Tuesday, October 27, 2009

G K Chesterton

From Orthodoxy by G K Chesterton – and this newness, this vitality, this appetite is something that attracted me to unschooling in the first place...learning through living and loving...

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and
free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it
again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For
grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is
strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the
sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may not be automatic
necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy
separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the
eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is
younger than we.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Unschooling Teens

I thought I’d share some favourite unschooling teens resources...

Alison McKee’s book, Homeschooling our Children Unschooling Ourselves. It talks of the journey of the parents to give up traditional schooling and homeschooling and how their 14 yo son ended up making his own path, after doubts and missteps, too. It is very honest.

Another nice book for unschooling teens and mums is The Day I Became an Autodidact.

And this article by Cafi Cohen.. Putting Together An Eclectic Curriculum
From the Older Kids column, by Cafi Cohen, originally published in the September-October 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.
A friend of mine says, "Failure to plan is planning to fail." I agree with her. Yet I have always been uncomfortable completely structuring our kids' learning activities. They often did excellent work just by following their noses. Check out my son Jeff's progress during his teenage years towards earning his private pilot's license. At age 13, shortly after he started homeschooling, Jeff began studying for an amateur radio license, like his dad and I have. He listened to other amateur stations on the air, reviewed Federal Communications Commission rules and regulations, practiced receiving Morse code, and plunged into a self-instructional, radio-oriented electricity and electronics course.
Jeff soon realized that he needed more advanced math skills to handle the electricity and electronics for the technical portions of the FCC exam. He increased his pace through his Saxon Algebra book. After several months, he successfully completed the FCC General Class Amateur Radio Examination (and a year later, with more math under his belt, the Advanced Class exam). He was on the air.
As a licensed radio operator, Jeff spent hours each day talking to other "hams" all over the globe. One morning, he told me excitedly that he had met another teenage homeschooler on the radio. This contact, in another state, happened to be a member of the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program. During scheduled conversations over the next few months, the cadet described to Jeff his CAP flight training. He also explained other objectives and activities of the organization and told Jeff how to find a local CAP cadet squadron.
Jeff followed up immediately. He began attending CAP meetings and taking written and physical tests to work his way up ranks, similar to those in the Air Force. After several years of participation, he eventually qualified not only for CAP private pilot training, but also for a scholarship to pay for same. What a deal. I couldn't have planned it. Jeff certainly did not have this course neatly mapped out from the beginning. With Jeff pursuing his interests, one thing just led to another. Serendipity -- almost.
One thing led to another, yet none of it would have happened if we had not been both well-organized and flexible. Teenagers need to learn to set goals and follow through. "Failure to plan is planning to fail."Serendipitous events may occur (as when my son began talking to the other CAP cadet on the radio); but it is primarily those with a goal-oriented, planning outlook who will benefit from those lucky occurrences.
Parents' homeschooling roles change with older kids. Younger children ask questions, and the parent answers or helps find answers. With older kids, a homeschooling parent probably functions most effectively not as a teacher, but as a facilitator -- someone who provides physical support, acts as a sounding board, and helps with planning and networking.
Through years of trial and error, with both Jeff and his younger sister Tamara, we developed a facilitating approach to planning homeschooling activities with our teenagers: Putting Together An Eclectic Curriculum. Our eclectic homeschooling program incorporated traditional materials, unit studies, unschooling time, volunteer work, community activities -- and anything else that encouraged autonomy and enthusiasm for learning.
The process we developed involves both teenager and parents in making decisions. At first, some teenagers, especially new homeschoolers who are used to having no say in their education, may be apathetic. Ours initially were. Persistence pays off, though. Our kids improved markedly with repeated exposure to the process. To begin the planning an eclectic curriculum, we would first sit down and list the kid's current activities, academic and non-academic. Our kids were very active homeschoolers (possibly because, with household chores, I could make the alternative pretty unpleasant!), and this list could easily contain 15-20 items at any given time -- things like piano lessons, 4-H projects, self-selected reading, journalizing, volunteer work, cross-country skiing, gardening, and daily math problem sets.
Next, we brainstormed the kid's current interests, goals, and priorities. I learned not to ask, "What are you interested in?" That question was usually met with a blank stare. Instead, I would try to be more concrete. "What do you see yourself doing in 2 years? In 5 years? What have you always wanted to do that you haven't had the opportunity to do yet? If nobody were telling you what to do, how would you spend next week and next month?" With teenagers, interests change every few months, so we reassessed every three to six months. Once a year did not provide enough flexibility.
With our two updated lists -- (1) current activities and (2) interests, goals, and priorities -- we planned the next 3-9 months. Based on the interests, goals, and priorities, we reviewed the activities list and eliminated those activities which no longer fit. For example, when Jeff's CAP activities commandeered most of his time, he dropped 4-H.
