Unschooling is a variation of h/schooling, I suppose, though one might say that those h/schoolers with routine and daily structure and curriculum to follow are at one end of the spectrum and those who are unschoolers are on the less common end of the spectrum. The definition of unschooling is, frankly, all over the map, and depending on who you talk to, you'll get a different explanation.
From my perspective, unschooling is learning at home without the use of much/any formal curriculum. Unschoolers typically learn mostly through natural life experiences, including play, games, household responsibilities, personal interests, books, travel, mentors, and social interactions. The idea is that children find learning more meaningful when it is either self-directed or via hands-on, real-to-life experience. Unschooling parents often find that they are better equipped to adapt to differences in how children learn, and would suggest that, just as children reach developmental milestones at different times and ages (eg. when a child begins to walk), children also learn things differently and at different times.
For example, traditional education requires all children to begin reading around a certain age/time; whereas unschoolers (and many h/schoolers, for that matter) would suggest that some children might be ready to learn earlier than that specified age and others later. How unschoolers define what they do has a continuum all to itself - I've certainly learned this in speaking with many people I know who do school this way, to some degree or another. Some are radical in their approach, where kids are provided no structure whatsoever regarding their schooling and left rather to their own devices. I've met a few amazing teens in recent months who have grown up this way...it's utterly fascinating. Other unschoolers are more eclectic in their approach, utilizing some curriculum along with a broad spectrum of life experiences to teach.
One commonality amongst unschoolers seems to be a more interest-based approach to learning - which is often more child-directed than otherwise.
Now, before I move on, I think it's important to note (at least to myself!) that I am not a h/schooling mom who believes that her child's education should be child-dictated. Although I have met some utterly amazing and radically unschooled children over the past while, and although I have huge regard for unschooling parents who enable their children's education largely through self direction, this precise approach won't work for me. It's hard enough for me to believe that all things will come together for my kids as they get older, that their development will be spontaneous and natural if provided the right environment...I'm not, by nature or by parenting choice, someone who can leave this entirely up to the children.
I still see myself too much responsible for my children's overall education and I still see myself as needing to take the lead role in providing it. Whether my kids are in the public system, the private system, or being schooled at home, I believe that Geoff and I are responsible for their education. So as we move in the direction of unschooling, and as my children express interest in areas of learning that they would like to pursue, the responsibility will still be mine and Geoff's to determine the appropriateness of that learning direction and how it will be pursued. Where we see holes in their development over time, it will be Geoff's and my responsibility to provide what's needed to fill those holes.
We are going to land a little more on the eclectic (rather than the more radical) end of the u/schooling spectrum this year, which for us means mostly non-curriculum based but not entirely without. I still panic a little when I hear other h/schoolers talk excitedly about the plethora of wonderful curriculums they're using this year, and there are many that I wish I could use because that's still my comfort zone, but I'm going to stick with the new 'plan' for this year. There might be smaller curriculums I incorporate if the kids have an area of interest that would be well served by them, but there's really only one curriculum we'll be using regularly.
The only curriculum I'm not abandoning is a Math curriculum....though I've changed that up, too! I've experienced the least resistance to Math teaching and so I'm going to go with that. I have changed the Math curriculum that I use with Matthew and, for the first time ever, I have now also started Seth and Lizzie on a Math curriculum. I'm hoping that I've chosen well for each of them...but time will tell whether they will work or whether I'll need to find ones that work better.
The kids will also each be engaged in a number of extra curricular activities, some that Geoff and I require of them and some that are purely of interest to them. Here's the list of what they're going to be involved with:
- Piano lessons;
- Gym class;
- Hip hop dance;
- Real foods cooking;
- and possibly curling (we're on a wait list)
Matthew is less enthused this year than any year so far about our h/school gym class (he likely needs a break after four years) so we've said to Matthew that on days when he really doesn't want to participate, we're ok with that and he'll have the option of listening to an audio book on his ipod or doing some reading with me during that time. The three items of huge interest for him on this list are: Hip hop; real foods cooking; and curling.
- Group music class;
- Awana (mid-week Bible program)
- and Soccer.
Seth is very interested in, and excited about, every one of these activities, though mostly about soccer!
- Group music class;
- Gym class;
Lizzie is enthused about all of the above, and would love to add a gymnastics class to the mix, but because she's only six, we're holding off for just a bit...maybe in January.
This may sound like a lot of extra curricular activities. It is. But we're at home during the school day and therefore have flexibility and time to take on these kinds of activities. Most of these activities will take place during the day, and my chauffeuring is aided by the fact that they will all three be in the same skating class, have swimming at the same time, have music and piano lessons at the same time, have gym class at the same time, and so on.
So, we're on board for these outside activities as well as with a Math curriculum.
Beyond that, well...our learning program for the year is a little on the loose side! AAHHH!
I'm going to continue to read out loud as extensively as I can, which all of the kids enjoy now. To date, I've focused mostly on reading fiction out loud...and that's been great to cultivate imagination and a love of listening to stories.
I will also now be incorporating a lot more non-fiction reading, and in this reading I want to pursue areas of interest to the kids.
Focusing on some of the kids' areas of interest is a primary way we're going to pursue schooling this year. Whether it involves project work, my reading out loud, doing crafts or science experiments around an area of interest, getting involved in initiatives outside the house, or whatever, I want to help the kids explore things that are interesting to them, hoping that the more they engage in learning about something that fills them with curiosity and questions, the more they will learn all of those facts and skills they will need as they get older.
The more I intentionally try hard(er) to listen to what my kids are saying, the more I realize how easily and unintentionally I by-pass many of the little things they talk about as being interested in. Instead, I've focused, with the best of intentions, on teaching them, and what I've concentrated on teaching them has had far more to do with what their like-age peers are learning at school than what they really need and want to learn. Rather than cultivating their natural interests and pursuing them with the things that engage their minds and attention, I've been preoccupied with teaching.
That's going to change. Despite my terror, I'm prepared now to make changes in how we learn at home. In fact, we've started already.
It's going to take time to get into a groove. I have three very different children with very different and unique interests, and this will be both challenging and more labour/time intensive for me.
But I'm beginning to feel a little excitement in the air about the whole thing, and the look in Matthew's eyes when I told the kids that we were going to be doing things a little differently around here...well, that look said it all...surprise, relief, excitement, intensity. I'd barely finished talking before the ideas started to come...from all three.
That look, that conversation, were what generated my own excitement.
After all, there's something in this for me, too...
(to be continued)