Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If I could tell a new homeschool mum one thing.....

If I could tell a new homeschool mum one thing, it would be… to give it ( whatever it is) Time.
Time. The biggest secret in homeschooling/unschooling.
Time for a child to mature, so that the boy who hates writing at age six
(“why do I have to do this”) is just given time to mature, no pressure to write, just sharing books together until one day he finds his voice and writes and blogs.
Time for the shared experiences to be shared, to shape the child, to allow him to explore, think, play, be a child…so that he chooses, as a teen, to study ancient languages at a university winter school and needs no nagging about homework. He has had time to find out what he likes and how he learns.
Time to spend with family and friends, exploring persona (today it’s Batman, tomorrow it is a Roman soldier), learning how to interact with others, to control temper, to think of others, to learn about self.
Time to read and read together without school schedules and have-tos.
Time for that stubborn toddler to grow into a self disciplined, determined young man. Time for that  very sensitive child to grow into a young man who thinks deeply and spiritually.
Time to cook, to do crafts, to play games, to climb trees, to visit and re-visit museums and libraries, to learn.
And time for mum to realise that things that seem major and  crisis making and overwhelming now will pass.
Time has been my homeschooling secret. Regardless of circumstances and living situations, I have learned to give myself and my kids time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Unschooling and Shakespeare

From Life Learning Magazine   

There’s a lot of giggling going on in the back seat of the car. We’re on our way home from the prestigious Golden Boy indoor soccer tournament. My eleven-year-old son Daniel has a gold medal around his neck after a hard-played final. He also has a book in his hand – not exactly standard “Grade Six” reading fare. It’s Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare – and he and his eight-year-old brother are quizzing each other on the lines that they are memorizing. And giggling.… They are giggling at how funny these lines are. I, on the other hand, have tears in my eyes, a smile that reaches to Pittsburgh, and a heart overflowing with gratitude that we are able to learn without school.

This is the beauty of unschooling. That warp and weave of every day life and learning. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An oldie but a goodie!