Next, to address current interests and goals, we brainstormed new activities. When Tamara displayed an interest in medicine, we helped her find a hospital volunteer job. At one point Tamara wanted to drop piano lessons and take voice lessons. As a compromise (I wanted her to think about dropping the piano lesson for several months), we found a teacher who taught both voice and piano simultaneously.
We then reviewed the new activities list together and tried to assign academic classifications to the items on the list. The broad classifications were Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Fine Arts, PE, and Foreign Language. The 4-H Public Speaking project became Language Arts; Diving Team practice was PE; rocketry projects were classified as Science; music lessons were Fine Arts; reading the morning newspaper and watching historical films comprised Social Studies; and so on.
Why these classifications? Both kids planned to attend college. I knew that eventually I would prefer to document their experiences in educationalese, the language of the educational establishment. I also knew we needed to assess ahead of time areas where the kids might need formal academic preparation -- which leads to the next part of the process.
Following completion of the new activities list, we would discuss those academic areas not covered by the kids' activities. As they approached high school age, we became particularly concerned with foreign language and eventually decided to try correspondence course instruction. Once we had shopped around, we added a Spanish course to the activities list. Another example? When Jeff's math abilities exceeded those of the most advanced Saxon text then available, we suggested that he add a college math course to his homeschooling program.
Many might say our approach was backwards, that we should have planned academics and then filled in activities around the academics. Instead we concentrated on those things the kids liked to do, things they would do without our urging -- and, a la John Holt -- found ways to call those things "school". Our teenagers spent a majority of their time doing things they chose, things they liked, things they planned. Usually they devoted less than an hour each day to formal academic essentials, those subjects not included in their self-selected activities. Even these more formal materials were usually pretty well received, probably because the kids helped select them.
Benefits were tremendous. Both kids -- anticipating the process -- came up with creative additions to their educational menus. Tamara suggested corresponding with two Russian pen pals as part of her foreign language and social studies training. Jeff wrote articles for the CAP newsletter, and we called it Language Arts.
In addition, both kids became self-directed learners. They not only became self-directed learners, they learned how to learn. As they experimented with different learning situations, their expertise in selecting resources improved. They developed networking skills. And they motivated themselves. From my perspective as a homeschooling parent, what freedom! Our process, in my view, was largely responsible. Our "programs" evolved along the lines of the kids' interests. We planned and we maintained flexibility.
Writing down the goals and posting them kept all of us on track. I did not schedule the kids' days and weeks. Instead, each morning for about five minutes, I reviewed with each teenager what he or she had planned for the day. (I also used that time to assign household and yard chores.) Sometimes I made suggestions or reminded them about something that appeared to be neglected. Occasionally, we reviewed the goals. I left scheduling specifics up to them. Implementation of their eclectic "curricula," with practice, became relatively painless and straightforward.
With our process, we took into account the ideas and preferences of both the kids and the parents. No parent can ever guess which activities and subjects will be attractive to their kids. The process provided a mechanism wherein, at least once every three to six months, we parents gave serious attention to what our teens had to say about their education.
Listening to teenagers is probably the most important thing that homeschooling parents can do. Listening to our teenagers saved us money and time. If one of them said that a certain text looked terrible, we learned not to press the issue, no matter how wonderful the material looked to us. Listening to our teenagers helped us find those activities and resources best suited to them.
At the same time, parents should not discount their own ideas about what is important educationally. As an example, our daughter Tamara disliked math and science throughout her teenage years. She plodded through her math texts. At my insistence, she also took some science, moaning and groaning through some of it, but dutifully completing survey courses in physics and biology. (She did well enough with the physics to pass the Advanced Placement examination.)
At college, Tamara initially majored in English. Now, after a year, that subject and related subjects bore her. Recently she has decided to change her major to physics and engineering (she has enrolled in a 3+2 program, where she will earn degrees in both subjects). I am so glad we vetoed her desire to avoid math and science as a high school homeschooler. Tamara concurs. She recently sent me the following Mark Twain quote: "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years." Such a gift.
After homeschooling two teenagers this way, I have learned that there is something of value in all of the different homeschooling approaches. At the same time, I confess to sometimes feeling lost listening to other homeschooling parents rave about program X or unschooling or unit studies, especially when they exclude all other approaches and resources. For us, trial and error worked better than copying anybody else or adopting a full-service curriculum or a specific educational philosophy. We made many mistakes; in baseball parlance, we had more strikes than hits. Fortunately, homeschooling gave us and the kids time to learn from those mistakes in a forgiving atmosphere. If something was not working, we simply dispensed with it and moved on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How much do you spend on unschooling?

