Saturday, April 24, 2010
1:15 AM | Edit Post
It seems that unschooling is widely misunderstood, even by me. I asked my facebook fans "If you could ask an unschooling family anything, what would it be?" and got TONS of responses. My guess is that the general population hasn't even heard of it, and those who have either think they know what it means and truly don't, or just don't have a clue whatsoever. It appears to be a somewhat more familiar concept within the "attachment parenting" community, but there's still a lot of misunderstanding.
Many wonderful women volunteered to be "interviewed" about their unschooling experience. It has been very enlightening for me, and I hope to lift some of the fog that surrounds this issue. My intent is not to convince anyone that unschooling is "THE WAY", but rather just to foster some understanding of something that is so foreign and confusing to many. I chose to interview multiple people, to show you that unschooling doesn't fit inside a neat definition. It is diverse, and complicated, and yet so divinely simple at the same time. For those of you who ARE unschoolers, I hope you'll enjoy reading and relating. This will be done in a series of posts, as it is just too much to cover at once. Stay tuned for more! I hope you enjoy this as much as I have, and feel free to share your thoughts or further questions in the comment section.
First, let's get to know our "panelists":
"I'm Rena, a SAHM to five kids. I am a mostly an unschooler so I decided to go ahead and answer a few questions about it. I do not think unschooling is for everyone. I do not think it IS for everyone. It is just simply what works for our family. The dynamic I have with five kids that were all born within 5.5 years it just WORKS. I still do some "homework" but not a whole lot. In my spare time (you know when I should be sleeping) I make stuff out of duct tape. I also knit, crochet, make bows and clothes for my girlies and in general just craft. Rena's Duct Tape & Stuff Website ~ www.renasducttapeandstuff.com
"My name is DeShanna Neal, I'm the mother of two wonderful children, Trinity and Lucien. They have been unschooling for a little bit of time. We had started with eclectic style, but realized that unschooling was the way to go! Check out my blog on how we do it at: paganschooling.blogspot.com"
"My name is Nichole Langham, I’m 24 and the mother of 3 beautiful children and 1 angel. Timothy is 6, Hosanna is my angel, Seraphim is 19 months and Faith is 3 months. I enjoy sewing/crafting, photography and working on cars. Timothy enjoys drawing, imaginative/creative play, crafting (cutting up an old pillowcase to make it into the “Holy Ghost”), climbing trees and playing with his sister. Seraphim enjoys holding her little sister and helping to care for her, she loves helping with cleaning up and romping outside with her brother, the cats and puppies. Faith enjoys cuddling up, momma’s milk, being held by her sister, talked to by various people and long naps in the afternoon."
"My name is Meredith Ryan- unschooling, stay at home mom of 3 kids, ages 7, 2, and 6 months. I am a trained doula and aspiring childbirth educator who enjoys natural living and instinctual parenting. My family lives in Beaverton, Oregon and we love being out in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest whenever we can!
"My name is Melissa and I have two children. My oldest is 5 1/2 and my youngest is 6 months. I am the oldest of 4 kids and we were all unschooled for our entire school age life. ;) I am unschooling my oldest and will do the same for my youngest as well. Eddie is my 5 year old and he is amazing! He has taught himself to read and write, he LOVES math and is fascinated by all things bones. :) We have a computer that he can use for certain types of games. He has a Leap Frog and a Kids "computer". The programs out now on these type of devices are amazing! As is his thirsty little mind soaking up all he can get his hands on. As long as I am there to answer his questions and to help make sense of certain things he is good to go and progresses at an impressive speed."
"Mamapoekie is a Belgian expat wife and mother of one daughter who is currently living in Ivory Coast, West-Africa. She studied communication sciences before becoming a full time mom and blogs at Authentic Parenting (http://mamapoekie.blogspot.com). Next to being a radical unschooler, Mamapoekie is an attached, babywearing, natural duration breastfeeder and birth activist (among many other little labels)."
Justine: Justine is a doula, midwife assistant, ICAN Chapter co-leader, and founder of State-of-the-Heart Parenting in Erie, PA. She is a mom to five children ranging in age from 3 months old to 21 years old. When she is not unschooling, breastfeeding, attachment parenting or attending births, she blogs at www.StateoftheHeart.net
What is unschooling to you and your family?
