Thursday, January 11, 2007

I was looking for something this morning and came across something I had written about 5 years ago. Thought I would share it. I tweaked it a bit, a better reflection of where we stand now.

Now when many people think of homeschooling, they think of traditional school at home, where the children are pouring over textbooks and mom is standing over them teaching from some preset lesson plan. That was what I envisioned before we ever embarked on our homeschooling journey over 6 years ago. At the other end of the homeschooling spectrum there are those who unschool or, better put, believe in child-led, interest driven life learning. Unlike the image the word unschooling conjures in many people's minds, it is not children running wild all day (although it happens on occassion!) , eating ice cream for dinner (well, only if they didn't eat it for breakfast and lunch too!), watching TV until all hours of the night (turn the volume down, dad's asleep, and move over so I can have some room on the couch) and not being able to read when they are 12 years old (Grant mastered this on his own at 10!). It is parents and children working together to explore their interests. It is hands on learning. Through our homeschooling adventures we have evolved from traditional school at home (which lasted a week ...the end marked by the 9-11 tragedy....and drug into a month of more relaxed school at home) to a much more relaxed unschooling family.

As I tell the district each year, we strive to have a curriculum that is interest driven; that is, based on the interests of our children (and whose to say that baseball or dance can't be as much of a teaching moment as reading a geography book?). With our gentle guidance (read this as hands off, no pushing from mom or dad) our children choose what, when, and in what manner they learn. We want them to be active participants in their learning, not passive receivers. It is our belief that through this process our children's self-esteem will be preserved, they will value learning, and they will be empowered to make decisions that are best for themselves throughout their lives. We believe that the most developmentally appropriate curriculum for them is one based on their interests and needs. We feel we need to be flexible enough to change as they change. Because children do not naturally divide the world into subject areas (language, math, art, etc.), our curriculum is inherently integrated. Our children may pursue their interests as in-depthas they desire and for as long as they remain interested (hours to months). We find that one interest will lead naturally to another or that manycohesive interests may be pursued simultaneously. We encourage them to set goals and follow them.

So you are now sitting here reading this and scratching your head wondering how in the heck we know if our children are learning anything. We know theyare learning because they show us and tell us they are. We know they are learning because they can tell you about the things they have been exposed to. How can you doubt they are learning geography when they take plastic planes and fly them across the map hanging on the wall and tell you the names of the places the plane visits or when they can pinpoint the city that each major league baseball team plays in? How can you doubt that they understand animals and their habitats as they walk quietly through the woods, gently flipping overlogs and rocks in the hope that they will see a family of salamanders? A visit to a pioneer village with frontier re-enactors sticks with my children much longer than any chapter in a history book, and when my young child relays to my husband that the "man weared no shoes" I know that at least something from our outing has stuck with him (for those of you who don'tknow, because I certainly didn't until I went to the re-enactment, pioneers in the Ohio area rarely wore shoes because they were too time consuming to repair each day. It was much easier to go barefoot than to spend your evening mending your animal hide shoes). I have learned more hands on with my children than I ever learned as a child sitting in a classroom, this coming from a woman who graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA and in the top 5% of her class. I read books because I was told to but retained little of their essence, memorized formulas for tests but since they were never related to anything in the "real" world, I quickly forgot them. The only things I remember well where those things I touched, enteracted with (like on the rare fieldtrip) or actively participated in (like the Havard Model UN). Why for one minute, would I assume my children would be any different.

Given our philosophy on learning, it is probably easy to understand that we don't believe in tests. If I want to know if my children have learned and mastered a concept I do not need a piece of paper to prove it to me. I can ask them, I can watch them. Unlike a teacher in a traditional classroom that needs to use a test to gauge if her entire class (or most likely half of her class) has learned the concept she has presented,I am afforded the luxury of being able to see, one on one, that mastery has taken place. So in the life of an unschooled child, testing holds no meaning.


Valerie said...

I wonder how many homeschooling families drastically changed their approach following the 9/11 tragedy.

As you know, it affected us in much the same way it affected you guys. Since that time, though, we've gone through waves of more-directed and less- (or non-) directed learning, and have finally come to a comfortable, relaxed place.

To those who school-at-home, we probably appear to be unschooling, and to the unschoolers, we would most likely seem rather structured. :-) What matters most is finding not only what works for your kids, but also what keeps you, as a home educating parent, happy and (relatively) sane.

The blessing of home education is having the freedom to live life on *your* schedule.

Laura said...

Hi there,
I'm Laura too, and also a thirty-something midwest mama to two unschoolers. :-) Got to your blog somehow, I think via Live Free Learn Free? I went to the one in St. Louis, did you? Perhaps we crossed paths. Anyhow, I enjoyed this post and so picture me here, with my warm cuppa tea, nodding my head in agreement with all you say. And, I have a blog too! Hey, we should be friends, eh? :-) Happy Unschooling to you & yours! ~Laura

Leslie said...

I enjoyed this post very much too. We unschool and my son gets to go on more field trips in a week than I went on my first 20 years of life!

I've learned more at home with my son the past 2 years than I ever learned in school! He is still excited about learning, but you won't find many schooled kids who are.
Thanks Laura,