Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Towards a Definition of Catholic Unschooling

At the Unschooling Catholics email list, we are working on personal definitions of unschooling.

Unschooling can be as simple as not doing school.

It can be as complex as treating each family member with respect, respecting personal choices, education and food and TV and other choices.

While the term unschooling can seem rather nebulous, there is a common thread in all the lives of Catholic unschoolers.


Trust in God and His Church.

Trust in the family.

Trusting that the child is born with a desire to learn. And that he/she will learn. Will know what he/she needs and wants to learn.

Trust that learning is everywhere, all the time, that one never stops learning.

Those personal definitions ~
Unschooling is...

To me it is real, natural learning and all encompassing. Ideas, concepts, subjects, etc are learned as they arise in a natural way. Toni

We don’t really do school, and we try to live with respect for kids and interests . Leonie

My quick answer is Child-led learning. We don't use curriculum. Elaine

I explain that we don't need a school room as we don't really sit down to do written bookwork, and though books are a big part of our life, we learn as we live, in a very organic sort of way, and most of what would be covered in school gets learned in living real life. Our children are driven to learn, and we don't interfere with that, but simply let them discover their own answers, and are available to give guidance, answers and mentoring along the way as they seek it, they mostly seem to be happy and confident in their learning. Lorna

I think most of us who are attracted to the term or who would apply it to ourselves, tend to be those whose entirely different manner of education involves at its heart, rather than at its periphery, the belief in the natural desire to learn, natural as well as individual development, and hence the freedom of action which is necessary for a good education. I agree with what others have said; this means "natural", "child-led". Rebecca

I guess for me unschooling is looking at the kids for who they are, and using any and all resrouces they need at any particular time. Trusting them to learn. Providing an atmsphere that encourages learning and discussion. When they need something formal to reach a goal or open a door, use it. But not be bound by a definition such as 'school' and waste time meeting other's goals or definitions. Cindy

Learning through life. Real learning happens in real, everyday life. Sarah

This is a work-in-progress. Please feel free to add your own definition of Catholic unschooling....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Links for All Hallow's Eve, All Saints and All Souls...

I love these feast days - so much to plan for, so much fun to have, prayers to pray, activities to undertake, Masses to attend, parties, perhaps, to plan... We can't do it all so each year I just select a few things on which to concentrate...


Halloween, All Saints and All Souls

Soul cakes - we've made these for several years, yum!

Prayer - De Profundus

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who They Are and Who God made Them To Be

From Christian Unschooling.

The thing is, this is WHO they are and who God created them to be. Because they have plenty of materials on hand and the freedom to do and make they will run with it. They are allowed to watch as much tv and play as many video games as they like–which they do (unless of course they have a job they need to do like their dishes or someo ther parental request) but it is not nearly as much as one might expect–they watch, in general, much less than they would if I limited the time spent. Because they have freedom and materials on hand, they have TONS of movies and lots of video games, plenty of arts and crafts materials and the freedom to use scrap paper and other random bits of stuff they have much more interesting things to do than sit and watch DVD’s. ......... Sometimes things get messy (okay, usually–5 people at home all day means no house beautiful), sometimes too much is enough, and sometimes they fight, but in general it is a peaceful life overflowing with learning and activity, and we all are learning daily.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beginning Unschooling

How does one begin to unschool?

Or, how does one re-start unschooling?

There have been times in my life when I have moved away from my unschooling ideals and we have failed to connect. I have directed more than I like. I have to jump start my unschooling mode, my unschooling lifestyle.

What do I do?

I usually start , or jump start, unschooling by taking a holiday!

Act as though I am on vacation at home.

Do the usual chores and household routine then do what we'd like to do on holiday - hang out, watch movies, play games, talk, read together, listen to or play music, bake, do crafts, go to the park, visit places as though we are tourists in our area, celebrate the liturgical year.

Invite the children to join me.

Follow their lead.

Say yes more.

Just hang out and, after awhile, I notice interests starting to spurt, areas to strew, things to tweak, a routine and rhythm.

And this needs to be done for a good length of time - at least three-six months.

Whenever I do this I also keep a little log or diary - kind of inspiring for me to see what learning happens when I am not directing learning.

I have blog of our day to day unschool doings, it is just a log for the state but gives you some idea of what we do all day - St Anthony Academy .

And here is a good page on beginning unschooling

Finally, I try to remember to relax and enjoy and smile more. I read unschooling blogs and books and sites, I immerse myself in unschooling as an interest or hobby.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Teach Your Own

A seminal book on unschooling, by John Holt.

Quotes ~

I have used the words "home schooling" to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth in the word is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't a school at all.
Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else, that we think is more important, the chances are that he won't learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and what is worst of all, will before long lose most of his appetite for learning anything.