Rena: Unschooling to me is not forcing young children to work in a formal school setting till they get older. Is about allowing children to discover the world around them. It is about them getting to learn about a luna moth when they find a big FAT green caterpillar in the back yard and research them to find out what it is. And to watch it cocoon and even if it turns out to not be successful at being a moth because something went wrong they still get to see what happens when they are not able to come out properly. It is being allowed to learn about volcanoes and earthquakes and talking your ears off about where different volcanoes are located and being allowed to ask where is this country? And being able to show them.
DeShanna: For us, it's learning through life and interests that bring us not only knowledge but joy at the same time.
Nichole: At my home, unschooling is allowing my child to be a child. Ugh I hate to hear about my nephew and how he is enrolled in year round school, and is there from 8-4 and then has homework to do on top of it all. I feel so bad for the children that don’t get to play freely and learn who they are or what they are good at. My son spends his day exploring the outdoors, creating scenarios in his own little world of play, climbing trees and playing with his little sister (5 year age gap). When he comes inside he takes advantage of drawing with markers or colored pencils.
Meredith: For us, unschooling is allowing our children to follow the natural path of curiosity to learning. It also means more family time, more time asking and answering questions, and freedom to learn however works best for us without having to compete with 30 other kids for attention.
Melissa: Unschooling to me is child led learning. I will make certain that they know how to read and write but will not force "school" time upon them. I will listen to where their interests are taking them and I will help them find ways to learn more, experience more and in general am there to help and facilitate all questions that may come up.
Mamapoekie: First of all, we are radical unschoolers, the difference being that we apply unschooling to all aspects of life and not just to academics. It is very hard to give a concrete definition of unschooling. It all comes down to a deeply founded trust in your child’s ability and a respect for his person. Instead of treating your child like a piece of property, you are treating him like a real human with rights and wishes and desires that deserve equal consideration. It’s not a top down parenting philosophy… not even a bottom up one, more like a there’s no top or bottom, in the sense that there is no coercion from one party over the other.
How did you decide to unschool?
Rena: I don't call myself a full unschooler just because I want to make sure they learn to read. Learning to read is ESSENTIAL in learning and once they do that the world is open. I know that sounds so cliche but it really does. Other the then that all sorts of subjects are learned just by the nature of our lives. Math is studied by counting and adding spoons. Or by counting the money they are saving. Or even by learning the clock. History is learned by wanting to know everything possible about the Titanic and it's sister ships. Geography is learned when you look where a certain volcano is. Science is learned when you do simple science experiments in the kitchen. Unschooling is a huge way to foster outside the box thinking.
DeShanna: It kind of just happened. We had started with eclectic style, taking every form of homeschooling and working with them, but my kids did not thrive. We slowly slipped into it, I did research, and my children took off! Allowing them to lead, created a very fun, loving and academically filled atmosphere.
Nichole: Nap time, this can be a big help for me to get some of my own interests in during my day. I love it when I can get both girls down to sleep at the same time, though it really only happens a few times during the month. Aside from naps I take advantage of all the kids sleeping at night, sometimes I’m just too tired, but other times I’ll stay up a couple extra hours to do something I enjoy. Home duties… hmmm well those for the most part sit on the back burner at the moment. With two under 2 my life is busy enough with just the kiddos, I don’t see the need to fixate on heavy duty cleaning right now. What does get done is the necessities, laundry, sweeping (most days), dishes, cleaning up after meals and straightening up. Some days I’ll even skip a few of those just so I can do something I enjoy, this helps to preserve my sanity : )
Meredith: The reason I started researching homeschooling was because I'm not comfortable with the government being in charge of teaching my child what they think he should know. I'm also not comfortable with the current state of our public schools and the things kids face there. I feel like generations of kids are growing up too early and in violence and confusion. It's too much to ask for public school teachers to be an ever-present positive role model for my child...so that leaves the other children to be his role models. Considering the wildly differing ideas of what acceptable for children, I wasn't ok with that. Unschooling was and idea that I stumbled upon quite by accident. I'm definitely into attachment and intuitive parenting and the idea behind unschooling felt right to me, based on my ideals for my relationship with my child.
