Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A little "unschooling"

So most folks know that our family plans are to have our boys learn at home with us rather than attend a local public or private school. Although the execution of this endeavor will be totally new ground for John and me, the reasons that drive us have been percolating for some time. I think I will reserve the bulk of my thoughts and ideas on that for another post. The very condensed version would have to include my argument that we have a flawed educational system in our country. It seems like despite most efforts (longer school days/years, more emphasis on core academics, standardized testing, pre-K programs, etc), as a whole, we still don't have much to show for our efforts and we fall behind most other developed countries. And I'm not trying to say that I believe the mark of Aidan and August's ultimate academic success will be that they can compete with the Japanese. The problem, I believe, is that we try to apply one method of doing things to all children, when all children learn in different ways. I like the idea of being able to follow my kids' lead and adapt to their interests and strengths. My boys already have a love of learning and I don't want that to get squashed amid all the other trappings of school life (bullies, pressure to fit in, focus on things that aren't really important in our world view, and just general busy-ness). I recognize the need, however, for kids to relate to other kids, and thus I won't keep my kids isolated from the world. That's where things like scouts, church, and volunteering in the community come in. I want my kids to be able to relate as easily with a senior citizen as they do with a fellow 6 year old. Plus, I guess I just don't agree that people should learn very particular things in specific grades.
So, this will be new ground for all of us. It will probably mean that we explore subjects not typically assigned to 5 year olds or that we exhaust a particular subject of interest to the -nth degree. Regardless, I still see it as a great adventure. Hopefully, the boys will too. In all of my research regarding homeschooling, I've come across many different approaches, philosophies, and attitudes. And many have resonated with me. I love the teachings of Charlotte Mason (quoted above) that emphasize learning through the reading of "living" books and is heavy on nature study. Classical approaches also grab my attention, especially since John was a Classics/Philosophy major in college. And then there is the "unschooling" approach, which essentially balks at all of the structured forms of learning with which we are familiar and aims to stand all tradition on its head. The fact that this latter approach even appeals to me in the slightest is really curious since in most areas of my life I am a classic rule follower and like to do what I'm told. But something about embracing learning at home has caused a slightly subtler part of my personality to emerge. It is the side that doesn't want to buy any particular curriculum or do exactly what any one other person is doing with their kids. And that is exactly what gets me so pumped about this whole endeavor. I have that freedom. I don't have a state standard that I have to meet in a particular way. I don't have a certain district's historical educational format to follow. It's incredibly liberating. And it's incredibly frightening. That's why this year is particularly precious to me regarding homeschooling. We are not legally bound to anyone to show anything for our efforts (age requirements for officially registering for homeschooling don't go into effect until 6) and Aidan is still "young enough" to not get too much pressure from others to "do something" with all of our time. So we are just working this out as we go along. Thus, the above picture. Aidan came to me and said, "I want to experiment and see what things float and what things don't." We've done this exercise a couple of times before. In fact, I'm pretty sure the first time it was attempted was with my mom, while John and I were out of town. But each time, he tweaks his floating craft a bit, literally testing out the waters. I have done nothing formal as a follow up to his inquiries. I simply ask a few questions about what he is doing. Essentially, this is the heart of "unschooling" but I still have my doubts about what we are accomplishing and/or what he is learning. This is not how I "did" school all my life, that's for sure. It's weird to stand back and not offer up my knowledge. But it certainly is fun to watch him try to figure things out. I'm sure this is the first of many "letting go" moments.

1 comment:

  1. You know how much this strikes a chord with me. The title of the picture has the David Letterman 'Will it Float' song rambling off in my head!