Monday, October 27, 2008

Explaining Unschooling

The following essay was originally published on Gather, a writing place for uh...writers. I was browsing through my old posts and came across this one and felt it needed to be moved over here. So with no further ado I present.....Explaining Unschooling.

Recently I found myself wanting to explain exactly what unschooling is all about to various friends and fellow homeschoolers. However, I find it to be such a difficult task. How do you explain that learning is living? Everyone is so indoctrinated into believing that children must attend some form of "school" and that they must by "taught" by a "teacher". I even read an article that stated that unschooling would violate most state homeschooling laws because the laws state that the parent must be the primary teacher of the core curriculum. I suppose the assumption is that if you are unschooling you are not using a "core curriculum" and that you (the parent) are not "teaching".

So let's define "core curriculum". My definition is the subjects you teach your children and the content of those subjects. For unschoolers, who believe learning is a natural state of being, then the subject is whatever your child is interested in at the time and the content is what he learns about the subject.

Take my son, 8yo, for instance. He became fascinated with Calvin and Hobbes comics when he was about 5 1/2. At the time, he wasn't a reader, so he just looked at the cartoons, asked us to read the ones that interested him, and proceeded to copy the cartoons in his own drawings. He also wanted to know all about tigers and the concept of an imaginary playmate. "Why does everyone think Hobbes is a stuffed tiger mom? He looks real to me!"

By 6 1/2 he had learned to read and proceeded to devour his Calvin and Hobbes books. In the process he learned vocabulary words and concepts way beyond his age level. He skipped over reading the "cat sat on a hat" type books and went straight into reading "Calvin wakes up one morning to find he no longer exists in the third dimension. He is 2-D". This prompted Eric to ask about dimensions and to learn about spatial relationships. Look also at the words he read -- "dimension", "exists", "morning"-- much more than the usual 3-letter word you read in regular phonics books.

What about the parent being the "primary teacher" part? Let's see. I provided the Calvin and Hobbes comics. I read them to him when he didn't know how to read. I explained the concepts to him that he didn't understand. I provided the paper and crayons he needed to draw his own comics.What more should a teacher do? Seems to me I fulfilled the roll of "primary teacher".

Do we start each day with Math from 9:00 to 9:30? Reading from 9:30 to 10:30? No....math occurs when the kids want to know how many eggs to put in the pot for boiled eggs if each child wants 2 (multiplication). Math occurs when they do a treasure hunt for loose change around the house and then add up who found the most money. Math occurs when they collect shells on the beach and compare who's shells are larger or smaller. It can happen at 8am in the morning or at 10pm at night.

Reading is an ongoing, every minute of the day task. There are books in the bathroom, books at the kitchen table, books in the car, books on their bed, books in the living room. Video games require reading skills. Cooking directions are a reading skill. Choosing a soup to eat for lunch requires reading of the label so they don't get that nasty "asparagus" stuff.

As for science and social studies? Lately my kids have been watching Simpson episodes. Would you believe they are learning all kinds of science and social studies information from these? There was the science fair episode, the president episode, one on the Salem witch trials, just to name a few that I can remember. Even the heart attack episode prompted a serious discussion with my son on what the heart does and how it works.

And books. What would we do without books? My children learn the most by reading or being read to. They enjoy fiction, non ficiton, historical fiction, science books, travel books. One of the best investments I ever made was in a series "Let's read and find out about science". I bought these books for my first born son through one of those book clubs. They have lasted through all five of my children and have taught them interesting facts about bats, tornadoes, snow, rain, hiccups, and numerous other things.

My children may not know what a subordinate clause is, but they know how to use one correctly in a sentence. They may not know all the presidents of the United States, but they can name all the animals in RedWall. They may not know where Arizona is in relation to Texas, but they know how to look it up on a map.