Melissa: I was myself and having seen how my public and private schooled friends have come to view the world as well as the the problems they had to overcome that I did not, as well I just could not put my own children through that. Plus I want to be hands on (or off) in every part of my child's life and want to over see all that they are taking in. I also don't agree with children only learning to communicate with their peer group.
Mamapoekie: By living
Justine: So many reasons...we went the "traditional" route with our first and second kiddos. It was a constant battle to get them up for school, catch the bus, keep up with the attendance policy, navigate the rules and regulations, deal with people (teachers, other parents, admins) who did not share our values (we actually thought kids should be respected and treated compassionately). Some of that sounds really lame...I mean I know nobody LIKES to get up and catch a bus, but it induced soooo much stress and chaos. Ick. Those are really the least important ones though. The big one was the lack of respect for children in general.
How do you get a kid that refuses to do his work to sit down and do it?
Rena: Well In unschooling (at least how I do it) there is not a whole lot of work. But when I do it, mainly to see where they are in certain skill sets, I only have them sit for 20 minuets or so. Sometimes I have to tell them that they will sit there till it is done. Most of the time though it is not work as learning is a natural part of life. I get memberships to museums. I end up with gifts a lot to go to aquariums and such. It can be done anywhere.
DeShanna: You don't. In fact, there have been days when my kids did not want to do “school”. I would simply ask, what they were interested in doing? Some will say, “I want to watch tv or play games.” From there, I go okay and instead of the tv, we go on the computer and watch education videos or play educational games. They're still doing what they want and learning at the same time.
Nichole: Ahhh see this is more of homeschooling than unschooling, because unschooling is allowing them to do it at their pace, thus you don’t encounter a child that won’t sit down to do it, you don’t make them, they will when they are ready. I homeschooled Timothy with a curriculum at the age of four to six. At first it was new and exciting for him, he really enjoyed it and loved the aspects of learning. After about 6 months he grew tired of it and really stopped enjoying learning, the more he wanted to stop the more frustrated I grew. He HAD to do this right? I was so upset thinking I had a stubborn child cause he KNEW how to do the work, but he didn’t want to. I went online looking for help because I was tempted to try spanking him to get him to do his work… I know I know, bad momma! Anyways, I asked for help in the wrong forum, it was an Unschooling forum and at first I thought it was a different word for homeschooling. I looked into it and it all just made so much sense and highlighted what I had been telling my mom and husband already.
Meredith: Unschooling isn't about presenting worksheets and setting deadlines. Sometimes my child will find a worksheet online or in a book that he wants to complete, so he does. But I don't use worksheets to teach my children or reinforce ideas. Right now my son is working on a project about mythical creatures, dragons specifically. He found some coloring sheets online to complete along with some stories and facts about dragon mythology. He spent most of this afternoon coloring the pictures and telling me about what he'd learned in his research. I didn't have to force him to sit down to do it because it's something he's interested in!
Melissa: In my life as a young person and now in my son's life if you let that subject matter drop for a day or two or sometimes longer and don't dwell on it, I find that the issue resolves itself. Maybe it is time to focus on something else. Go to the library, the zoo, take a trip, bring them to work, have grandma take them for a day or two. Talk talk talk. Help them bring into focus things that interest them and then explain how they might not be able to do that as adults if they refuse to finish what ever it is that they are not wanting to do (math skills/reading....)
Mamapoekie: Well, since there is no work in unschooling, and no sitting down for it, there is no need for any of this. Unschooling can be done in all positions :D
Justine: This is just not even on the radar. Leaving behind all of the "training" our society has drilled into us about HOW to learn and what a learning environment looks like is a big part of unschooling. Every moment of our day is learning. Sitting, walking, dancing, hopping, standing, resting, rolling...whatever we are doing has the potential to be be a teachable moment. Sitting is not a requirement. Perhaps an example will work best: My 6 year old, Bug, is a special needs child who scores pretty high on the Aspergers scale. It is not unusual to find her in the morning rolling around all over the bed. Counting how many times we can roll around on the bed while wrapping the blanket around her body is learning for her. She is counting. She is measuring--she knows that she can roll 5 times before she runs out of blanket to wrap around her. She runs to get a tape measure and measures the "around" her body, which I remind her is called the circumference. She then wants to write that number down. She writes it down 5 times and then makes hash marks for each number. She counts all of those and estimates how wide the blanket it is. She wants to compare her estimate with the actual answer. She has just learned a TON and she never sat down for a second. Parents cannot be passive teachers. Every moment is an opportunity to talk, to discuss, to define, to learn, to grow, to identify.