What is unschooling? By Earl Stevens

"What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge,
not knowledge in pursuit of the child."
- George Bernard Shaw
It is very satisfying for parents to see their children in pursuit of knowledge. It is natural and healthy for the children, and in the first few years of life, the pursuit goes on during every waking hour. But after a few short years, most kids go to school. The schools also want to see children in pursuit of knowledge, but the schools want them to pursue mainly the school'sknowledge and devote twelve years of life to doing so.
In his acceptance speech for the New York City Teacher of the Year award (1990), John Gatto said, "Schools were designed by Horace Mann ... and others to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population." In the interests of managing each generation of children, the public school curriculum has become a hopelessly flawed attempt to define education and to find a way of delivering that definition to vast numbers of children.
The traditional curriculum is based on the assumption that children must be pursued by knowledge because they will never pursue it themselves. It was no doubt noticed that, when given a choice, most children prefer not to do school work. Since, in a school, knowledge is defined as schoolwork, it is easy for educators to conclude that children don't like to acquire knowledge. Thus schooling came to be a method of controlling children and forcing them to do whatever educators decided was beneficial for them. Most children don't like textbooks, workbooks, quizzes, rote memorization, subject schedules, and lengthy periods of physical inactivity. One can discover this - even with polite and cooperative children - by asking them if they would like to add more time to their daily schedule. I feel certain that most will decline the offer.
The work of a schoolteacher is not the same as that of a homeschooling parent. In most schools, a teacher is hired to deliver a ready-made, standardized, year-long curriculum to 25 or more age-segregated children who are confined in a building all day. The teacher must use a standard curriculum - not because it is the best approach for encouraging an individual child to learn the things that need to be known - but because it is a convenient way to handle and track large numbers of children. The school curriculum is understandable only in the context of bringing administrative order out of daily chaos, of giving direction to frustrated children and unpredictable teachers. It is a system that staggers ever onward but never upward, and every morning we read about the results in our newspapers.Children pursue life, and in doing so, pursue knowledge.
But despite the differences between the school environment and the home, many parents begin homeschooling under the impression that it can be pursued only by following some variation of the traditional public school curriculum in the home. Preoccupied with the idea of "equivalent education", state and local education officials assume that we must share their educational goals and that we homeschool simply because we don't want our children to be inside their buildings. Textbook and curriculum publishing companies go to great lengths to assure us that we must buy their products if we expect our children to be properly educated. As if this were not enough, there are national, state, and local support organizations that have practically adopted the use of the traditional curriculum and the school-in-the-home image of homeschooling as a de facto membership requirement. In the midst of all this, it can be difficult for a new homeschooling family to think that an alternative approach is possible.One alternative approach is "unschooling", also known as "natural learning", "experience-based learning", or "independent learning". Several weeks ago, when our homeschooling support group announced a gathering to discuss unschooling, we thought a dozen or so people might attend, but more than 100 adults and children showed up. For three hours, parents and some of the children took turns talking about their homeschooling experiences and about unschooling. Many people said afterward that they left the meeting feeling reinforced and exhilarated - not because anybody told them what to do or gave them a magic formula - but because they grew more secure in making these decisions for themselves. Sharing ideas about this topic left them feeling empowered.
Before I talk about what I think unschooling is, I must talk about what it isn't. Unschooling isn't a recipe, and therefore it can't be explained in recipe terms. It is impossible to give unschooling directions for people to follow so that it can be tried for a week or so to see if it works. Unschooling isn't a method, it is a way of looking at children and at life. It is based on trust that parents and children will find the paths that work best for them - without depending on educational institutions, publishing companies, or experts to tell them what to do.
Unschooling does not mean that parents can never teach anything to their children, or that children should learn about life entirely on their own without the help and guidance of their parents. Unschooling does not mean that parents give up active participation in the education and development of their children and simply hope that something good will happen. Finally, since many unschooling families have definite plans for college, unschooling does not even mean that children will never take a course in any kind of a school.
Then what is unschooling? I can't speak for every person who uses the term, but I can talk about my own experiences. Our son has never had an academic lesson, has never been told to read or to learn mathematics, science, or history. Nobody has told him about phonics. He has never taken a test or been asked to study or memorize anything. When people ask, "What do you do?" My answer is that we follow our interests - and our interests inevitably lead to science, literature, history, mathematics, music - all the things that have interested people before anybody thought of them as "subjects".
A large component of unschooling is grounded in doing real things, not because we hope they will be good for us, but because they are intrinsically fascinating. There is an energy that comes from this that you can't buy with a curriculum. Children do real things all day long, and in a trusting and supportive home environment, "doing real things" invariably brings about healthy mental development and valuable knowledge. It is natural for children to read, write, play with numbers, learn about society, find out about the past, think, wonder and do all those things that society so unsuccessfully attempts to force upon them in the context of schooling.
While few of us get out of bed in the morning in the mood for a "learning experience", I hope that all of us get up feeling in the mood for life. Children always do so - unless they are ill or life has been made overly stressful or confusing for them. Sometimes the problem for the parent is that it can be difficult to determine if anything important is actually going on. It is a little like watching a garden grow. No matter how closely we examine the garden, it is difficult to verify that anything is happening at that particular moment. But as the season progresses, we can see that much has happened, quietly and naturally. Children pursue life, and in doing so, pursue knowledge. They need adults to trust in the inevitability of this very natural process, and to offer what assistance they can.
Parents come to our unschooling discussions with many questions about fulfilling state requirements. They ask: "How do unschoolers explain themselves to the state when they fill out the paperwork every year?", "If you don't use a curriculum, what do you say?" and "What about required record-keeping?" To my knowledge, unschoolers have had no problems with our state department of education over matters of this kind. This is a time when even many public school educators are moving away from the traditional curriculum, and are seeking alternatives to fragmented learning and drudgery.
When I fill out the paperwork required for homeschooling in our state, I briefly describe, in the space provided, what we are currently doing, and the general intent of what we plan to do for the coming year. I don't include long lists of books or describe any of the step-by-step skills associated with a curriculum. For example, under English/Language Arts, I mentioned that our son's favorite "subject" is the English language. I said a few words about our family library. I mentioned that our son reads a great deal and uses our computer for whatever writing he happens to do. I concluded that, "Since he already does so well on his own, we have decided not to introduce language skills as a subject to be studied. It seems to make more sense for us to leave him to his own continuing success."
Unschooling is a unique opportunity for each family to do whatever makes sense for the growth and development of their children. If we have a reason for using a curriculum and traditional school materials, we are free to use them. They are not a universally necessary or required component of unschooling, either educationally or legally.
Allowing curriculums, textbooks, and tests to be the defining, driving force behind the education of a child is a hindrance in the home as much as in the school - not only because it interferes with learning, but because it interferes with trust. As I have mentioned, even educators are beginning to question the pre-planned, year-long curriculum as an out-dated, 19th century educational system. There is no reason that families should be less flexible and innovative than schools.
Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's mentor and friend, said:
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less "showily". Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself... Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.
Unschooling provides a unique opportunity to step away from systems and methods, and to develop independent ideas out of actual experiences, where the child is truly in pursuit of knowledge, not the other way around.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Learning through play

National guidelines in Australia support the importance of play in learning. 

