Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We're Having an "Unschool" Day

Unschooling, for those people who don't know, is a controversial topic, even among other homeschoolers. Unschooling involves little or no "traditional" schoolwork like sitting at a desk doing math worksheets or taking spelling tests. It is very much child directed, with children choosing what they are interested in and learning more about it, with parents facilitating learning opportunities, but not directing the child on where to go with it. They look for learning opportunities in every day life, instead of constructing topics to be studied. Like all forms of education, it's not right for everyone, but it can be done very successfully when it's being done well.
Overall, we are not an unschooling family. While I can understand it's merits, it's just not something I feel comfortable doing full time. Maybe it's the four years I spent in college learning how to be a teacher. But I do use some of the principles. I think all parents do, whether they realize it or not. Our science curriculum especially is very child-directed. I let the kids pick a topic they want to learn more about, and then we work together on finding books, projects, or experiments that help them learn more about it. Kids are naturally curious, and when something interests them, they will learn as much as they can about it, and it will STICK! Little Professor is particularly good at memorizing facts and reciting them back at every possible moment.
Other times, I direct his learning when he doesn't even realize it. I have discovered that while he drags his heels on assigned reading, if I leave interesting looking books next to his bed, he will almost always pick them up and read when he thinks he's supposed to be sleeping. He thinks he's being rebellious, and I get him to read without a fight. It's a win/win!
In general, however, we do spend between one and two hours a day on traditional schoolwork, where we sit at the table and they do have to read, write, and demonstrate concepts they have learned. The rest of the day is open for projects, play, and other activities.
Some days though, like today, my kids take over.
Confession: I am not a morning person. I joke that this is one of my main reasons to homeschool, but there is a grain of truth in that, too.
So, my kids almost always get up before me in the morning. Usually they watch tv or play video games, because they know when I get up, those things are getting turned off. And that's how today started, for sure. But it's also a beautiful day out, so before I was even up, they were already begging to go outside. While they were finishing breakfast, I was still dragging through making my coffee. And they were dressed and ready to go out and play before I was really fully conscious.
So, they went out. They played. They caught bugs. They found interesting rocks and brought them in for me to look at and help them identify (Little Professor was disappointed to learn that there really aren't any volcanic rocks in our area, but decided that metamorphic rocks are almost as cool). We had a mini-discussion on geology. They came in for lunch and then asked if they could play Connect 4 instead of starting schoolwork right away. Connect 4=sharing, taking turns, counting, conversation skills, and visual/spatial awareness. OF COURSE they could play Connect 4! And they did, for over half an hour. Now Little Professor is doing some reading, but also voluntarily. Princess is bugging him to tell her about the story he's reading (Mary Jemison), and Puppy is running around with a bra on his head.
Not every moment has to be about learning ;)

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