How do u stay on track? Be consistent? And keep up with multiple children and do housework?
Rena: I don't, I am not, and housework is supposed to be done? LOL in all seriousness though DO NOT expect perfection. Do not put soo much pressure on yourself that you go insane. You can not be at the top of your game all the time. The beauty of unschool/homeschool is that if you have to move in the middle of winter no problem. If you get sick for a week. No problem. All I try to do mainly is allow them to be kids. They need that as much as anything else. And when they come to me wanting to learn something I will help them find out about on the internet/at the library and then they go from there. I admit there are times when I am a bit lazy about things. Or just get busy with life. But they are always learning. My second child write his letters WONDERFULLY no thanks to me.
DeShanna: As a mother of two with one on the way AND going to college full time myself, it can be a bit much, but with them taking charge, I often just follow and it has actually allowed me to improve myself in terms of my education. Also, because of how we handle education, life has also become led by us all not as me “mom” and them “kids”, but as us “family” and they help me with housework without argument.
Meredith: This question assumes that there is a "track" we should be on. We don't have a "track", or if we do have one, it's one that is all over the place where you sometimes go backwards, sideways, and spin in circles. We don't strive for a specific brand of forward movement when it comes to learning. Some things are understood after the briefest highlight and some things we spend weeks obsessing over. As far as housework and other kids...well my oldest helps with chores throughout the day because he's not at school and our schedule is very flexible. My other two children do their own thing as well. They are babies and so are just starting to explore play-dough, coloring, toys and such so it's when I have the children doing things I do housework, cook, laundry etc...
Justine: It is all interwoven into the fabric of our day. I wear the baby while we go about our day. We measure when we cook. We spell the ingredients out loud. We read the cereal box in funny voices. We talk about the physics of water boiling, the science of the water/steam/evaporation/condensation cycle. We get dressed and talk about how textiles are made. The mechanics of a sewing machine. We talk about the principles that allow a vacuum to work as we vacuum the floor...it leads to a discussion about the vacuum of space. The kids watch a YouTube video about it while I get the babies ready. We throw in laundry and spend 20 minutes cleaning the house before we go.
How do you unschool multiple children, especially if there is a baby or toddler in the mix?
Rena: I have five kids ranging from 8-2. Only 2 of them would be in school at this point if they were going. There really is no set thing at my house. They just learn. My youngest will tell me something is blue or count to five when he is counting objects. It just happens naturally.
DeShanna: Luckily both my children are close in age, so they are on the same level. When the baby comes in December, not much will change. The beauty of unschooling is that the children hold the key not the parent. My children have become so very disciplined on their own that people think they're older than they are.
Meredith: Since unschooling is all about letting your children be curious and follow that, it's easy! My daughter loves to do art projects, painting, coloring, so we have an "art studio" set up in our garage where all of the kids can play around with things and do their own projects.
Melissa: To me the joys of doing unschooling is that there is no set time needed to get things done. sometimes there is no "real" work to be done! Just the daily chores...taking out the trash, dishes, sweeping, yard work, gardening....and so on. Plus quiet time where we all chill in different areas with a book, 'zine or comic book. Plus there are so many businesses that will take young interested kids and apprentice them (yes! TEACH them for free in life skills!!)
Mamapoekie: Not there yet, but since unschooling is fairly hands-off, it leaves time for everyone to develop their own interests. Talk to me again in a couple of years with a couple more kids.