"The guidelines recognise the importance of play, particularly in the way it develops creativity, teaches sociability, negotiating and linguistic skills, and stresses that learning is not limited to a time or place." Guidelines Recognize The Importance of Play, The Melbourne Age

Something we unschoolers knew all along. 

Creativity - our cooking, our free arts and crafts, our Lego, our dress ups, our imaginary play, our forts and cubbies and cars and dolls and music and...

Sociability - getting along with each other day after day, park days, play dates, church, parihs activities....

Negotiating skills - whose turn is it to sit in the front of the car or to have a go at the Playstation or...

Linguistic skills  - we talk, we read, we watch movies, we talk some more, we write,we journal, we are on facebook and blogs and twitter, we learn prayers and poems and languages, we sing, we play games...

Learning is not limited to a time - stories and looking up links on Google at bedtime and watching just-anther-episode  - oh, it's midnight already?

Learning is not limited to a place - writing journals while having ice creams at McDonalds and mum feeds the baby, working on a Maths sheet or reading a religion book in the car on the way to skating, sitting on the sofa to read and use the laptop or lying in the grass outside with that book and play cards and throw balls and everything else....

Learning through play.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What do unschoolers do all day?

A great post, discussing principles. 


1. We focus on exposure, not mastery.

2. We focus on strengths and potential, not weaknesses.

3. We focus on modeling.

4. We focus on relationships.

5. We focus on time, not content.

6. We focus on our conviction and faith in the path we’ve chosen. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The world has become my teacher and I can never accept a go-between again

Quotes from The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey. One of the best books on self learning, for teens and adults, that I have ever read. A delightful, personal glimpse into the life of an autodidact.

"The world has become my teacher and I can never accept a go-between again."  p. 129

"What I hope to Do:  Love so much today I don't need tomorrow."  p. 133

"When I was in school, my life was what was due next week, and that's not enough of a life."  p. 142

"I got the most heartbreaking letter from a college friend today.  Ever since I had known her she wanted to be an actress, and so after graduation, when I was afraid I would not see her again, I wrote to tell her what a wonderful actress I thought she was.
      "She wrote today that she did not get into the acting school she wanted to, so she is giving up her dream of being an actress.  It takes so little to destroy a dream.
      "I sometimes look at adult people and wonder how they could have ended up so sad, and yet here I am at the formation of what may be some very sad lives.  We are changed people once we let go of what we hope for.
      "Most of my dreams are pretty silly, but I will not let go of one of them, no matter how much of what is laughingly referred to as 'real life' gets in the way. As Ruth Gordon said, the key to success is:  Don't Face Facts."  p. 144 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Learning All the Time

Here are some of my favorite quotes from John Holt's Learning All the Time:
Real learning is a process of discovery, and if we want it to happen, we must create the kinds of conditions in which discoveries are made. We know what these are. They include time, leisure, freedom, and lack of pressure.  
...what often happens to kids in school is that they are required to repeat, as sense, what makes no sense to them, to the point where they give up trying to reconcile what people say about the world with what they really feel about it. They accept as true whatever authority says is true. They do not try to check or test it. They soon forget even how to test it.
What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don't need much praise.
...organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false.
The idea, the very idea, that we can teach small children how to learn has come to me to seem utterly absurd.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Importance of Play

I was reading an interesting blog post for work on the importance of play and on traditional games for children. Not just for nostalgia but for what is learned and shared during these games.

For work? I am the Coordinator/Director ( in other words, Nominated Supervisor and Educational Leader) at an Out Of School Hours Centre...before and after school care.

So much of what we do at OOSH resembles my unschooling household.

So much of what we do and did in unschooling was play, new forms of play and traditional forms of play. Play for all ages.

