Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unique kids

I have very special kids. Each of them have a unique personality with exceptional talent in different areas. When I really think about it, it amazes me.

Kevin, my first born, was just so highly intelligent that the first 3 years of his life made me think that all kids could be this way if just given the right environment to grow up in. You see, from the beginning I believed in treating children as if they had intelligence. We read to him in the womb, we read to him when he was a newborn. We played special music for him in-utero when we went to sleep at night (Brian Eno’s Evening Star, for those who want to know). Later we played this same music to help him sleep at night, or as a calming music for those times of colic.  He was not an easy baby, by far! As my first born I had all kinds of struggles. He never slept more than 20 minutes at a time during the day. Unless it was in the snuggly while I went for walks. But he learned things so quickly. He was holding his head up within the first week and I swear he smiled at 2 weeks of age. You’ve read about his early reading ability. Because I worked in preschools and daycares during his formative years, he was surrounded by learning materials….books, magnetic and felt board sets, educational games, computers (back then it was the Commodore 64!). He grew up so smart. I thought I had all the answers for creating early readers. However, I learned differently.Each child is unique.

I’ve talked about Adam’s amazing music talents. When I think about how he had the freedom and the resources to pursue this talent, it totally validates the unschooling method. At 22 he is getting ready to launch out into the world and see where this talent will take him. We are excited.

Stephanie at 16, is blossoming into a beautiful young woman. She works for our dive shop, is a member of GHSA’s Academic Challenge Bowl team, and currently in the GATE theater program’s Cinderella. In her free time (which she has lots of!) she writes and draws for hours on end. She is polite and friendly and modest. She has a few good online friends and a few real life friends. She has no boyfriend and no bullies. She is not pregnant, nor doing anything that may bring her to into that situation. She is not sheltered or isolated either! She interacts daily with all kinds of customers and people. And she is a great big sister (and little sister too – being the middle child!).

Eric. I’ve written lots about Eric. He’s the child that taught me what it was like to have a real boy! Kevin and Adam were pretty laid back kids when I compare them to Eric. He has always been my “go to” kid,. However, in the past year he has really settled down and matured. To the point that I can actually trust him to be on his own for  a few hours and not worry if he’ll cause trouble. He’ll be 11 in less than two weeks. He continues to be loveable and enthusiastic about life, with an incredible imagination.

Recently he had an opportunity to attend a costume event where he was allowed to dress up in whatever he wanted, as long as it was non-scary. He chose to be a hobo. Not only did he design his own costume, complete with “beanie” (I’d call it a toque in Canada), but he also developed the persona behind the costume. Cardboard the Hobo was created – a down-on-his-luck defense attorney who lost his money gambling. Courtesy of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney video games. For Eric, this kind of imaginative play is so important that it becomes part of his real life. He doesn’t quite get kids who aren’t as into this as he is. Thankfully, little sister Cassie is more than willing to participate! IMG_0279

Eric also has these little tics and thrums. Anyone who has an autistic child, or one with Aspergers, would understand what I mean.  They come and go. A few months ago I was thinking he had outgrown them, but then this past month they came back. I started to try to monitor what makes them happen. He rolls his eyes, jerks his shoulders, stutters, etc. usually when trying to communicate with us. And it happens when he is interested or excited about something. Two things have excited him lately. Getting ready for the costume party, and a new computer program – The Games Factory 2. He is creating his own video game on it. It has a squirrel named Gordon as the main character. Presently he is using a free downloaded version of the game but I will be buying the full version for his birthday.

Because I’ve figured out how the tics come and go, I was wondering how aware he was. So the other day I asked him.

“How often does this happen”

His response: “About once a year.”

“How long does it last?”

“About a year.”

After laughing at his response I finally got him to explain himself and he was letting me know that he could go a year without it happening in between episodes. Still too funny.

Do I worry about these tics? No, not really. I know it is a part of who he is. It is just the way his brain is wired. Part of his uniqueness.

Each child is different.