Unschooling works as long as you provide an educationally rich environment. That is my philosophy anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Unschooling Success Story

My oldest son, Kevin, is the reason I unschool. He is now 23 and in the Air Force. But the story started way back when he was around 12. Or perhaps it goes back even farther than that! He was always a precocious child teaching himself to read at age 3. By the time he was 12 we had tried all of the various curricula out there - ACE PACEs, Alpha Omega, ABeka, unit studies, a computer based name it, we tried it. He hated it all! He wanted to learn what he wanted, when he wanted. I had a new baby at the time so was busy and stressed and told him to go ahead and teach himself then!

Well, Kevin went on to teach himself computer programming, HTML, web design, C++, Perl, Java, and a slew of other programming languages. All we did was supply him with the tools to learn - books and computers. When he was in 11th grade we put him in a private Christian school (I was working there) and within 2 months he was promoted to 12th grade and graduated a year early. He became an apprentice for a company that did videos for Japanese tourists and he learned video editing, did all their computer programming for them, and also learned business management and bookkeeping. He decided to join the Air Force and so just after his 22nd birthday, moved to the states to start his basic training. By this time he had "burned" himself out on computer stuff (or so he says) and because he wanted to get off of Guam, took the first job opening that came up - Power Production. Which means he works on generators.

It's been over a year now, and Kevin is excelling in the military. He has risen to the top of his crew and manages them all, even those who are higher ranking than him. He has also begun to take advantage of the free college education afforded by the military.

In order to get his degree faster, Kevin has been doing CLEP tests. A CLEP test is where you test out of a course based on your life experience and knowledge. So far he has CLEPed English, Technical Writing, Managing and Supervising (not sure exactly what this course was called), just to name a few. His next one he plans on taking is Astronomy.

What makes this so amazing is that Kevin does not study for these exams. He looks to see what is available, thinks about what he knows and signs up and takes the test. And aces them. Why Astronomy next? He figures he knows a lot about the stars based on all the science fiction books he has read. He doesn't read science fantasy - but hard-core, fact-based, science fiction books. I figure he will ace that test too.

Why is he able to do so well on these tests? One of the main reasons is because he is well read. He has been reading since he was 3 remember? That is a lot of books over his 23 years of life. Not only does he read, but he knows how to research. When he was in 11th grade he discovered he had some gaps in his math. So after school he would come home, look online for math tutorials and taught himself about 4 years worth of math in a little over 2 months. He is fascinated with words and language so has taught himself Spanish and Japanese, and knows the etymology of most words.

Now Kevin may be an exception. I'm sure his IQ is "up there". But I feel that unschooling him was the best thing I ever did. It gave him the opportunity to learn what he wanted to learn, and as a result retain that knowledge more than if he had been forced to learn things that didn't interest him.

My other children have their own success stories. Eventually I will share them here as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where do curls come from

My daughter Cassandra (Cassie) has beautiful blonde ringlets. They hang half way down her back in golden curls. When brushed out they are wavy lines of soft down. Her hair is still baby fine and tangles easily. And of course she has her older sister's sensitivities when it comes to hair brushing. Needless to say we sometimes neglect brushing as often as we should because I hate to cause my baby pain. A few weeks ago, Cassie's hair had really gotten out of hand. It was clean, don't get me wrong. She swam daily and her hair was always being washed to get the sand and sea salt out. But not brushed after wards. Eventually the "rat's nest" in her hair really could house a small mouse.

One night I went to a lady's night out. My husband was out too for some reason and we both ended up home around the same time. When I walked in the house I saw Cassie siting on the living room floor watching or playing a video game. Her hair was neatly brushed and hung in smooth golden waves.

"Wow, who brushed your hair?" I asked her.

Stephanie, my 14 yo came out of the kitchen and admitted to the task.

"I saw a brush and said, 'Cassie, let's take care of this mess' and I brushed it."
"Were there tears?"
"Oh yeah, but I tried to be gentle."

From the queen of tangles, this was quite the remark. Takes a sensitive scalped person to deal with a sensitive scalped person I guess.

And after all, I deserve it. I gave my mom such a fuss over my hair. My girls were doomed to inherit the same issues.

Tonight I aso discovered proof that I also passed on the ringlet gene.