And why is this play important? Read the whole blog post but this excerpt gives a glimpse:

I think there is something important about these traditional games that cannot simply be dismissed as rose-tinted, sepia-toned nostalgia. And I think the time is right to revisit these games and breathe new life into them.
There is something wonderfully pared down and self-reliant about many traditional games. They rarely need equipment. Many can be played almost anywhere, and can cope with a wide range of ages, abilities and numbers of players (I once saw two siblings play hide-and-seek for about fifteen minutes in a five-metres-by-five leisure centre reception area.) And the rules can be endlessly adapted – just as long as a sense of fair play is respected.
Outdoor games also provide children with valuable rehearsals for everyday life. Think about all the tasks that are involved in a game of tag, for instance. Players have to decide who is ‘it’. They have to agree safe spots, and how ‘time out’ works. And they have to sort out disputes about whether or not someone was tagged. The physicality of tag, and indeed many traditional games, demands accurate risk management. When chasing or catching, players have to try to make sure they don’t hurt each other too much, and it’s not a great idea to collide with any non-participants who happen to stray into the area. That is a pretty impressive list of physical, interpersonal and social skills. Traditional Outdoor Games: Tim Gill

Friday, August 17, 2012

On Fairy Tales

"Not long ago I talked to a teacher who, having invited me to talk at her school, was having a bit of trouble with the head teacher who thought that fantasy was morally suspect, irrelevant to the world of the nineties, and escapist.
Morally suspect? Shorn of its trappings, most fantasy would find approval in a Victorian household. The morality of fantasy and horror is, by and large, the strict morality of the fairy tale. The vampire is slain, the alien is blown out of the airlock, the evil Dark Lord is vanquished and, perhaps at some loss, the Good triumph -- not because they are better armed, but because Providence is on their side. Let there be goblin hordes, let there be terrible environmental threats, let there be giant mutated slugs if you really must, but let there also be Hope. It may be a grim, thin hope, an Arthurian sword at sunset, but let us know that we do not live in vain."

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Unschooling Journey

A Homeschooling Journey: Illness, a Baby Girl, and a Move Towards Unschooling 

On Tuesday morning my oldest son slept on and off for hours at a time.  This was unusual for him.  Around noon he asked me to make him a grilled cheese sandwich.  Before I finished preparing it, he fell asleep once again.

That afternoon my four boys and I climbed into the minivan and drove to the medical center.  My son needed a physical for summer camp and since he appeared to have the flu or maybe something worse, I scheduled an appointment for him.  The pediatrician checked his vital signs and talked to him and seemed satisfied that he was healthy.  I sensed that was not true.  He actually needed to sit down for a couple minute break on the walk into our pediatrician's office from the car.  I asked her to test his urine, because my husband and I were suspecting diabetes.  She agreed it was a good idea to check.  A few minutes later she came back to the room with the grim news that he did indeed have type 1 diabetes and started the procedures for admitting him into the ICU.

That was a sad, sad day.  Our journey with this illness has been challenging and heart breaking at times.  However, one small thing stands out in my mind after the fact: my educational philosophy throughout this crisis.

I am ashamed to admit that while my son lay ill in bed those few days before that dreadful Tuesday afternoon, I sat with him and read his "school work" to him so that all three boys would stay on schedule.  No one else remembers this or finds this fact significant.  But I do.  It is one of those decisions I will always regret and also the decision I will always be glad led me to where I am today - on the path to becoming an unschooler.

It didn't even occur to me right away, not until the next fall.  I designed the new school year's schedule with my old educational philosophy in the forefront of my mind.  I bounced from one son to the next all day long, each day, until dinnertime, checking off all the items on our lists.

Then one day I thought to myself, "How am I going to keep up this crazy pace with a new baby come next January or February?" I started reading the unschooling Catholics yahoo group every morning with breakfast.  I reread Suzie Andres' book "Homeschooling with Gentleness" and read for the first time her book "A little Way Of Homeschooling." The Holy Spirit inspired me to make many changes to our daily learning routine.  I followed the lead of one of the ladies on the yahoo group to create a focus for each day.  I bought my oldest son a fun math program to keep his interest in this area alive.  I  also found a gentle writing program through the recommendation of other Catholic unschoolers.  Learning did become more joyful.

In January, our baby girl arrived.  I believe God sent us her as a gift to help us move past my oldest son's diagnosis.  Up until that time my life was overwhelmingly focused on checking blood sugars, counting carbs, giving insulin shots, testing for ketones, and wondering if I would walk into a room and find my son unconscious.  Preparing for and taking care of a baby actually eased the stress of taking care of my son.

When I really knew my perspective had changed was when I began to feel uncomfortable when family and friends starting asking if we were "back to school" just weeks after giving birth.  When people asked if we were going to "school" into the summertime to make up for lost time, I said "no." My second oldest wanted to spend the day reading, and I thought that sounded like a good idea.  My oldest son started writing a book about his favorite computer game, and I noticed his spelling was improving.  Before my enlightenment, I would have surely home schooled into June and July if we had "taken off from school." I also would not have considered a computer game a worthy educational tool.

