Sunday, March 7, 2010

Unschooling

Believe nothing
no matter where you read it
or who has said it,
not even if I have said it,
unless it agrees with your own
reason and and your own common sense.
~Budda

My children have grown up as "unschoolers". Rather than wake early to rush off to school, they follow their individual time clocks of when to awaken each day. Rather than stopping a good book because "reading time" is over, they have the choice of reading, drawing, playing or problem solving all day. They have a relaxed life. They have time to figure out who they are now and what they want to become in the near future. They guide their education while I play the part of the facilitator helping them find what they need or where they want to go.

The older my kids get the more often I find myself patting myself on the back for following what felt right to me when Alexander was only five years old. I believed that children are naturally curious human beings and when we don't force them to learn they will pursue those curiosities. Both kids remind me daily that what I believed then is still what I believe today.

At the end of the summer Alexander shared with me that he wanted to improve his reading and writing skills as well as follow a math book. I listened and he now makes sure I stick to a daily schedule of "school work". Before this time all learning came from play, TV/video games, discussions, museums, friends, family, Internet, etc. Along with following a math book, which is kind of dry in my opinion, he is now in charge of keeping track of our grocery spending and making sure I stay within budget. He actually has great ideas on how to reduce our spending. He created his own chart and will be figuring out how much I am spending on my diet, how much we spend on non-food items and how much is spent on what we call "non-essential items". He is learning through real life experiences.

To improve his reading we chose reading materials that interest him - WWII. He is fascinated with Hitler's strategies in occupying different countries as well as WWII aircraft and weapons. While he likes more of the strategic parts of history, I enjoy the personal stories. What I have found with unschooling is that you have to balance the line of what your child is interested in learning and what you feel is important or interesting. Right now what is working for us is that we read the non-fiction books about WWII together and then I share tidbits from the books I have been reading about Holocaust survivors as they apply to our reading. He sees my sincere interest in learning about these people and learns about them through me while I find interest in the information he finds outside our reading about WWII weapons. We learn together and from each other. Never in my life did I think WWII weapons and aircraft would be so interesting.

As unschoolers our schedule is pretty relaxed. This means different things for different unschoolers. For us it still means we like to wake up and follow a planned schedule for the day. All three of us need to know what lies ahead for us each day rather than spontaneously living hour to hour. If we find that we need more time to complete something we are flexible, but overall we like to have control over our day.

Both Alexander and Sophia are good managers of their time. Their personalities vary a bit here where Sophia likes to live in the moment and Alexander is always thinking ahead. Each day we discuss jobs we have such as walking the dog, dog sitting, homeschool group, grocery shopping, friends, "school work", etc. Once each of us knows what we want to accomplish for the day, we complete them in a fashion that works for us. Alexander likes to get all his "jobs" over early so he can relax and not having anything to worry about. Sophia on the other hand likes to relax first and do jobs at the end of the day. It is almost like she gets a rush out of waiting until the last minute. Either way, they both always complete their jobs.

Here is a typical Tuesday morning for them when I am out of the house:
Wake up
Make/eat breakfast
Walk Izzy
Complete dog sitting jobs in the neighborhood
Make lunches for all three of us to take to homeschool group
Be ready to go at 11:30 when a friend picks them up.

I have always believed that family responsibilities are important. I think we all like to feel loved, but we also like to know we are needed. When I go to the grocery store without my kids, clerks inquire why they are missing. They have just always been a part of this living experience. Last month when I picked up our monthly order of meat both kids had an outing at a friend's house, but both checked to make sure I would be alright alone. Sophia ended up going with me even though I told her I would be fine. She cares for me and she knows as a family member she is needed.

Here the kids shovel the driveway for me before walking Izzy on a 2 mile walk!

As we move along on our unschooling journey, we find many wonderful things. We find that sometimes we are bored. I believe boredom is a good thing. Sometimes our minds need time to relax without a lot going on to figure out the next project we want to learn about. I do the same thing. I read and read and read about health until I can't take another piece of information. I then read fictional books that have absolutley nothing to do with health or watch hours upon hours of TV and then my mind is back to being curious about the next important thing. As adults we accept this about ourselves, but panic when our children go through similiar periods of boredom.

My children set the guidelines for what, when and how they learn. Many times I have looked at their "schooled" peers and realized that in many areas they don't know the same information, but then I only have to look at what they know that their peers don't and I have no worries. We each have our own interests and our own curiosities. Having the freedom to pursue those that are important to us is so fun and rewarding. I have to laugh because at 11 years old Sophia constantly has books reserved at the library for her. Many of the books she has learned about from online friends and many others from researching a subject. She loves writing. She spends a lot of time online and has become the family expert on the "ins" and "outs" of Facebook. She likes to manipulate the photos she takes and is quite creative. She has found the areas that interest her which consequently tend to blend with subjects she never thought she would be interested in.

Unschooling is a way of life for us. We don't think of education in terms of an 8-4 school day, but rather as part of living life. We are always learning. We are always moving forward. When we allow children that freedom, amazing things happen. I am so proud of the unschooling journey we have made together as a family.