It's really impossible to compare spending. I sometimes buy items that don't get used, or sit for months and end up in storage, and maybe get re-discovered someday. I could count grocery spending and movie spending and game spending and every spending because all of it is part of our family life and learning. Similarly, what we try to save, etc is part of our life and our journey of learning.
I may buy books, even some things others would consider 'educational' or 'curriculum', but I don't carry the labels in my thinking any more. A pile of dirt, a book. a dozen eggs, some people's trash - all of it is life and learning and not school.
In one way, I spend almost nothing on unschooling as we don’t buy textbooks or curricula – we use life, books, the library if we can pay the fines, movies, music. On the other hand, you could say we spend a lot if you count all our DVD hiring and buying, our games, our outings and the subsequent lunch out with friends.

So, what do we do all day if not use curricula? Today, we did folding of junk mail, our part time job – and this money making venture fits right in with our unschooling lifestyle, we have more time for this sort of thing. Computer games, piano, guitar, errands, prayers, mini golf with other homeschoolers for a birthday party and then lunch at the friends’ house with games, delivery of junk mail, reading religion related books in the car and reviewing Chinese for a Chinese Open uni course and doing an Italian assignment for an Italian Open Uni course, gaming, games of billiards, reading, someone is writing a story on the computer, someone is on facebook, listening to 60s music CDs in the car, watching Willow on DVD...So, we didn’t buy curricula but our money still gets spent, just on things of more worth or more interest or of more importance to the kids. And the kids made money today with their junk mail!

I really don't keep track of what it costs us to unschool the kids. We just buy what we think we might be interested in reading or playing etc.etc. We are big readers so I would bet that most of it is spent on books and subscriptions to magazines. Most of our available cash this summer was spent on a new garden,chicken coop and a small shed. The kids requested the chicken coop. They missed it from our old home. We try to save money by picking up books at tag sales or library book sales. Since we took time to grow a bigger garden and can our food this year (also a request of the kids) We are hoping to save some money off of our grocery bill and put that in the vacation fun. We are planning on RVing across the country......maybe...LOL
When we first started I would spend money on things that we really didn't need. Now I try to borrow to see if it would be worth our money.
Most of our outings are free. Yesterday the kids picked, washed and cannned tomato sauce. They had a blast and want to do it again today. My oldest boy spent the afternoon at our Amish neighbors house shocking oats. All free things to do! They had a blast. Now that our oldest girl is getting ready for college and my oldest boys has a list of winter projects I am sure we will be sending more money on things. Our church always has something going on. Our priest gives lectures a couple times of year!!FREE My oldest boy is really into rockets and inventing things. So is my friends son. Two books on rockets were of interest to both boys. So we bought one and they bought the other! They swap when they are ready. My oldest boy also likes astronomy. His friend has a great telescope that he has brought over on numerous occasions. My friend from church can sew...we have eggs we can barter with for lessons.
I quess my point is do you have to spend money.? Welll... yes but you can also find many things to do for free. Wonderful things. Happy learning!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Typical Day 7

Our day yesterday was getting ready for visitors, French class here ( singing! Fun! And choosing recipes in French as our next class will be a French cooking class).