I am still on my homeschooling/unschooling journey.  It will probably take me some time to more fully embrace the ideals of unschooling.  However, I hope by trusting God, I will gently guide my children to a lifestyle of loving God and loving learning - my goals from the beginning.

by Gina Peterson blogs at

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Toddlers and unschooling

Toddler unschooling. A discussion on our Unschooling Catholics email list.

Isn't it just living life with toddlers? Yes.

But.... we all need new ideas. And it is often counter cultural to be living with toddlers without plans for preschool or  school or even school at home. How will they learn?

As John Holt pointed out many times, children are natural learners. if we don't squash their interests. And if we share our lives with them, share the big wide world.

So here is a link on  Toddler Unschooling.... ..with many micro links contained within. With a reference to this book ( see image), one I found helpful as a young mother of young children. 


And share your ideas!  

Twenty Weeks for Six Years of Maths

This article was originally posted on the web site for The Sudbury
Valley School in Framingham, MA, as one of their free articles.
Although this is no longer available on their site.   This is the web site for the Sudbury Valley School

"And 'Rithmetic

Sitting before me were a dozen boys and girls, aged nine to
twelve. A week earlier, they had asked me to teach them arithmetic.
They wanted to learn to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and all the

"You don't really want to do this," I said, when they first
approached me.
"We do, we are sure we do," was their answer.
"You don't really," I persisted. "Your neighborhood friends, your
parents, your relatives probably want you to, but you yourselves
would much rather be playing or doing something else."
"We know what we want, and we want to learn arithmetic. Teach us,
and we'll prove it. We'll do all the homework, and work as hard as we

I had to yield then, skeptically. I knew that arithmetic took six
years to teach in regular schools, and I was sure their interest
would flag after a few months. But I had no choice. They had pressed
hard, and I was cornered. I was in for a surprise.

My biggest problem was a textbook to use as a guide. I had been
involved in developing the "new math," and I had come to hate it.
Back then when we were working on it -- young academicians of the
Kennedy post-sputnik era -- we had few doubts. We were filled with
the beauty of abstract logic, set theory, number theory, and all the
other exotic games mathematicians had played for millenia. I think
that if we had set out to design an agricultural course for working
farmers, we would have begun with organic chemistry, genetics, and
microbiology. Lucky for the world's hungry people that we weren't

I had come to hate the pretensions and abstruseness of the "new
math." Not one in a hundred math teachers knew what it was about, not
one in a thousand pupils. People need arithmetic for reckoning; they
want to know how to use the tools. That's what my students wanted now.
I found a book in our library, perfectly suited to the job at
hand. It was a math primer written in 1898. Small and thick, it was
brimming with thousands of exercises, meant to train young minds to
perform the basic tasks accurately and swiftly.

Class began -- on time. That was part of the deal. "You say you
are serious?" I had asked, challenging them; "then I expect to see
you in the room on time -- 11:00AM sharp, every Tuesday and Thursday.
If you are five minutes late, no class. If you blow two classes -- no
more teaching." "It's a deal," they had said, with a glint of
pleasure in their eyes.

Basic addition took two classes. They learned to add everything --
long thin columns, short fat columns, long fat columns. They did
dozens of exercises. Subtraction took another two classes. It might
have taken one, but "borrowing" needed some extra explanation.
On to multiplication, and the tables. Everyone had to memorize
the tables. Each person was quizzed again and again in class. Then
the rules. Then the practice.

They were high, all of them. Sailing along, mastering all the
techniques and algorithms, they could feel the material entering
their bones. Hundreds and hundreds of exercises, class quizzes, oral
tests, pounded the material into their heads.

Still they continued to come, all of them. They helped each other
when they had to, to keep the class moving. The twelve year olds and
the nine year olds, the lions and the lambs, sat peacefully together
in harmonious cooperation -- no teasing, no shame.
Division -- long division. Fractions. Decimals. Percentages.
Square roots.

They came at 11:00 sharp, stayed half an hour, and left with
homework. They came back next time with all the homework done. All of

In twenty weeks, after twenty contact hours, they had covered it
all. Six years' worth. Every one of them knew the material cold.

We celebrated the end of the classes with a rousing party. It
wasn't the first time, and wasn't to be the last, that I was amazed
at the success of our own cherished theories. They had worked here,
with a vengeance.