Cassie, my baby, has finally figured out how to read. I have shared many posts about this struggle. Having had a kid read at 3, and then one that is not reading by age 7, did worry me a bit. Not as much as I’ve seen some parents stress over it. I knew eventually she would get it. She still stumbles on longer words or ones that have strange phonetics, but she is reading and comprehending, and questioning.  Sometimes too many questions. She is also drawing at a level far above her age. In a little over two weeks she will be 8 years old. I’ll probably have to quit calling her my baby!

At present I’m just so proud of my smart, unique, artistic kids. We are truly blessed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Learning Styles

I recently came across an article about the different learning styles. It was complied from several reliable resources and gave a fair description of each learning style, including strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

My first read through of the various styles caused me to squirm. Who would use such a method on a child? This was when reading the “traditional” approach. In other words, re-creating the school in your home.

Strengths included Easy to implement, follows standardized scope and sequence, testing and grading easy, milestones accomplished.

Weaknesses were:

o Doesn't take into account individual learning styles, strengths, weaknesses or interest (Yikes, this is all that I base my teaching on!)

o Assumes that there is a body of info that completes an education and that this can be broken down into daily increments(yeah, who says we need to know this then or now?)

o Treats students minds like containers to be filled with information (Little Robots….)

o Focuses on transmitting info thru artificial learning experiences(And we keep hearing how we need to get back to nature…..)

o Teacher-directed and 'chalkboard' oriented (I smell teacher burn-out….)

o Different ages study different materials(hard to juggle with more than one child)

o Expensive with multiple children (Yup, cost was probably the biggest factor in stopping me from pursuing this method)

o Discourages original, independent thinking (And we all know, my kids are very original thinkers!)

o High burn out rate (Yup, saw this one coming)

Compare those to the Unschooling Approach:


o Takes little planning

o Captures the child's teachable moments

o Children have access to the real world, plenty of time and space to figure things out on their own.

o Children are less likely to become academically frustrated or burned out.

o Children can delve into a subject as deeply or shallowly as they want

o Provides a discipleship model of learning

o Creates self-learners with a love of learning.



o May neglect subjects

o Hard to assess level of learning

o Lacks the security of a clearly laid out program

o Is extremely child-centered

o Difficult to explain to others

o May be overly optimistic about what children will accomplish on their own


Let me just focus  this post on the weaknesses of the Unschooling method and how I refute them all.

May Neglect Subjects – based on whose idea that all subjects need to be taught? Honestly why do we need to do Advanced Algebra? If needed in a career, the unschooler will learn it. If not needed, why waste the time to learn?

Hard to assess level of learning – I hear this all the time. How do you give your kids grades? How do you know if they learned something? Answers – I don’t give grades and I ask them questions. Simple. You spend time with your kids, you listen to your kids and you will know what they do and do not know.

Lacks the security of a clearly laid out program – Only an issue if that is what you want. For me, it’s no big deal. There was a time in my homeschooling life when a clearly laid out program made me feel secure, but I have come a long way from those days and no longer need that security blanket.

Is extremely child-centered. – And this is wrong because? I have no problem with my child’s learning being child centered. After all, it had created “The Long Dark” which will be a musical masterpiece in its time.  (My son, Adam’s music). Education of a child is all about the child! He/She needs to be free to become whom God planned for them to be.

Difficult to explain to others – Okay, I’ll concede on this one because no matter what I say, there are those out there who will not understand. But every once in a while I’ll find someone willing to listen and take some of my ideas to heart.

May be overly optimistic about what a child will accomplish on their own – Here is where the biggest misconception about the unschooling method abounds. That we leave our children alone to do whatever they please. The truth is, a good unschooling home is educationally rich. Our house is strewn with learning opportunities all around. My book shelves spill over with books, the craft shelves abound with paper and craft supplies, the game cupboard is stuffed with teachable games.  If a child shows an interest in something we do whatever we can to inspire that interest and provide the learning material for them. Because we do this, our children have a vast array of interests. Some are more focused for a season than others.

But all is good and produces the desired affect. A child who loves to learn. And that is the bottom line and the ultimate strength of our learning style.