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a practical unschooling question (long)

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
We are homeschooling our three children, ages 6-1/2, 3-1/2, and 16 mos. Philosophically, I'm (mostly) an unschooler. I guess my question is about parental responsibility and involvement, and I think it is an issue for me at least in part because of my children's ages.

O.K., here goes: Child-led learning makes all the sense in the world to me. The idea of learning things when you need them and really understanding them because they are meaningful to you is all right on target. I know that small children are learning all the time, whether working or playing, but I think it is easy to fall into the trap of associating child-led learning with kids who are, say 10 and older, and avid readers. You picture kids with their own projects, finding and using their own resources, telling their parents all about it when they have a space minute or two.

What about the younger kids? We read aloud a lot because that is my oldest daughter's favorite thing to do. I plan field trips, and we run errands and play outside. I am thinking about doing some "unit study"-type things because my dd said she wants to learn about different animals. How would you more experienced unschoolers approach this? Would you just leave books about various animals around the house and leave it at that? Would you plan various activities around different animals and present them to your child? If so, would you offer these activities spontaneously, or only if asked? If your child mentions doing something and then becomes involved in other things, do you remind him that he had wanted to do X, or do you let it go? How have you handled issues of independence and responsibility? I have tried the Waldorf-y approach to making things (like art supplies) accessible, but no one ever puts them away. My 16 month old loves to suck on magic markers, and I don't want to know what he would do with scissors! If everything is locked up, how do we balance timing and needs with large projects?

I guess what I am looking for is some guidance (and I know this is a philosophical thing) for determining how much to do with and for my unschooled children. I assume each child has different needs, so how do you all know when you have it right? If they are cranky and tormenting siblings, are they bored or overstimulated? Either way, do you "interfere" with what they are doing on a daily basis, or do you "guide" them to spending time with different activities?

Is this making any sense? Sorry so long. Thanks.
post #2 of 10
I have a 6 1/2 yo and a 4 yo, and have been wondering the same thing...

So far I haven't interfered much with their activities, but then I think of all the other things we could be doing, opportunities that may pass us by, and wonder if it could help to give them just a gentle nudge in some direction. My approach may be, as you said, to leave various books, flyers, etc. around the house. Whenever they have a question on something we try to remember to look it up and I may point out related subjects in the next few days and see if I "get a bite". Sometimes this will start them on a new obsession and sometimes I just feel like I'm nagging.

I will occasionally plan activities, if it involves getting out with other people, without asking them first, and say, "Today we're going to..." I wouldn't force them to go, but I would try to at least encourage them to put down the Legos for a while so we can go do something! It's mostly just a matter of not interrupting something they are in the middle of.

We also have schoolbooks for days they feel like "doing school" which they love. And sometimes, if they need redirection because they won't stop wrestling I'll just get out a board game and start playing it all by myself and they'll usually join me.
post #3 of 10
We're unschooling, and my 5 1/2-year-old daughter is very into animals. She couldn't care less about people or dolls; animals are it for her. Her first words were "woof" and "meow" and then soon "dog" and "cat." Now she's learning to spell dog and cat.

We read books about animals and play games involving themabout them, and through them she is learning to read, learning math, learning geography, learning biology, learning about the environment, and learning social studies.

We go to the library, and she and I both pick out books for her. I also order (used from half.com) books that I think she would enjoy. She's been into this series of books that the library has about different animals that's a little old for her, but we go through and look at the pictures I read bits and pieces of the text.

One of our favorite books that we have at home is Animal Hide And Seek. Between this and a Magic Schoolbus book and a few other sources, she has become fascinated with animal habitats, particularly Africa. We have a globe, and she is fascinated with it and tells me where various animals live on the globe. Her interest in habitats geography has then made her interested what the lives of the people who live in these areas are like, and we've been learning about that through Children Just Like Me. She's especially fascinated with one of the girls who lives in Africa. In this same vein we also listen to world music or sometimes make ethnic meals.

We have a children's animal encyclopedia that's not bad, but I think there are probably better ones out there. She spends a lot of time with her head in ours and asks me to read parts to her.

We take videos out of the library and rent them from the video store. Some particularly good ones we've found are the childrens ones put out by National Geographic. We have seen ones from two series, GeoKids and Really Wild Animals. The Eyewitness videos are good too.

We also have some games. Two that we really enjoy are Explore! Photo Safari (sorry, can't find a link) and Aristoplay's Quick Pix Animals. We also make up games. For example, if we're in on a train or in a car, we'll pretend we're driving through the rainforest or through Australia, or through some other habitat, and we'll shout out all the animals we "see." Or we might pretend we are certain animals, and we'll talk about where we live, what we eat, etc.

Then of course there's trips to the zoo and the Natural History Museum and magazines and websites.

I know this all sounds like we're busy doing things and even might sound like I'm doing stuff for her, but really it comes naturally. She's just fascinated by animals, so we go with it. I've always read books to my girls when we go to bed, so sometimes we read books about animals. We all like to play games, so sometimes we play games about animals. When the kids are getting antsy in the car, and I'm trying to think of something to entertain them, a safari game makes a lot of sense. If we're thinking about something to do with dh on a weekend, a trip to a museum makes as much sense as anything else. She's outgrown the computer games she has, so for her next one I'll look for something relating to animals.