Perhaps I should have been prepared for what happened, for what
seemed to me to be a miracle. A week after it was all over, I talked
to Alan White, who had been an elementary math specialist for years
in the public schools and knew all the latest and best pedagogical

I told him the story of my class. He was not surprised.
"Why not?" I asked, amazed at his response. I was still reeling
from the pace and thoroughness with which my "dirty dozen" had
"Because everyone knows," he answered, "that the subject matter
itself isn't that hard. What's hard, virtually impossible, is beating
it into the heads of youngsters who hate every step. The only way we
have a ghost of a chance is to hammer away at the stuff bit by bit
every day for years. Even then it does not work. Most of the sixth
graders are mathematical illiterates. Give me a kid who wants to
learn the stuff -- well, twenty hours or so makes sense."

I guess it does. It's never taken much more than that ever since.


We have to be careful with words. It's a miracle they ever mean
the same thing to any two people. Often, they don't. Words
like "love," "peace," "trust," "democracy" -- everyone brings to
these words a lifetime of experiences, a world view, and we know how
rarely we have these in common with anyone else.

Take the word "class." I don't know what it means in cultures
that don't have schools. Maybe they don't even have the word. To most
people reading this, the word conveys a wealth of images: a room with
a "teacher" and "students" in it, the students sitting at desks and
receiving "instruction" from the teacher, who sits or stands before
them. It also conveys much more: a "class period," the fixed time
when the class takes place; homework; a textbook, which is the
subject matter of the class clearly laid out for all the students.
And it conveys more: boredom, frustration, humiliation,
achievement, failure, competition.

At Sudbury Valley the word means something quite different.
At Sudbury Valley, a class is an arrangement between two parties.
It starts with someone, or several persons, who decide they want to
learn something specific -- say, algebra, or French, or physics, or
spelling, or pottery. A lot of times, they figure out how to do it on
their own. They find a book, or a computer program, or they watch
someone else. When that happens, it isn't a class. It's just plain

Then there are the times they can't do it alone. They look for
someone to help them, someone who will agree to give them exactly
what they want to make the learning happen. When they find that
someone, they strike a deal: "We'll do this and that, and you'll do
this and that -- OK?" If it's OK with all the parties, they have just
formed a class.

Those who initiate the deal are called "students." If they don't
start it up, there is no class. Most of the time, kids at school
figure out what they want to learn and how to learn it all on their
own. They don't use classes all that much.

The someone who strikes the deal with the students is called a
"teacher." Teachers can be other students at the school. Usually,
they are people hired to do the job.

Teachers at Sudbury Valley have to be ready to make deals, deals
that satisfy the students' needs. We get a lot of people writing the
school asking to be hired as teachers. Many of them tell us at length
how much they have to "give" to children. People like that don't do
too well at the school. What's important to us is what the students
want to take, not what the teachers want to give. That's hard for a
lot of professional teachers to grasp.

The class deals have all sorts of terms: subject matter, times,
obligations of each party. For example, to make the deal, the teacher
has to agree to be available to meet the students at certain times.
These times may be fixed periods: a half hour every Tuesday at
11:00AM. Or they may be flexible: "whenever we have questions, we'll
get together on Monday mornings at 10:00AM to work them out. If we
have no questions, we'll skip till next week." Sometimes, a book is
chosen to serve as a reference point. The students have their end of
the deal to meet. They agree to be on time, for instance.

Classes end when either side has had enough of the deal. If the
teachers find out they can't deliver, they can back out -- and the
students have to find a new teacher if they still want a class. If
the students discover they don't want to go on, the teachers have to
find some other way to occupy themselves at the appointed hour.

There is another kind of class at school, from time to time. It
happens when people feel they have something new and unique to say
that can't be found in books, and they think others may be
interested. They post a notice: "Anyone interested in X can meet me
in the Seminar Room at 10:30AM on Thursdays." Then they wait. If
people show up, they go on. If not, that's life. People can show up
the first time and, if there is a second time, decide not to come

I've done this kind of thing several times. The first session, I
usually get a crowd: "Let's see what he's up to." The second session,
fewer come. By the end, I have a small band who are truly curious
about what I have to say on the subject at hand. It's a form of
entertainment for them, and a way for me (and others) to let people
know how we think.


It's a problem with words again. The way I just described it,
learning sounds casual, loose, laid back. Easy come, easy go. Random.
Chaotic. Undisciplined. Often I wish that were true.

