5)
Clemson University Science Outreach Center (we’re excited to try a class here this spring!)
Bloc Haven (climbing gym)
Blue Ridge (climbing gym with homeschool days)
Faith Montessori (non-religious co-op)
Valley Forest School (outdoor school)
STEAM Homeschool Days at Charlotte Motor Speedway (unique experience!)
Tinkergarten (outdoor education for little ones)
Homeschool Programs at the Greenville Zoo (daytime homeschool classes at the zoo)
Conestee Nature Preserve (outdoor education)
TRee House Cafe & Studio (Travelers Rest art cafe)
The Pavilion (ice skating rink)
Flying Rabbit Adventures (ropes course and pump track)
Piney Mountain Bike Lounge (bike shop, taproom & pump track)
The Silos of Easley (restaurants & social spaces – we can’t get enough of these!)
Other random recommendations:
Synthesis An online program created at SpaceX that’s now available to kids all over the world to encourage creative problem solving and teamwork. Our son tried this for a couple of months last year. It was a fascinating program, but not the right time for us and I think my son was too young to appreciate it. They had a level for kids under eight last year. Now the program says ages 8-14.
KiwiCo STEM and STEAM products and subscription boxes. Excellent quality. Fun ideas and demo videos on their social sites.
GVL Today If you live in Greenville and haven’t signed up for this e-newsletter yet — do it now! Absolutely the best resource for everything going on in the city, delivered to your inbox every morning in an easily digestible format you can quickly skim through over your morning coffee.
Kidding Around Greenville Best place for all things kid-related in Greenville.
Switcharoo’s Children’s Consignment Event Fantastic semi-annual consignment event at the Greenville Convention Center.
The Commons Fun place to hang out, have lunch, play at Unity Park or jump on the Swamp Rabbit Trail with the kids for a short ride to downtown, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe or Hampton Station.
Holland Park Another favorite spot to meet up with friends! Grab some yummy takeout from Greektown Express (my daughter loves the chicken skewers) and play on the lawn. Flying Rabbit Adventures, Double Stamp Brewery and Home Team BBQ are also here. (note: this is not a playground)
Gather If you’re a fan of eat & play places like we are, you’ll love this shipping container park at the west end of downtown.
Hampton Station Full disclosure: we have a small business here. But one of the reasons we picked this spot for our office is because it’s a fun destination place. What was once an old cotton mill has been transformed into a community where you can shop, make art, drink beer, eat from a growing number of restaurants, try your hand at axe-throwing, check your dog into a fancy hotel and stay to play on the big lawn.
March 2023 Updates:
Homeschool Community of the Upstate A collaborative community of homeschoolers in the Upstate area of South Carolina. Families have access to regular meet-ups and interesting, & educational field trips, & exciting events.
Upstate Homeschool Expo An event designed to help you discover the best resources for homeschooling in the upstate. I’ve never been and can’t wait to check it out this spring.
South Carolina Botanical Garden 295 acre garden at Clemson offering a variety of school and group programs designed for elementary-age students.
OnAgain OffAgain Farm Appointment-only alpaca farm in Spartanburg. No charge but they appreciate donations. We went two years ago and my kids loved it! Will have to plan another visit soon.
Hunter Farms Small family-run strawberry farm in Easley with the best milkshakes and ice cream! We go here multiple times every spring and look forward to each visit. Check their FB page for updates. They’re currently tracking for their earliest ever beginning to a strawberry season. Yum!
Wild + Free A community of mothers and homeschoolers who want their children to receive a quality education while experiencing the adventure, freedom, and wonder of childhood. Their philosophy embraces Nature, Story, Play, Curiosity and Wonder. I have a copy of the The Call of the Wild + Free book and much of it resonated with me (as I type this, I’m pulling it off my shelf to read through it again). They host events and classes and have a podcast. I believe they have a local group in the Upstate as well.
Willow Creek Gathers Charlotte Mason-based co-op in Greer, SC.
Hagood Mill Historic Site Pickens County mill (built in 1845) and surrounding property including nature trails, petroglyph site, historic cabins, blacksmith shop and more. They also offer classes and camps.
TKOR Classroom Deserted Island STEM Challenge. Affiliated with the King of Random YouTube channel. We just signed up to try out this 5-day program for $6.95. Stay tuned!
Spintronics a new game where players (ages 8 to adult) build mechanical circuits to solve puzzles.
Thinking about a life without school? Please leave your questions and comments below. Happy to help if I can.
And if you’re already on this path and have resources to share, please drop a link below. I would love to hear from you and find more ways to grow and connect this community.
Amazing April!! So well written and what an incredible resource of information!! You go Mama!!!
We have been working with https://www.varsitytutors.com to help Juliana with math and they have lots of other classes, might be worth checking out.
Well DONE!! Super Impressive!
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Thank you, my friend! I truly appreciate your feedback and support. Would love to check out the link as well. Many thanks! Xx