Wednesday, November 16, 2011

some thoughts on unschooling

Before I get even further behind on this blog (and trust me, I'm fairly well behind....), I know that at least a few of you have been waiting ever so patiently for me to follow up on my mention of having experienced a bit of radical unschooling recently. So this is for you. :)

Radical Unschooling is the name for a fairly popular form of homeschooling, where the child chooses how to spend his/her time each day and learns all of his/her life skills from actually living life, rather than having been directed there by a teacher. The parent serves as more of an enabler, making sure the child has access to a vast variety of experiences, but they let the child decide for themselves what they want to pursue and how they want to pursue it.

What I do with my kids during the normal course of our homeschooling lives in no way resembles Radical Unschooling. I've personally always been a big unschooling proponent -- I think for typically developing kids, it's a very valid approach and can have simply amazing results. (It also appeals to me because I'm lazy, despite what it might look like on this blog.) I moved away from usnchooling (which I had originally planned on) because I felt that it was not the best choice for me and my particular kids.

But 10 days of living elsewhere, with absolutely zero structure to our days, has led me to rethink whether or not it would work even in our situation.

With 10 days of nothing but time on their hands, what did my kids choose to do with their time? Well, lots of pretend play, reading, and game playing happened of course. But other trends began to emerge as well.

Zoo Boy decided to do some drawing, just for the fun of it. This is shocking on several levels. First, Zoo Boy supposedly "hates" to draw. He finds working with the media frustrating and difficult. He doesn't like to be strapped to a table and chair for longer than absolutely necessary. So he's always tried to get away with as little drawing as he can. Which, of course, is why I require drawing of him -- my focus is to strengthen those areas where my kids are the weakest, on the theory that they otherwise would not choose to work on it.

Looks like I might have been wrong about that.

In the above drawing, Zoo Boy drew an owl (on it's daytime perch) being mobbed by crows and blackbirds. He was inspired by something he read in one of the zillions of books available to him at our friends' house. (We have zillions of books here too, of course, but he's already read them all, whereas shelves full of books he's never seen before inspires all sorts of things!) Not only did he draw this, but he and one of the girls we were living with decided to created an eagle's nest out of bed pillows and blankets, and then took turns being eggs hatching into chicks and being the parent eagles hunting and returning with food for the chicks.

Meanwhile, J, having been attracted by some math books, decided to mess around with percentages. (Something I'd not introduced to them yet, nor plan to introduce for at least another year, maybe two.) He walked around the house observing and commenting on various things in regards to their percentages. For instance, in the above scenario, he said "66 percent of the children in this room are playing 'eagle's nest'; 33 percent are figuring percentages. 25 percent of the children in this house are not in this room. So 50 percent of the children in the house are playing 'eagle's nest,' while 25% are figuring percentages." (Personally, I just turned to the other adult in the room and whispered "yikes.")

Even after we returned home, the unschooling continued. I had too much to do, and was too discombobulated from our time away, to jump right back into our normal schooling rhythms, so we wound up with a full 14 days of unschooling. J continued his math explorations, and in the above drawing is showing me the various sorts of quadrilaterals (he named them all, too).

Which was all fine and well, until he delved into more advanced geometry:

What the....?????

Ok, this is way (WAY) beyond me. I guess it's trigonometry anyway, which I honestly never had a grasp on. He TRIED to explain it to me, but I can't say I could completely grasp it. Not even enough to describe to you what it is. It's something to do with the formula to find the area of a triangle, and he even did out the math to prove the formula to me, but honestly, it's a bunch of goblety gook to me. J even understands the concept well enough to make a joke about it (which went right over my fluffy little head, I can only imagine it was as clever and funny as he thought it was). My intention has always been to send my kids to community college when it's time for stuff like this, so a real professor of math can talk with them at their level. Looks like I'd better stick with that plan.

Again, yikes.

Meanwhile, both kids are absolutely in love with chemistry and the periodic table. So being the good little unschooling mom (ahem) that I am, I went ahead and ordered them the books they wanted on those topics. Here they are, gleefully perusing the periodic table and referring to information about the individual elements.

So, what does this all mean in regards to our current homeschooling program?

Not a whole lot. I always knew my kids would learn, even without my direct guidance. It's why I've never worried when we've gone through periods where we just can't seem to get to to our schoolwork for one reason or another. But it doesn't mean I'm going to change what I'm already doing with them. For one thing, it makes me feel good to be involved and stay on track with what they are learning. I also still believe that working on areas of challenge is the best approach for my kids. And I see no reason not to have time set aside for them to work on actual skills such as handwriting and basic math functions.

But really, if I had to stop "schooling" my kids tomorrow, I think they'd be just fine.


Map Man said...

For those who are curious, the drawing with the single triangle and equation is a presentation of the Pythagorean Theorem which defines the mathmatical relationship of the length of the sides of a right triangle. He showed this to me too and told me the clever "joke". I liked it, but I'm also a geek.

Anonymous said...

When I read this post, I wanted to know what the math joke was. Now that I've read the above comment, I need to know what the joke was.;)
Let's just say that Math was my first language, and English was my second language.

Carolyn said...

Thanks, I was interested to hear your thoughts on unschooling after your previous comments. I keep vasillating between Enki, Classical and unschooling, luckily bub's only 10mths old! You might think about getting your son a copy of Euclid's Elements to work through, he'd enjoy it!