Sunday, November 18, 2007


I love the whole philosophy of unschooling.

I don't see any good coming out of a child made to sit down and do meaningless work they have no real interest in. They don't learn that way. Real learning requires meaning and should fit into the context of a person's life. Grace Llewellyn says about traditional schooling, "People can absorb a certain amount of meaningless data in good faith, on the promise that eventually it will be related to a larger world and transformed into information. But most people can't absorb meaningless data on good faith for 12 years". That makes total sense to me.

To me, unschoolers are people who have learned to trust their own and their children's ability to choose the best ways to learn and grow. In my family, J asked if we could have a weekly schedule comprising of acedemic activities. This schedule contains all the things she loves doing: copywork (poetry is her thing now and she's creating a beautiful notebook of all her favorites), fun workbook pages, science experiments, readalouds with narrations, art projects, website games and quizzes, and homeschool group events and field trips. To some people, we can't be unschooling if my child feels she'd like a workbook or reference book in order to learn something. Some people think if a child actually chooses to "do work", then it should not be the means to an end, but something solely entertaining, like coloring - or you're not an unschooler.

Sorry, but I disagree. In my world, anything goes. J has loved workbooks since Grandma bought her first one when she was 2. When she was 3, she wanted to do workbooks all day and I know she learned from them. She begged for a workbook at 5 years old to teach her cursive writing. This was not school- or parent-induced. This was a child-led education. I feel that workbooks are just another great resource in this huge world we live in. My daughter just happens to like them. To her, they are interesting and usually a starting point for further research. She doesn't sit there and do a page of math drill - she'll look at the example, do 4 or 5 problems, be satisfied, and move on. Everything is done on her own terms.

W is the same way. J might have influenced his love of workbooks. He enjoys sitting next to her, joining in with his own workbook adventures. He's been loving them more since he, too, uses them on his own terms. He'll do 1/2 a page or 6 pages - whatever he's in the mood for. Then he'll move on to building a paper cup tower, finger-painting, or playing Gameboy - or all three! There is so much real, contextual learning in all of it. It all means something to him.

As for me, I let them lead the way. The unschooling philosophy is big on trusting that your kids will learn what they need to learn. My job as their parent is to provide them with the supplies, offer ideas, encourage their creativity, and be their biggest supporter. It can be a bit tricky at times. I do my best to pay close attention to what sparks their interests. I make myself available to them very often - especially when they're in the middle of making millions of connections. If J is into Japanese movies and learning the language, we'll go to a Japanese restaurant or shop in a Japanese neighborhood. W is into magnets right now. I may just buy him a magnet science kit, take him to the Hall of Science, and pick up some fun books to read to him about how they work. The key is to understand and believe that their interests are very important to them. Their interests are the base from which they learn and understand their world.

Even K, who has become accustomed to and enjoys playing the government school game, gets her real education from her interests and her world. I am still her biggest supporter and pay just as much attention to her interests as I do the younger kids. She is in charge of her education. I do not hover, reprimand, or control. We talk a lot and she knows I am always available for her.

I read messageboard posts where parents have daily battles with their kids to finish their assigned pages or else. They threaten, punish, bribe, and then rejoice that the job finally got done. I do not believe these kids learned anything except a few shortcuts to getting work done fast so they can avoid punishment.

I'd much rather live a stress-free, happy, wonderful, unschooled life. It truly doesn't get any better than this.

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