Catholic Homeschoolers here, a talk by a friar, a writing or colouring activity about Our Lady and lots of lunch and games and running around and shooting dart guns and playing the Wii and computer..

Then clean up, St Anthony Mass and Novena, dad came home as he’s been away for work and we went to see the new Star Trek movie...Fairly typical activity for us! ~ Leonie

Typical Days 6

Thought I would share what we did today.
DS, 9, decided he didn't want to go to homeschool group again, so we decided to use our free entry for homeschoolers pass to get into Raglan Castle.

The weather was lovely, and we enjoyed clambering over walls,up spiral stairs and down dark holes.DD noticed swallows nesting in the stone work. We knew they were swallows because they had the same song as a toy swallow we had.

Lovely picnic. We talked about how we could make flapjacks-"Yours are not like these, these are lovely and moist!"

A school party was there at the same time. I was struck by the rigidity-they had to go where the teacher wanted to go, they had "educational" worksheets they had to fill in.

My children were delighted to get £1 each to spend in the gift shop-they spent many minutes deciding what they could get for that.

DD12 decided on the chocolate castle, dd6 and ds 9 both bought a pen and eraser.

All of the children took lots of photos. They loved the koi in the pond. We noticed these particular small birds landing on just leaves floating on the pond.

On the way home we popped into a garden centre to buy some trailing plants to go in our "new" watering can, which we rescued from the recycling centre yesterday.Ate ice cream as the weather was nice. ~ Catrin

Typical Days 5

Not necessarily in chronoligical order...

Oldest son wrote a letter to Suzanne Collins. (author of Gregor the Overlander books). I helped him find her address, and he addressed the envelope. He played with Legos. He helped me serve lunch to the other kids outside. He helped his Dad put a new net on the trampoline. He finished one Gregor book and started the next one. He unpacked and put away his backpack from the Cub Scout campout.

Second son did a few pages in his Kumon math book. (Dad has promised a new Wii game when his book is finished) He researched how to defeat a character in one of his video games. He read a wikipedia article of how to escape from quicksand. He helped with the trampoline net.

Both boys read the parks and recreation brochure to identify which gymnastics class they want to take next.

5 year old daughter practiced writing some numbers. (She just picked up the book and started doing it!!) She asked me to take the training wheels off of her bike. She tried to teach herself to ride the bike. Oldest brother gave her some really useful tips. I lowered her seat and she tried some more. Dad told her to stop trying, that she needed an adult to help her and wouldn't be able to do it herself. (!!!! He obviously is not well read on the whole child-led learning, unschooling, John Holt, etc, concepts) She helped me cut out some fabric for aprons I'm going to sew. She helped me take care of the baby.

2 year old did some coloring and played outside with the neighbors dog. She also made pee pee in her underwear twice, and spread the coloring books all over the living room floor.
The baby mostly just smiled, laughed, slept and nursed. ~ Anja

Monday, April 20, 2009

Typical Days 4


Yesterday our day looked like this:

I woke up and prayed (or tried to with my 2 year old.) He senses whenever I get out of the bed and jumps up! I went to workout for an hour and was back by 8:30. Isabel, who is almost six, goes to a little homeschool preschool. It is all girls and she has all brothers. She really enjoys the girl time, Dh dropped her off on the way to work. I checked my email and messed around on the computer for awhile. Coffee is definitely happening at this time.

Jack (13), Luke (11) and Max (8) did the breakfast dishes and then backed a weekend bag. We are going to visit my sister in Syracuse. She is having a baby and is dying to have her bathroom finished. My dh is pretty handy and really likes her hubby, so we are heading up. Jack finished his mathbook he is working on. He did a little handwriting and worked on his annotated bibliography and Latin for the Homeschool Coop. He would like to go to high school and is motivated to do the work needed to get there. I REALLY hope he changes his mind. We are considering a Community College class next year.