Justine: All this time, I have the toddler...she is listening and learning and participating at a level that is appropriate for her. The baby is simply happy to be nursed and be near us and listen to our voices, our interactions. Since it is a school day, almost everywhere we go is abandoned. We own the city. We can go to the museum, the science center, the planetarium, the beach, the grocery store,...we plan a menu, discuss nutrition, buy the foods we need for dinner, read labels, talk about health, talk about factory farms. We stop by the organic farm on the way home and ask when we can take a tour and learn more about what they do there. We prepare our evening meal together as a family, my hubby comes home and has all of his day to share with the kids and to provide new ideas, new perspectives, new questions, new answers. Learning is our life. We don't just sit in traffic and wait for the light to turn green...we seek out the chance to learn, to talk, to grow in everything that we do!
Can you ever unschool a child who needs routines and visual schedules?
Rena: Well to me the very definition of unschooling is catering to your specific child's needs. If they need routine and visual schedules then give that to them. If they need play learning then do that.
DeShanna: Both my children have Sensory Integration Disorder and before, I believe I wouldn't be able to help them, but with unschooling, they learn based what works for them and make the schedule and visuals that actually work for them as well. In fact, my kids favorite school time is crafts and they are quite good at making things from sight.
Meredith: Of course! There is an entire spectrum of unschoolers, some use curriculum and guides and others don't. Do what works.
Mamapoekie: Unschooling can work for everyone, because it’s flexible, adaptable. There is no One True Unschooling Path. If your family or child likes routine, why not, if they prefer total mayhem, why not. In most situations, it is almost impossible to not have some kind of routine, even when unschooling, because most often there is at least one parent going off to work, so there is some adaptation as to eating times for example. You as a parent may want to install some rituals, or maybe the kids might be demanding these. As far as schedules go, I am assuming you are talking about schedules as learning aids. I have read that a lot of families create a grand timeline where each one sticks ‘memorables’ to whenever they come up. Again, for every family there is a thing that works, that’s just an example. Unschooling can be whatever your family makes of it. You can choose to use books and the internet and artwork and whatever comes to mind whenever it is needed.
Justine: Like I mentioned, our 6 year old scores pretty high on the Aspergers scale and we have a very easy time with her since we can go at her pace. She is able to let go of a lot of those "ritualistic" behaviors bc she is in such a supported and trusting environment all of the time. When we mess up her routines in a way that is big enough to cause upset, we have the ability to quickly and calmly remedy the situation with a minimum of disruption. We are not in the postion of having to load up 30 kids on to a bus to leave a field trip bc she flips out about the change in her routine. We have the time to explain, to show, to help her on an individual/situational basis. Although, I am sure that there are others who have much different experiences with this. So, on this one, my answer woudl be "I think so"...but there are a lot of variables that I am not terribly qualified to comment on since we don't use visual schedules and can have a reasonable amount of flexibility in her schedule.
How do unschooled kids adapt in society when they have grown up? How do they get a job and can they go to college?
Rena: I teach them about respect. I teach them politeness. I teach them certain cultural taboos. My kids watch sponge bob. They also know it is not polite to say someone is mean. I teach them that certain things are wrong and about personal space. I teach them that they need to help out people when they can. Isn't that the basics of society? They can get a job when they are in thier teens and learn about work responsibility then. heck They can learn about that even before then when you give them a chore that they need to do and if they do it the get paid and if they don't they don't get paid. As far as college prep is concerned we will be becoming less unschooling and more getting them ready for like the ACT or SAT test so that they can get into most colleges.
DeShanna: I have a blog post on this actually. What is adaptation in society? Making sure you respect the rules, follow them, and can communicate your wants, needs, and misunderstandings in an appropriate fashion. My children never had problems with adapting in the world just because they are unschooled. Some schooled children can not adapt to society or get a job or go to college. That's not something that is so much based on education, as much as it is based on parenting and modeled behaviors. My children watch us volunteer, see me going to college, and watch how I interact with my peers. They model that behavior by helping out their peers and keeping appropriate interactions with their community.
Meredith: This isn't something that I have had to deal with too much yet but in my own experience...the school system DOES NOT prepare kids for REAL LIFE. I know when I left high school, I was totally shocked by what was required of me so I don't feel like kids are missing much by not completing the government's idea of an "education". I feel like my children will be free thinkers and flexible enough to adapt to whatever they run into, and I am confident that they will choose their direction rather than let social norms dictate to them what they "should" do.
