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How to cover the "basics"

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

I am homeschooling my 6 year old and have found that we are leaning toward unschooling, we pretty much completely abandoned the waldorf curriculum that I bought last year. My trouble lies in trying to figure out how much I need to guide and instruct her, particularly concerning things like reading and basic math. I'm wondering if any unschoolers have rules for their kids about a basic minimum. Like, do you say you have to practice reading everyday or practice adding 3 times a week or whatever? I'm just trying to figure out how to make this work for us so that I can follow her lead but also instill the basics. 

post #2 of 23

Personally, we don't.  I incorporate the basics simply by bringing it into the house.  Phlllbbbbt!  That was a lame sentence, but I don't know how else to word it at the moment!  I do like making sure that kids this age are exposed to the ideas, but it doesn't have to necessarily be kindy-or-1st grade math, or pre-reading skills.  Just....mathematics or whatever.  Personally I don't care much that my kids are ready for really working out the Fibonacci series, or squares, or the Pythagorean theorem-- some of this stuff is really groovy and fun.  Books, videos, games, cooking, building.... they know a lot of ideas and are still working on basic addition, all  at the same time.  (My kids actually love me writing up "math tests" for them--crazy?  Possibly, but here, it's normal!)


Same for reading.  Kids don't necessarily need level-appropriate reading material, they just need stuff they are interested in.  That doesn't always cut it for every kid, but my motto is "give kids a chance".  Both my girls read books that they can't work through all the way, but they are about horses or other animals and they read what they can.  We visit the library regularly.  Sometimes they like a book that they can read through perfectly all the way-- we do have plenty of those, too.


As for regularity, it regularly comes and goes.  orngtongue.gif  We'll do math-y things and dive into origami and math quizzes in the car and games with money for days or weeks, but right now, it's all about writing--lists, copying stories, whathaveyou--and spelling--Electric Company and the like.  I keep a steady stream of paper and markers and they use it.  We have barely touched on math for a while.


I don't know really why they are interested in this stuff.  I am, but is that why they are?  I can't answer for sure, but it hasn't been an issue for my family as far as being exposed to the ideas and practicing skills.  I just wanted to respond that it is possible to bypass even the most modest requirements entirely.

post #3 of 23

Not for a 6 year old, no. At 6, my kids were/are all playing and that would be pretty much it.


I've found kids often hit a more rational, less dreamy stage around 7 where stuff like math, reading just become easier and they just want to learn this stuff more. You'll know it when it happens. My experience was that at this age my kids wanted to read and wanted to understand math :-)


I found that waiting til a little older meant that the stuff was learnt more efficiently and retained a whole lot better, not least because they really wanted to learn.

post #4 of 23

We definitely didn't. A couple of my kids eventually (not at age 6, more like age 9-10) reached a stage where they asked for a routine of daily this or that -- math most often, but in one case handwriting. By then they were already well past the basics, already reading well and at a middle school math level. My 10-year-old currently asks me to support her in doing math "any weekday that we aren't busy with extra stuff" (which ends up meaning 2-3 days a week). We just started that routine when she was 9.5. When she was younger she liked doing math bookwork from time to time, and so that's when we did it: from time to time, often not for weeks or months on end, then a big spurt, etc.


There's nothing wrong necessarily with having rules about regular basic schoolwork, but it wouldn't be considered unschooling to have such rules, not unless the rules came from the kids. If you're wanting to use an unschooled approach, the answer to "how much to instruct and guide" would be "exactly as much as she asks you to."



post #5 of 23
Originally Posted by amandamae View Post

Like, do you say you have to practice reading everyday or practice adding 3 times a week or whatever? I'm just trying to figure out how to make this work for us so that I can follow her lead but also instill the basics. 


With my son, 7: I have no reading requirements but if I have not seen him read for a while, I do say stuff like "So, what else is happening in the book you started yesterday?"  This generally gets him going with his reading because he himself is curious about what happens in the story.  If it doesn't, I leave it alone.  We also have established a very strong habit of reading together while his sister naps.  We have very slowly transitioned to him reading to me.  Right now, he reads 3 pages to every one I read but of course there was a time when I read everything and he just listened.  He loves this time of the day; it is our cuddle time.


Where I clearly cross the line from unschooling to relaxed homeschooling is here: before I leave the house (I work part-time), I remind him to do Math.  He has Singapore workbooks.  He is pretty good about doing them daily.  I don't teach him; he reads the examples and attempts the problems on his own.  But I do prompt him towards math and look over his work.  This is how far my tampering goes; everything else is left up to him.  What I do try ensure is that their world is replete with stuff they can use/get into.  That takes some observation and thoughtfulness on my side and I totally enjoy the process.