When school first opened, thirteen year old Richard enrolled and
quickly found himself absorbed in classical music -- and in the
trumpet. Richard soon was sure he had found his life interest. With
Jan, a trombonist, available on the staff to help him, Richard threw
himself into his studies.

Richard practiced the trumpet four hours every day. We could
hardly believe it. We suggested other activities, to no avail.
Whatever Richard did -- and he did a lot at school -- he always found
four hours to play.

He came from Boston, 1-1/4 hours each way every day, often 1/2
hour or more on foot from the Framingham bus station. Like the
proverbial postman, "in rain or shine, hail or sleet" Richard made it
to school, and to our eardrums.

It was not long before we discovered the virtues of the old mill
house by the pond. Built of granite, roofed with slate, nestled in a
distant corner of the campus, the old neglected building took on
sudden beauty in our eyes. And in Richard's. In no time at all it was
turned into a music studio, where Richard could practice to his
heart's content.

He practiced. Four or more hours a day, for four years.
Not long after graduating from school, after completing further
studies at a conservatory, Richard became first horn of a major
symphony orchestra.

Richard was followed soon by Fred, whose love was drums. Drums in
the morning, drums in the afternoon, drums at night. Emergency action
was in order. We fixed up a drum room for him in the basement, and
gave him the key to the school so he could play early, late, and on

We discovered that the basement wasn't all that isolated
acoustically from the rest of the building. It was often like living
near a jungle village, with the constant beat of drums in the
background. Fred moved on at the age of eighteen after two years. We loved him, but many of us wished him godspeed.

It isn't only music that brings out the stubborn persistence we
all have inside us. Every child soon finds an area, or two, or more,
to pursue relentlessly.

Sometimes, it isn't even material they enjoy. Year after year,
older students with their hearts set on college drive themselves
steadily through the SAT's, the infamous "aptitude" tests which
measure children's ability to take SAT tests -- and which colleges
everywhere seize upon to help them make their hard admissions
decisions. Usually, the kids find a staff member to help them over
rough spots. But the work is their own. Thick review books are
dragged from room to room, pored over, worked through page by page.
The process is always intense. Rarely does it take more than four or
five months from beginning to end, though for many this is their
first look at the material.

There are writers who sit and write hours every day. There are
painters who paint, potters who throw pots, chefs who cook, athletes
who play.

There are people with common everyday interests. And there are
others with exotic interests.

Luke wanted to be a mortician. Not your most common ambition in a
fifteen year old. He had his reasons. In his mind's eye, he could
clearly see his funeral home ministering to the needs of the
community, and himself comforting the grieving relatives.
Luke threw himself into his studies with a passion: science,
chemistry, biology, zoology. By sixteen, he was ready for serious
work. We took him out into the real world. The chief pathologist at
one of the regional hospitals welcomed the eager, hard-working
student into his lab. Day by day, Luke learned more procedures, and
mastered them, to the delight of his boss. Within a year, he was
performing autopsies at the hospital, unassisted, under his mentor's
supervision. It was a first for the hospital. Within five years, Luke was a mortician. Now, years later, his funeral home has become a reality.

Then there was Bob.
One day, Bob came to me and said, "Will you teach me physics?"
There was no reason for me to be skeptical. Bob had already done so
many things so well that we all knew how he could see things through
to the end. He had run the school press. He had written a thoroughly
researched (published) book on the school's judicial system. He had
devoted untold hours to studying the piano.

So I readily agreed. Our deal was simple. I gave him a college textbook, thick and heavy, on introductory physics. I had taught from it often in the past, even used an earlier version when I was a beginner. I knew the pitfalls. "Go through the book page by page, exercise by exercise," I told Bob, "and come to me as soon as you have the slightest problem. Better to catch them early than to let them grow into major blocks." I thought I knew exactly where Bob would stumble first. Weeks passed. Months. No Bob.

It wasn't like him to drop something before -- or after -- he had
gotten into it. I wondered whether he had lost interest. I kept my
mouth shut and waited.

Five months after he had started, Bob asked to see me. "I have a
problem on page 252," he said. I tried not to look surprised. It took
five minutes to clear up what turned out to be a minor difficulty.
I never saw Bob again about physics. He finished the whole book
by himself. He did algebra and calculus without even asking if I
would help him. I guess he knew I would. Bob is a mathematician today."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What is unschooling?

From our Unschooling Catholics email list...

Susan : I thought it might be good to address that idea about the difference between relaxed, eclectic, etc.  The labels can always cause some issues, but we need words to try to have a dialogue, so we work with what we have and hope
to gain understanding.