I played Zelda for a little while with Max. He is my consultant. He really enjoys being on my team. He can't read yet, but is really quick with math and puzzles. It was Jack's turn to play and I went to pick up Isabel. It is about 45 minute round trip.

I made lunch for anyone who was hungry. The kids continued playing Wii. They gave it up for Lent, so I am pretty loose this week. Luke and I did the Barton Method for Reading and Spelling. It is a program for dyslexia. I think he has a mild case and he helps me practice. He then worked on some schoolwork on the computer. We are in a coop and he has a short story due next Wednesday.

Declan (2) went down for a nap. Max, who has severe dyslexia, and I did Barton.

Luke, Max and Isabel went out to play. Jack continued Zelda. Isabel and I played Zelda and then went outside.

We prayed the Divine Mercy Novena.

I went out for Indian food with friends, this doesn't happen very often and Paul had dinner with the kids.

This morning, dh worked out and went to Mass. Max has speech therapy and the rest of us are goofing off waiting to head to Syracuse. Luke has been out playing basketball. The weather here is finally nice.

I sometimes question what we are doing, mostly in the middle of the night! :-) I think Jack made unschooling easy. He loves to read and has on his own passed "grade level." The next two make me a little nervous. I know they are happy and kind. They are involved in baseball and are very popular with the coaches. They make eye contact when speaking with adults. That is an uncommon skill around here.

Typical Days 3


My 3 oldest kids are graduated. My oldest son is finishing his senior year in college, he composes music for the fun of it, plays a little classical guitar, writes stories, and programs games on the computer. My second son is still at home, interested in football statistics and history, Church history, and a knowledgeable naturalist. My daughter is going to college next year -- she writes in a group blog, plays several musical instruments, is spending quite a lot of time learning to cook and sew these days, and loves to look through thrift stores and other places to put together her own vintage design outfits.... she's also very interested in old movies and in GK Chesterton and apologetics.

My son who is going to high school this year is an athlete -- he loves football -- he's 16. The next one down is 13. Right now the thing that occupies most of his interest is computer games, though he loves logic puzzles and science projects and reads a lot too. He plays a little recorder.

The last two are ages 9 and 6. The 9 year old is special needs -- he had a liver transplant when he was an infant. The 6 year old is a livewire, very extroverted. I worry about him a bit because there are no real playmates up here for him. We are talking about moving closer down to the Fresno/Clovis area.

Yesterday wasn't a typical day because Sean, the highschooler, was sick and had to go to the doctor. Then toward afternoon Aidan got sick and by evening we were all feeling pretty bad.
We spent most of the afternoon watching videos.

Our unschooling is sort of different from some peoples'. I read a description on a blog of a mom who called their family's homeschooling style "unrelaxed unschooling" and that probably fits us. When I'm too relaxed I drift into my own world. In my "nature" I'm like CS Lewis who described the perfect life as studying all morning, taking a long brisk walk in the afternoon, and hanging out with friends and family in the evening conversing and sharing thoughts and ideas. But I have seven kids. I have to actually be quite intentional to interact with them in a learning atmosphere.

Hmm, maybe that IS a description of unschooling, come to think of it.

Typical Days 2


We have 5 kids that range in age from 1 to 17. Our days have been spent building a chicken coop. We have 39 baby chicks that are ready to go outside!!

We have numerous projects going on right now! The kids are helping with them all.
We are redoing two bathrooms, building a coop and getting the garden ready. We are also planning for a month long visit from my MIL and FIL. My MIL has dementia.

Yesterday, most of the day was spent outside with the chicken coop.
My 14yr ds is finishing up a physics course at the local nature center.
My 17 yr spent most of yesterday watching a dvd on "how to change the needle on her sewing machine" LOL .
My 10 yr dd is very happy reading upstairs in her room. I am very happy about that one as I was sweating when or if she would be bitten by the reading bug.
My 6 year old is very happy doing some workbook type stuff. He does it in between other stuff. My littlest in very happy just to be the center of attention.

Throughout our day we stopped and talked about many different things that ran the gamut from politics to soil erosion.

Our day is really never typical. We kind of go with the flow.

Typical Days 1


Tuesday in the Octave of Easter. And what did we do?