The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him, He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning.
What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.

More quotes here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So, what do Catholic Unschoolers Do All Day?

First Week of School?


This morning we sat down and made construction paper jack-lanterns since Halloween is fast approaching....

Whenever I create, I think about "the important stuff."

Yesterday had been a rough day around here...one particular child didn't want to do what she was asked to do and was plagued with a foul attitude - and I quickly got into one in trying to deal with said child.

It was around 4pm that I had a breakthrough with this dear one. I simply asked her to snuggle on my lap with me and I gave her a kiss. I then apologized for my bad behavior. I don't recall if she apologized for her's - but this morning, things started to get tense, again.

So, rather than engage, I pulled out "stuff" to do art and sat at the kitchen table with the crew.

Quickly, all stress was off and we were connecting again because when the stress is off, we can actually discuss the problems instead of defending or reacting to them.

So, as I made my pumpkin decoration, I realized that it is usually over a project or story - or simply, undistracted time together that we connect.

What is it for you?

Monday, October 6, 2008

On the Christian Education of Youth

Every method of education founded, wholly or in part, on the denial or forgetfulness of original sin and of grace, and relying on the sole powers of human nature, is unsound. Such, generally speaking, are those modern systems bearing various names which appeal to a pretended self-government and unrestrained freedom on the part of the child...attributing to the child an exclusive primacy of initiative, and an activity independent of any higher law, natural or divine, in the work of education....such men are miserably deluded in their claim to emancipate, as they say, the child, while in reality they are making him the slave of his own blind pride and of his disorderly affections... - Christian Education of Youth by Pope Pius XI

This quote, and this encyclical, has been used as an argument against unschooling.

What is interesting is that Suzie Andres, in her book on Catholic unschooling, uses this and similar quotes from the encyclical, to promote her understanding of why unschooling can be a choice for Catholic homeschoolers.

Andres writes ~ page 39 - A closer reading of the Pope's words will...show us that unschooling is not forbidden for Catholics. Note that the objectionable methods of education attribute to the child ' an exclusive primacy of initiative..'. We can respond that because the child is always the primary agent in his learning, it is fitting that he is often the initiator of his learning as well. This is precisely what unschooling allows. Unschooling, however, does not require that the child be the only or exclusive initiator.

Moreover, the Pope is especially concerned with preventing parents and educators from witholding religious instruction on the false belief that the child must initiate every area of his formation and education. In our defense of unschooling we have emphasized the need for parents to refrain from over-teaching, and the importance of their actively respecting the child's ability to learn without too much interference. But this is not equivalent to saying that unschooling parents cannot initiate areas of study.

Consequently, unschooling as we have defined it is not one of the modern systems of education the Pope here condemns.Furthermore, reading on in this encyclical, we find in the next paragraph a description which more accurately applies to unschooling, and which the Pope then approves.

Pope Pius XI states:'If any of these terms are used, less properly, to denote the necessity of a gradually more active co-operation on the part of the pupil in his own education, if the intention is to banish from education despotism and violence, which, by the way, just punishment is not, this would be correct but in no way new. It would only mean what has been taught and reduced to practice by the Church in traditional Christian education, in imitation of the method employed by God Himself towards His creatures, of whom he demands active co-operation according to the nature of each;.....Here we find that the Church not only allows for unschooling, but even places it in line with her tradition. page 40

A Catholic can choose to unschool, without fear of compromising their Faith.

Just as a family can live and share the Faith, so can a family share each individual's educational life; their thoughts, their interests, their activities.

Education happens, sometimes through osmosis and sometimes through a more rigorous study.

" All men by nature desire to know." Aristotle, in Metaphysics.

What is Catholic Unschooling?

As an addendum to Maria's post below...

How do we define unschooling?

What is unschooling?

I think, perhaps, that unschooling can be an idea held in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. An idea that differs among people.

I say we are unschooly. That we learn from interests and from life, family centred learning, not necessarily using school methods or following a school curriculum.

And I like these unschooling definitions ~

Patrick Farenga, who succeeded John Holt as the Publisher of GWS magazine, : "When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear." ( Teach Your Own, page 238).

Mary Griffith, author of The Homeschooling Handbook, writes about unschooling and John Holt: " Children learn best, he argued, not by being taught, but by being a part of the world, free to explore what most interests them, by having their questions answered as they ask them, and by being treated with respect.." ( page 56 -57).

In Homeschooling With Gentleness, Suzie Andres writes: "Unschooling is a form of education in which the child is trusted to be the primary agent in learning what he needs to know to lead him to happiness ( page 12)...'form of education' refers in particular to academic education, not to moral education....those who are trusting the child are his parents.They are trusting him to be the primary agent in his learning, but this does not amount to neglect on their part. The parents assume the role of secondary agents, meaning they do not forsake their duties in their child's education, but rather they recognize and honour his natural ability to learn...( page 12)....While other approaches tend to focus on the teaching done by the parent, unschooling concentrates on the learning done by the student..." ( page 13).