I have seen many dismiss unschooling, even saying they have 'tried' it for a month, a year, during a challenging time when they couldn't manage curriculum, etc.  But I think a primary difference between unschooling and other 'styles' comes from a complete shift in one's way of thinking. I recently had a friend say that she had 'homeschooled' her children one day when it was a snow day.  I told her that it was more a shift in lifestyle and doing a workbook one day with your dc doesn't give the flavor of what you might do.  I think the same about can't be merely dabbled in.  It involves a willingness to change into a different type of lifestyle even than 'relaxed' or 'eclectic'.  The journey gets turbulent at times (well, it has for me).  On the ouside, it may look any different way...busy, hectic, slow paced, relaxed, high pressure, highly structured or loosely structured.  The key differences are on the inside.

I know that despite the fact that I read some John Holt  when I first decided to educate dc outside the school setting, it took a lot of introspection to see the many ways I still had an agenda for my dc.  I still wanted to pour knowledge and information into them; I still wanted to have them love and learn form the great opportunities I would provide.  I still wanted them to know their math, how to read well, spell, etc.  And I admit I even hoped they might excel 'early'. 

For me, it was a real journey of self discovery in examing all the things about school and how they had permeated my thinking.  And a real journey in observing dc and their learning.  A real journey of I trust God to inspire them?  Do I  trust the diverse gifts given by God can be 'enough', even if they don't follow "what your whatever grader needs to kow"?  Can I trust myself enough to really be present with my dc?  To accept, and love them on their own life journey. Do I have it in me to actually *be* the example of  someone they ought to emulate?

And it is a challenge to be this in a society that measures and looks at results, expectations what have you been 'doing'?  Sometimes I don't know - we live, we love, we laugh and enjoy.  Sometimes we work through conflict and difficulty,  Life brings us so many experiences, and it is all worthwhile.

We are fortunate here to have some members who have lived and experienced this for years.  And have felt a desire to provide a place to converse openly with others.


Leonie: I think unschooling implies attentiveness - to the child and her needs, to the family and the season of family life.....I think the time spent in planning lessons in more conventional homeschooling becomes time spent with the child and in attentiveness. And sometimes it means time spent on one's own passions - modeling the following of a passion  and thus that learning happens all the time, throughout life.
I said once that not everyone has to unschool or unschool in the same way. I stand by that. :-) I think there is a definition of pure unschooling ( perhaps Rue Kream's book Parenting a Free Child has such a definition) and then there are definitions like Suzie Andres' one ( in Homeschooling With Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling).
I think we find our own paths and sometimes the paths meet with ideas from Charlotte Mason . Sometimes the paths meet or we re-trace our steps.
Family life, and thus unschooling, for me is never a recipe or a straight flow - it is the ebb and flow, the changing seasons. :-)
I think, for me, unschooling also means questioning my paradigms so, I really question why we might behave one way in parenting or why we might want a maths book ( or whatever). 


Susan: As usual, wise words from Leonie!  I agree that unschooling is not for everyone.  And for those who go this route, I almost wonder if it makes an unschooling family as unique as a snowflake.  Each family constellation made up of unique individuals, and each family group with its own ebbs and flows. (I sometimes wonder if that’s why I find it challenging to find unschooling families irl.  I know of a few in this area, and we are all very different enough that we don’t cross paths often – though it is always lively and fun when that happens.)
I do think that while John Holt coined the term and wrote prolifically, some ideas cross over into others thinking and being with children, discovering how they learn, respecting dc as Jesus did… “ A little child shall lead…”  And many of the ideas that affirm unschooling for me can be found in the writings of many saints.  Also, the historical perspective comes into play…school ‘systems are such a tiny blip on the radar of history, and schools systems in industrialized societies even smaller.  Learning has occurred throughout human history, and our faith informs us that right relationships, loving God in the first place and others – that has a higher importance. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sharing with family

A question that often gets asked on our Unschooling Catholics email list is...what do I tell grandparents? Cousins? Relatives? How do I explain this to my parish priest when Father asks? What do we share about unschooling at family gatherings, especially if everyone seems a bit anti?

I have found that the best approach is just to share all the marvellous things we do...and then gradually ask questions about the other's life and the topic is safely steered. If someone is particularly interested, I will share our learning is life, life is learning approach.

Ultimately, I think the proof is in the pudding.

In the meantime, Julie from Bravewriter has shared  tips in her post on /When they don't get it ....