Friday, November 15, 2013

Update, Math, Emergent Play (Neufeld) and Other Kitchen Sink Kind of Stuff

I can't believe it's been a week since I've posted anything here.  How does that happen?!  Had someone asked I would have said that my last post was about the day before yesterday!

I guess it's just life that happens sometimes, intruding on other interests.  I've got so many posts half written (more than 80!) but the majority I haven't had time to complete and a few I've concluded will never see the light of day because they're just a little too provocative or a little too private.

Our week has been a little scattered, and hasn't included much math work.  We spent Remembrance Day together as a family; enjoyed lots of play/visiting time with friends; participated in all of the usual extra curricular activities; visited a favourite local environmental preserve and went for a good walk on the grounds during a beautiful late fall day; endured a doctor's appointment for Seth (the last, finally, of all of the vaccinations he has needed in order to catch up on his vaccination schedule...he had received no vaccinations ever prior to coming to Canada and has been on a slow schedule of catching him up...and now, YAY, poor kid, he's done!); and so on.  This morning we'll make a trip to the library to pick up a couple of books we ordered, attend to a couple of downtown appointments, and then spend the afternoon in music/piano lessons, having tea with a friend, and racing out to Seth's soccer.

Math Shmath...that's what I figure during weeks like this.  We're doing great!

In the approx. 10 weeks we've been using only Math for curriculum, Matthew has completed around 41 lessons, which is more than I'd hoped for at this point of the year.  And let me tell you, he's learning stuff!  I'm working through Saxon Math with him and, for those who aren't familiar with the Saxon program, it's a pretty rigourous program:  It's a program that requires a pretty consistent and ongoing effort in order to complete all 140 lessons for the year; it uses lots of repetition to help a child really learn and ingrain what's being taught; and every lesson adds something new to what s/he's already learned.

I'm using Saxon Math with Seth and Lizzie, as well, both at the Kindergarten level.  Lizzie has completed over 40 of the 112 lessons for the year and is doing well.  Seth has completed almost 60 of the 112 lessons for the year and he'll comfortably be done sometime in January, at which point I'll move on to Saxon 1 with him.  I'd thought he might actually be done his Kindergarten level math by Christmas time, but I have done very little Math with him in the past two weeks.

The main reason for not doing a lot of Math with Seth recently is because he's been playing so well!  These are the weeks when I'm so glad that my kids are at home during the day, and so glad that we're unschooling, because we have this kind of flexibility.

Seth has been so beautifully engaged in emergent play these last two or three weeks, and this is waaay more important for his brain development than any math I could be teaching him.

As a bit of a tangent...

Emergent play, to borrow from Dr. Gordon Neufeld's work, is essentially three things:

1. It is not work!  In other words, during emergent play the child is not working towards a goal (eg. playing a video game, even playing a board game to win, is working towards a goal and so is not emergent play); instead, the play is for pure pleasure and the child is engrossed in the energy of the playing.

2. It's not for real - it's imaginative and the regular rules of life don't apply.  (For example, two siblings could be playing house and playing roles other than the ones they have in real life - maybe that of a parent, or of an older sibling, etc.)

3. It is expressive and outflowing of energy.  Emergent play is different than being entertained or stimulated (so it doesn't include tv and it doesn't even include reading) - it's play that is freedom from 'have tos' and it is not goal driven.

Emergent play is really, really important in brain growth and development and so when I see my kids engaged in it, I typically delay (or cancel!) any schooling plans.  This is an area where Seth has clearly taken time to develop, given his past, and something that he has needed to learn.  I've worked hard at providing space for him (and the other two!) to learn how to play in this way.  I provide time as well as stuff (often left lying around the house) to foster emergent play and, increasingly, Seth engages in it entirely of his own making.

Perhaps the reason for my joy when I watch Seth engaged in emergent play is because I know that periods of emergent play result from freedom from attachment work.  In other words, emergent play only happens in those moments when attachment hunger has been satiated and the attachment drive is at rest.   All children need these times of rest and I believe that children who come from a background such as Seth and Lizzie find it harder to get to this point.

So over the past two weeks (probably even a little longer, to be honest), I've let most of Seth's Math work quietly slide and have loved watching him single-handedly build forts of various designs, use Thomas train tracks to create elaborate routes not for trains but for zhou zhou pets to coast around on, build (with Matthew) ramps and additional levels to their outside fort, draw and use craft supplies to build miniature 'cities' of buildings, and so on and so on.  He has spent hours and hours engaged in emergent play.