My daughter, who will be 5 soon does a lot but absolutely everything is self-directed.  I can say she is unschooled in the classic sense of the term.  Unless we hit some sort of a snag, I plan to continue this way with her.

post #6 of 23

Just wanted to add, the books he reads to me are ones that are his level.  I still read higher level books to him. He enjoys having me read stories to him as much as reading them with me.  


OP, good luck.  Finding your own groove is a process.  Experimenting is the best way to get theresmile.gif

post #7 of 23
We didn't have any requirements at age 6. He could read, but couldn't sit still, so I read to him. A lot! Math? We played games and he got to be banker or score keeper. We talked about whatever came up in the world around us. Boy! They were fun times! Later, I stressed about higher math (algebra, trig, calculus), and made sure he at least got some exposure. But you have *years* before needing to worry about that!

Be involved and keep things fun, for now. That's my advice.
post #8 of 23

I wanted to add a more philosophical comment. "The basics" are called that because they're fundamental parts of daily life in our culture. With unschooling the basics can't help but be learned -- precisely because they're fundamental parts of daily life, and unschooled children are living that daily life authentically without being separated from it by the construct of schooling. If anything it's the basics you don't have to worry about. They're completely self-evident and practical to a child living a reasonably rich daily life alongside caring adults, integrated with family and community. How can an unschooled child possibly not encounter and become motivated to learn things like reading and basic math operations, surrounded as he is by countless examples of how others use those skills every day and aided by caring adults who will answer his questions as they arise?


As pek64 alluded, the more abstract and specialized skills and areas of knowledge get a little trickier. Kids don't see the quadratic equation being useful in daily life nearly as often as they see reading and multiplication. They have less chance to observe molar equations in action and ask questions about them. It's harder to see why knowing the Krebs cycle is going to be useful in living one's life. So as unschoolers get older they may find some external structure or accountability is helpful in ensuring they learn what will ultimately -- though perhaps not immediately -- be useful to them. 



Edited by moominmamma - 5/24/13 at 9:44am
post #9 of 23
Thread Starter 

I guess part of my concern is that I would like for her to be a little bit more independent in her "work." In general, I feel that once she is proficient in reading and basic math she'll be able to be more self-directed. I have a very active, wild and crazy one and a half year old. He is not happy to sit and listen to one of his sister's books. He is very loud and he makes his feelings known!!!  I feel so badly because my daughter's work is so often interrupted. Although we finally got her a desk where she can leave her work out and her brother (mostly) can't reach it.


I think the other thing is that I went to public school my whole life and I have never known anyone who was homeschooled and I have only recently met others who homeschool. I feel like there is a place in my mind that is always comparing what we are doing to what "they" are doing. I know this is just something that I need to get over. I am homeschooling her because I don't want her doing what "they" are doing. I really love the idea of her learning being self-directed, but I worry: What if she never wants to learn multiplication???? Or something like that.

post #10 of 23

"What if she never wants to learn multiplication????"


I think this is the crux of the problem to some extent.


IME unschoolers do always learn enough to manage in life, in their sphere, but you can't predict what else they will know beyond what they've needed to know. This is what makes unschooling both very powerful and quite unpredictable. I've known near-adults who can't read and I am afraid I do know grown homeschoolers who still have math-blocks, but they know other stuff, and often do amazing stuff. Some unschoolers never learn multiplication beyond what they need. I think a part of unschooling is accepting that your kid might never learn multiplication. If she doesn't learn multiplication it will probably be because she doesn't believe she needs to learn it, for whatever reasons-and the question for you is, are you comfortable with that? Or would you like her to learn it anyway, just in case? 


My own feeling, based on what I've seen, is that it is an extremely valid approach to teach a child to read and do basic math. There are certainly ways to do this that don't kill enthusiasm or anything. This isn't unschooling but it might well be the best thing for your family right now, given your goals for your child, your family situation, etc etc. And that's what I'd concentrate on, what is best for you all right now.


We lean toward unschooling but I know families from all flavours of homeschooling and I really don't think unschooling has a monopoly on self-directed learners. I know plenty of deep thinking and excellent problem solving young people whose families use curricula or are even in school. I'd say. look at your family, you kid and try to work out what is needed now.

post #11 of 23
Originally Posted by amandamae View Post

I guess part of my concern is that I would like for her to be a little bit more independent in her "work." 


I'm not sure what you mean by "work." The work of a 6-year-old unschooler in my family has always primarily been to live life and play. If young unschooled children choose to do pencil-and-paper activities or workbooks (I'm guessing you're talking about this sort of thing, since you talk of her leaving her work out on her desk), for the most part I've found that's because they want the parental attention that results from school-style learning. To push them to learn to be independent with it really defeats the point for them, since what they especially want is some special time with a parent working at serious big-kid stuff. 


