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.


April said...

Very nicely explained.

unschoolermom said...

I love it! Some of the best things in life are difficult to explain.