I got up early to work out with two sons, others were woken up around 7.30 or 8.00 am as we were going out.Kids tidied bedrooms ( kinda), got their own breakfast, played computer games, played guitar and piano, I briefly checked email and Facebook and blogs, did some computer work for my Kumon centre, prepared food for a shared lunch at Catholic Homeschoolers group. One son made me some porridge to make sure I'd eat breakfast! Gotta love these kids!

Eventually, I changed from workout clothes, too and we looked at the saint of the day, missal readings and plans for the day. Started laundry. Left to pick up a priest who was visiting our homeschool group, then off to Catholic homeschoolers, kids reading novels in the car along the way. And chatting to Fr.

At Catholic homeschoolers, my kids were disappointed to find no other teens turning up. But they listened to the talk about St Gemma Galgani and mysticism while I did crafts with the little ones. We prayed the chaplet of divine mercy, shared lunch, drove home, dropped Fr off at the friary – with listening to music and a discussion on relationship and covenant on the way!

Home to find two other sons had two friends over – so a big game developed with nerf guns in and out of the house. I washed up, cleaned the oven from the morning cooking, did laundry – then took one son to part time work at another Kumon centre. I stayed there for two hours, doing volunteer work for the other Supervisor, kids at home continued games and playing guitar and computer/video games.

Came home, chatted to boys and friends who were still playing, paid bills online, did some Kumon work on the computer, did the minutes of a parish meeting, cleaned up the house. One son made me some tea, friends were picked up, one son went to pick up another from work, we got ready for Mass.

Our Tuesday night mass and novena to St Anthony with veneration of the relic and blessed bread, was beautiful. Youngest son served at mass. We are very lucky to have solemn reverent masses in our parish.

Talked outside church to a few people, then went to friends, for pizza and to meet visitors from interstate and play games, talk, watch Robin Hood.

Prayed the rosary in the car and discussed relationships yet again.

In school terms we did oral language, group work, religion, society and environment, life skills, work education, computer education, social and personal development, physical education, reading and writing, music. Not bad!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Parenting Books..

...as suggested by members of the Unschooling Catholics email list ( see sidebar for the link to the email list).

1.How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish
2.Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
3.Love and Anger by Nancy Samalin
4.Siblings without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish
5. How to Really Love Your Teenager by Ross Campbell
6. Teaching Your Children Values by the Eyres
7. Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey
8.I love you rituals by Becky Bailey
9. Parenting with Grace by Popcak
10.Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen
11.Hold on to Your Kids by Neufeld and Mate
12.The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff
13.Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
14. Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids by Sura Hart, Victoria Kindle Hodson
15.Please Don't Sit on the Kids by Clare Cherry
16.The Hurried Child by David Elkind

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On discipline

It is disgraceful to call them hurtful names... Keep an eye on that Brother who slaps the students and see to it that he stops doing it.St. John Baptist de la Salle

In general, the system we ought to adopt is called Preventive, which consists in so disposing the hearts of our students that they ought to be willing to do what we ask of them without need of external violence. I would like to think that coercive means are never to be used, but only and exclusively those suggested by patience and charity.~ Don Bosco

I found this about St. Anselm, but couldn't find the original quote: It’s best brought home to us in a story about St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. An abbot told Anselm of the difficulties he was having in bringing up boys in his care. The abbot was a disciplinarian, beating the boys for each and every misdemeanour. Anselm could not contain his disagreement: "In God’s name", he burst out, "I would have you tell me why you are so incensed against them. Are they not human? Are they not flesh and blood like you?" The boys, he said, need "the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness", not just blows.

"Just as love is the supreme commandment with regards to the personal God, so too only love can be our fundamental obligation toward the human person, created in God's image and likeness." JPII, Memory and Identity

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Free At Last!

The title of a book published by the Sudbury Valley School where students from preschool through high school age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways.

Sounds unschooly.

The book has some great snippets on learning through life. As does the website.