There are so many ways for children to learn independently if they aren't reading or doing basic arithmetic. Some of the best-educated self-directed 9-year-old learners I've known have not been readers. You might consider facilitating what is natural learning for your child right now, rather than investing in getting her to the next level academically so that she can use different types of natural learning. Obviously if she is extremely motivated to learn to read and to practice doing addition, you should be doing what you can to facilitate that. But if the motivation is primarily yours, I'd look instead at capitalizing on natural learning suited to pre-readers. Play, hands-on stuff, audiobooks, handicrafts, creative projects, helping out around the house, videos, etc. etc..



post #12 of 23
Your daughter is still young.  You could try out the unschooling approach and if you observe that it is not working for your family, then you can switch to something else that is better suited.  Or you could just homeschool your kid the way you see fit, i.e, just do what works regardless of which category that fits in and utilize aspects of the unschooling approach in ways you feel is best.  
post #13 of 23
I agree with the attitude of "try one way now, and change as needed". That is, after all, one of the benefits of homeschooling -- flexibility.
post #14 of 23
Thread Starter 

  When I say her "work" I mean anything constructive that she is doing, sometimes math counters, sometimes watercolors, sometimes crayons, whatever she is working with. It's not that I necessarily want to unschool, per se, rather that I just see us leaning that way. The day certainly goes much more smoothly when we are learning about what she wants. She is reading, and she is very interested in animals and nature, but she is unable to read our books about animals on her own. I'm not too fond of worksheet work, but she actually enjoys math worksheets (math, of all things, my weak point). I do think that part of the problem is that my toddler keeps me so busy and I wish that my daughter had a bit more readily available projects to keep her busy. I also think that I'm having some anxiety right now because I am trying to decide whether to purchase a curriculum. I don't want to waste money on something that I end up not using, but I also don't want to feel like I"m floundering.

post #15 of 23

is it possible that the difficulty is actually balancing the needs of your two kids? 


Welcome to parenting two kids!


I don't mean to be flippant but this is one of those things that just comes with the territory, trying to meet the age appropriate very different needs of two kids. Its gets easier as you get better at it with time and your kids get older and their needs less immediate but it doesn't go away, or not til they are much older!  


All I can say is, off the top of my head, you say your toddler keeps you busy. How old is your toddler? I don't think a 6 year old needs school work but the things you mention above the "work" are things that I think its certainly good to have uninterupted time to do with a parent and I think its fair to try to find ways to do them. An 18 month old is not a newborn. I think at this age it starts to become fair to look at ways to occupy him and for him to learn that his sister also needs time. 


I'm assuming that you can't simply offload the toddler on, say, his dad and spend some time with your older child? Or does your toddler nap? If so, that's when I'd try to spend time with your older child.


The only other option I can think of is using the computer. Stuff like readingeggs (goes beyond basic reading) or mathswhizz or whatever. 

post #16 of 23
Thread Starter 

Filly, I think the difficulty really is in juggling both kids. I think the issue is magnified because we homeschool. I can't offload the toddler, Dad is gone all day and the kids go to bed fairly early. Unfortunately the toddler (who is 22 months, but a preemie, so 19 months adjusted) is a pretty crappy napper. I can almost guarantee a 30 minute nap, but then it's a guessing game. He also sleeps pretty poorly at night, although he is getting better at sleeping.

I find it incredibly difficult to get anything done around the house because he is what one would call high-needs. I am very much looking forward to the day that I can set him up with some paper and crayons and spend some time with her! He is just not quite there yet.

I feel a bit lost right now. I don't have any idea what we're doing next. It's not that I am considering sending her to school, because I really do believe that homeschooling is best for us, but I wonder if it would be beneficial for us to have some pre-planned, structured activities. On the other hand, I do want to follow her lead. I think I'm having a homeschool identity crisis at the moment!

post #17 of 23

Pre-planned structured "activities" are popular with my girls, and so long as the kids can honestly say "no" to the activity, that's still unschooling in my book.  Not everything needs to be free-flowing, 100% child-inspired.  The key point is they have a choice to do or not, to end it or keep going, to choose how they connect with an activity, and have the ability to change it to suit their needs.  Anyway, that's just a perspective on the "unschooling" portion of it.  Not advice on what you *should* do.


Are you able to have a mother's helper there from time to time?  A homeschooled teen, or a student after school?  Or another mom?  Mother's helpers are there when the mother is home, as opposed to a babysitter.  It might not work, but it might be worth looking into.  After some initial warm-up sessions, your son might look forward to an energetic playmate while you enjoy some one-on-one time with your daughter.  Well, that's the hope, anyway!

post #18 of 23

ok thinking laterally. You say the kids go to bed early. Is that negotiable? Could she go to bed that much later, at least later than her brother, to give you some time here? How about weekends, can their dad take the toddler for a few hours then?


