Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Homeschool: Unschooling. Or not.

"Unschooling", as I understand it, is based on following the students' interests rather than a formal march through textbook topics decided by someone else as necessary knowledge. At it's very best, the children will achieve a level of mastery in their chosen subjects that they could never hope to acquire in a traditional school setting. I'm concerned, for my family, that it could cater too much to laziness and lack of any good education for someone already tempted in that direction. Considering my own weaknesses, I'm not prepared to let my children completely decide what will be studied and when. But I do want them to have plenty of time and resources available to explore their interests. It's already led to investigations in chemistry, weights, ponies, gardening, ants, sewing, restaurant entrepreneurship, and many other explorations.
She thinks she's an expert at ballet. Self-taught.
I've settled on a school format that includes a mix of prepared lessons, required activities for which they can choose whichever subject/book they want, and plenty of free time for their own pursuits. I want them to learn about whatever captures their interest, but I also want them to move forward in subjects like their math lessons regardless of whether they "want" to or not.
Independent spelling:
"No boys allowed or they will be goofballs"
Each girl has a math lesson, a reading lesson, a handwriting lesson, and various family activities to complete most days. Our 6yr would like to skip her math (yet reads for hours every day) and our 4yr might choose sometimes to skip her reading lesson (but begs for more math). While I don't care how slowly they move through the lessons, they do have to complete even their least favorite assignments. My main objective at this age is to form them in the habit of including that lesson in their daily schoolwork. The 4yr could take another 2-3 years to learn how to read, for all I care, and her sister could stay in the same math book she's in now for another 1-2 years without even falling behind her peers. What's far more important is that they learn how to tackle a difficult task. I usually ask them to complete their least-desired subject first, before completing the activities they'd choose to do even if it weren't required. We focus on the small steps, celebrate every achievement, repeat lessons, and try to explain concepts in more than one way. We try to make it enjoyable and look for opportunities to reinforce the concepts learned at other times throughout the day.
While learning how to complete an assignment they'd rather not complete is very important, so is their time to explore whatever they want. We try to minimize the electronics available to our children so they'll entertain themselves in more old-fashioned ways rather than expecting a machine to do the entertaining for them. I love listening to the imaginary games they come up with, including a cafe (complete with homemade menus), campfires ("NO real fires!"), ant farms in the driveway, and elaborate art projects.
Painting nails for the first time produced less-than-stellar
results (surprise, surprise) but provided excellent
practice of fine motor skills
Lastly I try to combine the unschooling concept with structure by assignments that follow their current interests. Our 6yr is supposed to read a chapter aloud to me every school day, but we choose books that will appeal to her. Since she is currently drawn to anything with fairies and princesses, I try to pick books for her to read that are centered around those subjects that will interest her: A Little Princess, tales of female saints, classic fairy tales. Why force her to read a book she dreads rather than one she begs me to let her read? The goal right now is to improve her ability to read aloud and to increase her vocabulary; any number of books can achieve that while encouraging her to read even more. As long as the books available to her are high quality (she started Homer Price on Monday and I think has already read nearly the whole book), I see no reason yet to restrict her to a subject that will turn her away from her wonderful bookworming.
Linked with Works for Me Wednesday


  1. I think you are giving unschooling more credit than it is due. It is simply living and functioning and assuming that along the way children will pick up on the learning that they need to. Zero structure. You would better define your version of schooling as an emergent curriculum, where you identify interests and follow them. The good news is the interests may be teacher directed, child directed, or both. So reading and math are teacher interest based, and ponies and fairies are child interest based. Have fun!

    1. I think of the emergent portion as being more "or not really unschooling", encouraged by the unschooling perspective more toward following their interests than I might otherwise. The unschooling would be in the free time, avoiding distractions like tv and computer time and putting tools in their hands that allow them to open a cafe or watch the ants. I've read about a lot of unschooling done well (requiring still a lot of work from the parent/teacher) which my description doesn't credit *enough* but maybe what they're calling unschooling you would still call emergent.