The whole time I was enrolled, I wasn't concerned about my education. I never felt I needed to create a "program of studies" for myself; I didn't ever again feel that was an important thing to do. I knew enough people outside of school to feel like I wasn't any worse educated than they were! I never asked myself, "Am I satisfied with the way I'm being educated?" I usually just came to school and tried to figure out what was going on, and if there was something going on that I was interested in, then I would do it. If there wasn't, I would go read. In general, I don't remember thinking, "Is what this person is doing ok?" I had the idea that it wasn't really my business what someone was doing. He was doing what he was doing and that was sort of the beginning and the end of it. The first thing I remember clearly spending lots of time doing was the Plasticene Village, a table in the art room taken over for full-time use for plasticene. On some days, I would do it from the moment I got there to the moment I left. I don't know how long it lasted, but it seems like it went on forever! We made houses and people; those were pretty basic. The more complicated things were machinery and stuff like that. You had to convince people your machinery worked, so you needed some superficial knowledge of how it ought to work, and you had to be able to point to where the different parts were. It was wonderful fun. All of us graduated many years ago, and it turns out that it wasn't a bad thing at all to be doing plasticene all day for a year or so! But I don't know how I would have dealt with that if I was a staff member then, and a parent said to me, "I can't believe it. My kid is playing with plasticene for a whole year. This is terrible." It's hard. I'd have to tell the parent, "Look, what's wrong with your kid doing this? He's having fun, he's probably learning stuff, although who knows what." I don't know how the staff dealt with it. From If you're doing one hard thing, it's not that different from doing another hard thing.

"Where do you work?"
"At Sudbury Valley School."What do you do?"
Doing nothing at Sudbury Valley requires a great deal of energy and discipline, and many years of experience. I get better at it every year, and it amuses me to see how I and others struggle with the inner conflict that arises in us inevitably. The conflict is between wanting to do things for people, to impart your knowledge and to pass on your hard earned wisdom, and the realization that the children have to do their learning under their own steam and at their own pace. Their use of us is dictated by their wishes, not ours. We have to be there when asked, not when we decide we should be.
Teaching, inspiring, and giving advice are all natural activities that adults of all cultures and places seem to engage in around children. Without these activities, each generation would have to invent everything anew, from the wheel to the ten commandments, metal working to farming. Man passes knowledge to the young from generation to generation, at home, in the community, at the workplace and supposedly at school. Unfortunately, the more today's schools endeavor to give individual students guidance, the more they harm the children. This statement requires explanation, since it seems to contradict what I have just said, namely, that adults always help children learn how to enter the world and become useful in it. What I have learned, very slowly and painfully over the years, is that children make vital decisions for themselves in ways that no adults could have anticipated or even imagined.
From The Art of Doing Nothing

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why do you unschool?

On the Unschooling Catholics email list ( see sidebar for link..) someone asked - why do you unschool?

There are a myriad of reasons for choosing to unschool. And I hope to hear your thoughts.

Why do I choose unschooling?

I think unschooling works best for academics - unschooling encourages kids to follow passions and not learn just to pass tests.

I think unschooling is better for relationships - we really get to know each other and spend time together and question paradigms and seek joy.

I think unschooling is better for passing on our Faith - we share our faith in our day to day living and we live an open book life with our kids.

I think I unschool because unschooling works!

How does unschooling work?

Read How Unschooling Works.

Schooling works by pouring expertly selected bits of the world into a child. (Or trying to, anyway!)
Unschooling works by the child pulling in what he wants and needs. It works best by noticing what the child is asking for and helping him get it. It works best by running the world through their lives so they know what it's possible to be interested in.

And ~

That's how unschooling works. Kids build up knowledge about what interests them. They have a vested interest in understanding what interests them.
Unfortunately for new unschooling moms, what interests them usually doesn't look academic. It looks a lot like playing. (Play is how kids are created to learn!) Learning looks like video games and Harry Potter and making videos and reading and watching TV and playing with friends and pretend and chatting on line. It's really only after kids are grown and following their interests into college and jobs that we can see how what they did led to where they got. But the ongoing process doesn't look at all like school.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Unschooling Mathematics

I unschool except for Maths. Do you say that?

How do we unschool maths?