My daughters were both stupidly high needs so you have my sympathy. Well I think as they grow older those high needs toddlers are often a lot of fun but I know what its like juggling them, especially with older siblings who can seem quite chilled but act out in other ways when their needs aren't met. The only one thing I'd say, and very gently, and speaking from my own mistakes more than anything, is that I think its easy for a high need toddler so be so amazingly good at making their needs met that the needs of other kids can come second. That might be hard to hear and I apologise but I know it was a mistake I made at times. You say he's a crappy napper-is there anything you can do to help him nap? When my high needs daughters were each babies/toddlers the one thing that worked was to take them on long walks, in the pram, get them off to sleep then go sit in the coffee shop with the older kid (s) for some time with them. The background hum of talking kept the baby/toddler asleep, and I got to spend at least some time with the older kid (s). 


Are you able to get him involved in whatever you want to do with her? Even in some token way? So if you want to paint-give him paints, that's cool-but focus on her, look at her picture and comment on it. Read her books about animals with them both. Involve him in her stuff. Even if that's really all you can do right now she'll probably really like being the centre of attention.



Edited by Fillyjonk - 5/29/13 at 3:29pm
post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 

Sorry, I'm so slow in responding. Again, Filly, I agree with you and I take absolutely no offense. I have often worried about my daughter not getting enough of me because my son is so communicative about his needs. I definitely try to involve him in what I can, it's tricky though because he is a bit ornery. He'll stick things in his mouth just because he knows he's not supposed to/ He still eats paint and crayons and all of that good stuff. He desperately wants to be involved, but, of course, he wants to be the main attraction. He almost always yells through stories, and he is SO loud!

As for bedtime, they both really need to go down early. For years she needed to go to bed at 6pm, it was hard because it felt like we could never do anything, but if she stayed up later she would get up for the day at 4 am! Lo and behold he started doing the same 4am wake-up recently, but it turned out that he needed a later bedtime. So bedtimes have recently been pushed back about an hour, but truthfully I am beat after that. She and I do bedtime stories together after the baby is in bed and I know that she really loves that special time, as do I. 

I do feel like things are becoming more balanced for us as the baby gets older, and the two of them are playing together so much more which is lovely. 

I actually did buy a curriculum, Five in a Row, and we started it this week/ I feel like it's a pretty open curriculum which I like but still there is some sort of guide for me. I'm not sure that we really fit into the "unschooling" paradigm, but that's not important to me. I do still feel like we lean toward unschooling, I feel that following her lead and teaching her what she wants to learn is best, but I also need to know that she is a proficient learner and that she has mastered basic math and language skills. I imagine that most unschoolers feel the same way, at least to some degree.

Thanks so much for the input and advice. I really do appreciate it.

post #20 of 23

Oh, goody! I get to tell my unschooling story again! (Really, I have more than one, but this is my favorite)


YoungSon was about 8 years old, and had never, ever done a math worksheet in his life. I mean I had never "done math" with him in any way.


One day, I was busy at the computer, probably playing some mindless game, and he came into the room and asked, "Mom, would you pay me $20 to clean the whole house?" I questioned this, because the house was a disaster, but said, "Sure, Kid".


A few minutes later, he must have been overwhelmed with the enormity of the task, because he came back and asked, "How about I clean half the house for ten bucks?" "OK, guy, go for it".


Well, a little time passes, and he came back and asks, "Maybe I could do 75% for $15?" Seems there was a toy he wanted that cost $10, and he realized that he needed more than that to cover the sales tax.


OK, I admit, my housework never got done that day. But my kid showed me that he understood fractions, percentages, money, and how they applied to his real life. Isn't that what math learning is for?


A similar moment occurred when I was reading at bedtime to ElderSon, 6 at the time. I was exhausted that night, and jokingly handed the book to him and said, "I'm too tired; you read tonight". It was The Giving Tree - not too difficult, but no lightweight either.


He took the book and read it aloud. I had no idea that he could read.


But when you think about it, reading is not really any more difficult than walking or talking - skills that most kids learn with no direct "teaching" at all. I have no idea how he learned to read - we lived on a sailboat with no TV, so he had never even seen Sesame Street. I read to him at naptime and bedtime every night, and he saw me reading for pleasure every available moment. He had tons of books that he looked at, and somehow, just figured it out.


BigGirl is 18, unschooled, and wants to start community college. She didn't feel confident about her math skills. She didn't want to waste her time with the college remedial math classes. So we hired a tutor, and she has been working on formal math lessons, for the first time in her life. In the last year, she has gotten about through high school level, and is ready to take the placement tests. She expects to place in college entry level math classes, not remedial. My experience is that kids learn an amazing amount from just living life. What is missing can be learned in very little time, when there is concrete motivation. I have never felt any need to push any kind of formalized lessons. I admit I had moments of self-doubt over the years. But now, nearing the end of our unschooling odyssey, I think I am being proven right.

Edited by mamarhu - 6/14/13 at 12:23am
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