Melissa: Lol. I get this question all the time. In my family we are out in the world! Learning to interact with people of all ages right away! Getting jobs early, trying sports, dance, art. When this is your focus you build quite the folder of experience to draw on for the work force early.
Mamapoekie: Unschoolers might just be more adapted to society because they learn through life instead of from school. They only learn what’s real when they need it. Except when you will be locking them up in a room with no window – which I swear no unschooler would ever attempt – they will learn all there is to know about society, but without the bias that comes from schooling them. If they are ready to get a job or go to college, they will have the rationality that this might imply grading and structure.
Justine: I think just fine. I have yet to find out. Right now, our 16 year old has only been unschooled for a year and our 21 year old was in mainstream public school. Our 16 year old volunteers (which might be akin to working, I suppose) and seems to have no trouble integrating and adapting in "society" so far. And the best part is that she can put in volunteer hours when other volunteers are stuck at school, or can't stay out late bc they have school in the morning, so she has gotten some pretty awesome opportunities--she volunteered backstage for a recent production of Macbeth and was able to hang out for 15 hour days building sets, helping with costumes, lights, sound, hanging up posters, handing out programs, talking with cast member's from all around the world...most people couldn't PAY for that experience...between going to school and/or working a job, most Americans would never have a chance to spend 2 whole weeks dedicated to something that was not work or school.
How do unschooled kids adapt to a structured work environment?
Rena: When they get old enough my kids will get jobs. And they will work (provided the economy hasn't blown up by then). Right now at this age all chores have a certain amount of money that they earn. Unloading the dishwasher is 25cents. Cleaning the table is 25 cents, etc. What that does is teach them HOW to work for money and HOW important it is for them to be careful with their money and save it. I know some people feel like that they should help around the house as a contribution and such. I feel they need learning experiences.
DeShanna: Unschooled children still have structure and boundaries in their lives. They are taught right from wrong and know that they have to follow the rules of society. So when they get into their desired places of work, they can still follow the company's rules and structure without having trouble.
Meredith: Anyone who thinks school is great preparation for work is operating under an illusion. I have a questions, how does anyone who completes high school prepare themselves for a creative life? It takes years of unlearning to be able to embrace the lack of structure that artists and entrepreneurs enjoy! There is plenty of time for my children to learn the doctrine of the working man. They can learn structure by taking part in sports teams, formal classes, and group instruction.
How do you know you have given them all the tools and experiences you could so they can have a well-rounded education in many subjects?
Rena: Well first off I think we all do the best we can for our children and I think that what one person thinks is a well rounded for a subject another may think is too much pressure for their child. Now if/when I find they are lacking in certain areas especially as they get older, I will seek out ways for them to learn it. I have not had the problem at this point yet but I feel like that it will be an issue at some point. I am lucky however because I happen to be fairly good at english and writing. I also LOVE the life sciences. My hubby has a BS in math and BS and economics. And he plays piano (not THAT good but good enough) And guitar. So I have what I believe to be the most important aspects of learning between the 2 of us. So to answer this I have no idea yet.
DeShanna: If my children are happy, able to communicate with their peers and community, understand the world around them, I know that I have done my job. I know many who have had a full education who are nowhere near well-rounded and use the tabloid media to get their information :-D
Meredith: You have to look for the different components of learning in the every day. If we bake bread for example, they are learning math and science as we discuss measurements and chemical reactions. By living a full life you learn about all sorts of things!
Mamapoekie: Since as an unschooler you are not talking about subjects or education (in the way you are referring to here), this simply is not a question. (Ok, agreed, I think to some extent all parents come to a point where they worry if their child is keeping up, but theoretically, this is not a question). Because your child is learning through life, he has acquired all the skills he needs up until this specific moment in time.
Justine: I think they do want to be given the respect of knowing WHY they are being asked to do something rather than just blindly following orders. Understanding WHY can help you to figure out problems appropriately, and to innovate new and better ways of doing things. Working environments that want to maintain the status quo would probably not welcome unschoolers :) However, if a company wants to grow, expand, and be bleeding edge, then they would do well to have a few unschoolers around to think out of the box.
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