Every family approaches this differently. Some do formal Maths regularly. Occasionally. Seasonally. When kids ask. Others see Maths in every day life. Set up maths games and activities. Cooking. Thinking aloud. Use TV shows like Numbers. And others just live and not worry about subject guidelines.

Looking for ideas? Some maths links ~

Developing an Unschooling Non-Curriculum - Math
I thought I'd share a bit of our math non-curriculum with the list.
First, it's a non-curriculum because it doesn't have a timetable attached to it or particular exercises to be completed. We do have specific ideas about what learning math involves, the steps involved in learning math and how math mastery occurs. There is definitely an agenda. I personally feel that numeracy is very important.
So, how do we encourage our children to become numerate, to learn math?
First of all, we act as examples. We use math daily, hourly. We have animated discussions over, for example, the number of tubs of Black Jack we'll need to seal our driveway or how much it costs us to feed electricity to our two computers. We care about the results, we make mistakes, and the mistakes have real-life consequences.
We also use math for fun; often trying to estimate, for example, the number of bananas we eat in a year or how many eggrolls would it take to reach the moon. I'm afraid we often get silly and laugh a lot while we're doing these problems. I hope that doesn't bother any of you who are very serious about math, but there it is.
We let the children stew in their own juices a bit when they're confronted with a problem that requires math. We let them get a bit frustrated. I think that it's important that children learn how to solve problems themselves. It's important for them to realize that they need to use their own brains to figure things out. So, we let them struggle with their problems

Unschoolers and Mathematics
Wild math looks different than domesticated math It looks more like conversations, using numbers to figure out something the child wants to know, video games, allowance, weighing things in the grocery store, finding the best deal among several choices—that is not as a lesson but what you would normally do—board games, figuring out “how long until?” when she asks, budgets, doing a rough estimation of the items in the grocery cart to see if you have enough money, baseball statistics, crafts, origami, wrapping presents ...

Unschooling math
Real life math probably bears the least resemblance to its schoolish counterpart than any other "subject". Because real life math is about discovering how numbers work rather than memorizing formulas to impose on numbers.

Real life math is, as an example, casually encountering percentages in a dozen different contexts and therefore slowly building up an idea of what percentages are and how they're used.

It's similar to the process of how we acquire new words. Usually when we're reading or listening to conversations we don't run and get the dictionary to look up a word we don't know. Generally we can get a good enough idea of its meaning from the context. And the next time we encounter it we add another facet to our understanding and the fuzzy impression of what the word means gets a bit more clear. And so on. The process probably accounts for our often not being able to define a word for someone else that we've not only read and heard dozens of times but even used.

For some reason people think multiplication and division are such difficult subjects that, after algebra, that's the one thing they question under "how will they learn?" But once a child realizes that multiplication is just a fast way to do repeated addition and that division is just a fast way to do repeated subtraction, a great deal of what causes math phobia in adults disappears. Multiplication and division aren't mysterious at all. They're just addition and subtraction short cuts.

One thing I've found helpful is expressing things in a couple of different ways. When we've come across percents, I've said "17% or 17 out of every 100," or "25% is the same as a quarter."

Another thing is solving problems out loud without pencil and paper so they can see how numbers can be manipulated. So for instance to add 138 + 53. (Hmm, a bit tougher than I normally pull off the top of my head! ;-) but kids do pick up on the process when they hear similar processes dozens of times.) 39 is almost 40 and 53 is almost 50. 40+50 is 90. But we added 2 to the 38 so we need to take away 2 from 90. And we subtracted 3 from the 53 so we need to add 3. That brings us up to 91. Then just add 100. So 191.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Radical Unschooling.

On the Unschooling Catholics email list, there has been a fantastic in depth discussion on radical unschooling for Catholics.

How much freedom do we allow our children? Do we have bedtimes, curfews, gaming or food or other limits? Or no limits?

And how does no limits fit in with our Faith?

I encourage you to join our discussion ~ see the sidebar for details.

In the mean time, may I share some links?

Sandra Dodd Radical Unschooling

Joyfully Rejoycing

Radical Christian Unschooling


He who is allowed to sin, sins less

Parenting as Structure - from Willa

Melissa Wiley on Radical Unschooling