Finally, a simple definition/phrase, from Parenting a Free Child by Rue Kream: "Our unschooling is our parenting is our life together."

So, are we relaxed homeschoolers or are we unschoolers? To be frank, I doubt that the terminology matters. We are what we are. Learning and living together in Faith and with growth.

One Sunday, Fr mentioned that one's Faith should grow; it should not be simply the Faith one had at age twelve. There should be growth. It should be living.

The same with our learning, our homeschooling. It is not held static by a label but is organic, education that changes as the children and family changes.

We learn and add to our Faith, to our knowledge, to who and what we are.

That said, I wouldn't personally call myself a relaxed homeschooler, mostly because we don't have daily sit down basics to do and we don't necessarily have a framework within which we follow interests. We may do these things but we also may throw them all out and live life and learn that way together.

It may be that I see unschooling ( giving kids choice, learning from life) as a philosophy but how it works out in my life differs from season to season.

This has got me pondering

A friend of mine and I were having a discussion about what unschooling is this weekend. I had always seen her as doing more schoolish stuff than I do but from something I had written and that she had read, she said, "We're really not that much different."

So, naturally, this got me thinking.

My friend said something about waiting till kids are ready to introduce different concepts, ideas....not just trying to "fill that pail."

I know we've all tried to define it as what it is for us...but could it part of it be the idea that we wait until the child is ready to strew material they're ready for - kind of like St. Paul - "When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. "

What do you think? And if this is more a question for the loop, please delete this post.

For the Children's Sake, Part II

As I read Leonie's post, I nodded as I usually do when I read her posts- and did a mental fist-pump.. Right ON!

But looking again at the post title, I was taken back to the book that shares the namesake. One of the first books I read when I began my homeschooling journey 12 years ago was For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaefffer McCauley. So Leonie's post title also brought me back to the loveliness of that book.

It is not an unschooling book, but it lays the framework of the beautiful unschooling life. It has a deep and profound respect and love of children. The author talks of how we must nurture our children, watch the process, be aware of them and show them how learning is lifelong and can be full of passion.

The author shares her journey of trying to find a school that didn't squelch that passion- and unsuccessful search and their subsequent path to homeschooling. The book leads on to Charlotte Mason, though not unschooling, again full of the philosophies of connecting, respecting children, making connections and viewing learning as a lifetime endeavor.

Lovely, lovely book!

I found it to be the perfect book to read at the beginning of homeschooling the kids.. and to pick up now and then and re-read bits. It all still applies. It is about loving our children.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

For the Children's Sake

At the park one day , another Catholic homeschooler and I and a group of children ( ours and those of friends) went for a long walk.

My friend is a more structured homeschooler. We are pretty loose and relaxed with our unschooling style. But we both talked about why we choose to live without school.

Now, this post is not a tirade against schools.It is, however, a post on freedom.

We live without school because we can.

We can take time to pursue interests.

To build relationships.

To just take time.

We can hang out in the wider community - life and learning and the adult world are not separate entities for my sons.

Are the children learning? Do they know their Faith?

More importantly, to me, - is their learning and their experience and knowledge of the Faith living ? Real? Meaningful?

My children, like me, are far from perfect.

Some positive things that we do share, though, are a love of music, of books, of movies.We enjoy talking about these things.

We pray together.

We go to Mass and to Confession together.

And, for the most part, we enjoy hanging out together.

Dh comes home not to angst filled evenings of homework but to family time.

School encroaches on a child's time - even after school hours are filled with homework. When does the family gather time to really know each other, to become friends?

This aspect of family life is so much easier and natural with homeschooling. Families with children in school can and do have super family relationships , I know - and homeschoolers are not immune to difficulties and problems - but family relationship in the long term seems to be more easily built via homeschooling.

And specifically by the experience of mindful parenting and unschooling.

Perhaps it is this idea of family relationship that really describes why we live without school.

We live without school for the family's sake.

Who We Are

We are welcoming and supportive Catholic families, sharing how unschooling works in different families in different ways.

Our goal is to share information, ideas, thoughts and experiences and be a place for resources, inquiry, discussion and support, with charity at the forefront.

Some families may be 'pure unschoolers' while others are dipping in and we respect all members as they find what is best for their families and the education and growth of their children.

Some primary influences for Catholic Unschooling are Pope JPII and St. John Bosco.

We welcome questions and honest inquiry, yet are *not* a forum to debate the validity of either Catholicism or Unschooling.

We discuss our lives, Faith and parenting in a warm and welcoming environment.