What I find interesting is that over the exact same period of time that I've been allowing emergent play to overtake any academic work, Seth has experienced fewer vocabulary/memory gaps than usual; this has been so pronounced that it's stopped me dead in my tracks a few times - so shocked that he remembered a word or phrase that would normally create intense frustration on his part because he just can't remember the words he needs to say what he wants to say.

Anyway, all of that to say that not much math has been done in the past 2+ weeks with the younger two, and that this has been a great thing.

And on that rather abrupt note, I must get going so that I can prep for the day.  I wish you a good one, and a great weekend!

More to come soon.


  1. Hi Ruth,
    I'd love to chat with you about Math sometime, especially the Saxon programme. I feel like Math is sometimes seen as the holy grail, and is certainly the one subject that homeschoolers seem to feel most intimidated by. A few months ago I gave my older guy the placement test for Saxon and there was only one question there that confused him and a programme level above his grade level was suggested. He achieved this with about a total of 2 hours of formal instruction over his 7 year life. Based on that evaluation, I bought my younger one the programme a grade level ahead of where he was "grade-wise" and while we do use it at times, we're often found scratching our heads at how overly simplistic it is. We have yet to meet a challenge. Maybe this is part of the theory behind Saxon? So all this to say that I am really questioning the idea that math (at least at this lower level) can't be or isn't learned very organically. I certainly wish there was more research into unschooling, but I guess that would be difficult since it can mean so very many things to different people. I guess we ARE the research! Scary, but that's life. Anyways, hope you're well and continue to follow along on-line.

    1. The holy grail...hmm...interesting thought about math!! I'm happy to chat about math (and Saxon) any time.

      I agree that many u/schoolers seem to view math as a subject that isn't learned organically as readily as other subjects...I've heard that a lot in the past 6 months as I've learned more and more about u/schooling and the varying degrees of it out there. I suspect that math might well be learned as organically as other subject areas, particularly in these lower grade levels, but to be perfectly honest, I'm just not creative enough to teach math organically all of the time, and don't have the capacity to research more creative ways of teaching it more naturally. So a systematic system to teaching math is, for me, important at this stage. Also, because I think upper levels of math will NOT be as easy to teach organically, I want my kids to have a little practice/background for it in these earlier years.

      I do think you're right about goes very slowly in some respects, adding a piece of the 'puzzle' every day and including lots of repetition. This is seemingly working for us, though. In some areas, I find Matthew and Seth to be well ahead of where I've placed them in the Saxon program - for example, Matthew has been able to tell time, both digital and analog, for about two years, and so we tend to skip these sections of the day's lesson; also, he's perfectly comfortable counting up money and so we use these areas of the Saxon program more as review and practice. In other areas, I've found the repetition of it to be great for Matthew - for example, learning all of his addition facts by memory; being able to count by 2s, 4s, 5s, 7,s, 9s, 12s; etc etc.

      To be perfectly honest, I find Saxon a little rigorous (quite different from your experience) - maybe it's because I'm using it 4-5 times/week with Matthew and seeing that the little chunks that are new every day actually add up to something significant (in terms of learning) after several weeks...for Matthew. It can be a bit of a grind, actually. The rigor, from my perspective, is also to be found in the ongoing repetition of things.

      A few weeks ago I spent 2 hours briefly going through the provincial math curriculum for grades 3 & 4, and compared it to Saxon and found that completion of Saxon level 3 would cover virtually every aspect of both grades 3 & 4 school curriculum and, in many cases, offer significantly more detail/depth than the provincial curriculum. I found that interesting.

      The bottom line is probably that how one teaches math (or any other subject, for that matter) is so kid dependent in terms of what works the best. Your oldest seems to be the ideal h/schooled kid in so many ways - self motivated, learns organically and remarkably readily. Saxon is likely not the program for him.

      Anyway, here I am rambling on and on...we can happily have this conversation next time we see each other.

      Thanks for the thoughts, Tammy!!



  2. Hi Ruth, I just want to let you know that I enjoy your blog. I came across it not that long ago and it piqued my interest because I am a HS mom and we are in an adoption process to Ethiopia (waiting...for referral). thanks for sharing the things you do.
    Sheila Friesen

    1. Hi Sheila, and welcome sounds like we have at least a few things in common!! I've been a little slow on the blogging front of late, but the pendulum will swing back again, no doubt. I hope to learn more about your h/schooling over time, and I wish you so well during your wait for a referral...that's always such a long and challenging time...and so very worth the wait!!

      Blessings, and welcome.