BTW, my 3 1/2 year old enjoys all of this too, and we are also not obsessed with animals. We talk about/learn about a lot of other things as well.

I don't think there's anything wrong, as an unschooler, in asking "would you be interested in doing such and such?" or offering to read books or play games, especially if your child has shown interest in the topic. It wouldn't be unschooling, however, if you forced these things on them. You might also want to go to
unschooling.com for more support and ideas.
post #4 of 10
I'm with ya! Mine are 6 & 4, and I'm what the locals call a "radical" unschooler
I love when the kids get excited about a new topic, but I can't believe the number of times I've done all the work at the library, just to have all the information ignored! So now, they bring home the books *they* ask for. I got some great puzzle books ~ thick books that the various animal pictures are actually 9 piece puzzles. The kids will play and then start to ask and I'll be looking thru our CD-rom encyclopedia for them... That is fun! I would recommend that approach, there are inexpensive children's encyclopaedias available for that instant gratification And yeah, I drop what they drop. I'm doing it this way to *avoid* the nagging relationship with my kids. If it's important enough to them, they will remember, or they will ask me to write it down for them. (We have the big *not mommy's responsibility* talk A LOT :LOL)
For unit-study ideas, I would recommend adapting 5 In A Row to your family's needs. Believe me, I'm not nearly regimented enough (okay I'm not regimented at all) to actually accomplish what she suggests in 5 days, BUT we do take the same approach when re-reading the *same old books* for the 1,200th time. Maybe this perspective will inspire you, too.
I can't wait to hear the others' suggestions
post #5 of 10
I think one of the hardest things about unschooling is to stop diving life into "educational" and "not educational". The division is artificial, based on what a certain society choses to value right then, and the forms in which they chose to value it. The mainstream society in the U.S values things relating to books, written projects, and factual information. We don't value playing nearly enough, or interpersonal skills, or conversational skills. My daughter described a remark today as a "snarky retort", and I just started at her, because I couldn't remember ever using either word in her hearing but it was a perfect description.

When unschoolers stop dividing the world into "educational" and "not educational", they can be free to offer things to their children based on their interests. Then you don't feel the need to make sure a child follows through with an activity about butterflies (assuming you asked and she wanted to start one in the first place) any more then you'd make sure she finished her pretend game of fairies. Offering is fine, wonderful, as long as you're offering because you think the child would enjoy the activity, not because you want her to "learn something". When Rain was 6, I offered and she enjoyed everything from math games like Hex and Nim (math, not arithmetic) to Shakespearean theater to learning Ms. PacMan patterns to playing catch with a softball... and on, and on. I don't think "guiding" is part of unschooling, but I think offering surely is.

Living is learning, and learning is living. Unschooling is about not separating the two. It's hard sometimes to let go of traditional ideas about what young children will and won't enjoy, if given their own choice - Rain enjoyed some pretty sophisticated theater at 6 or 7, from Shakespeare to Cabaret and Jesus Christ, Superstar. She was obsessed with Greek Mythology from ages 3 to about 6, including listening to 3 or 4 different translations of The Odyssey. She thought it all great fun, she didn't have the precoceptions that The Odyseey and Shakespeare were boring ol' things you have to read in high school.

It sounds like you're doing just fine the way you're going. Another thing I've noticed is that most children learn in fits and starts - months will go by and it seems like the kid is doing the same ol' stuff, not learning anything new - and then he suddenly explodes with new skills or passions or insights. It's harder to trust during the lulls, when so much learning is happening underneath... but I think they're necessary.

Dar
post #6 of 10
I'm not of the radical unschooler division, we call ourselves (when we have to) Classical (as in striving for a classical education) unschoolers .

Here is an idea for studying animals, though. (This is what we have done, it's part of a recomendation from the book The Well Trained Mind) Make an animal notebook (binder)- pick an animal type to study for a week or two (like amphibians, whales, horses, etc), go to the library and check out a couple books and don't forget to check for national geographic type videos. I like to get some science type books and also see if I can find a couple storybooks that also have the animal as a character in them- makes for a nice tie in. Let your children draw or color pictures of the animal for the notebook, read one of the books than have your older write a narration about it (this is just a sentence or two that says what the book was about) to put in the notebook. If you can- take the kids to a place where they can observe the animal and have them write an observation paper (what the animal looks like, what it eats, etc) Have fun with it- they can pretend to be the animal, make crafts projects, write poems or songs, make the animal out of playdough, etc. Take pictures of their projects and include anything that they draw or write in the notebook. When you are done they will have their own book of animals!
post #7 of 10
Dar, your answer was really helpful to me, thank you.
post #8 of 10
I agree with everything Dar said.

I would try not to worry too much about what you "should" be doing with your kids and just do what feels right. I offer things to my kids quite a bit; we'll be at the library and I'll see a book I think one of my kids would like (due to interests that I know they already have, or just something else that I think they might enjoy) and I'll show it to them and see if they want it, if not it's no big deal. I don't offer things with the intention of guiding their learning, but just because it's something I think they might like, or something that would be fun. I guess I just feel like my kids can guide their own learning.

My son is 7, and into magic, dinosaurs and mammals. So he likes to play those things, read about them, draw them, play related board games, etc. I don't have to plan it, he just wants to do it. My 3 yr. old daughter is into witches and goblins, and loves fairy tales. She wants to read books about them all the time, dresses up and play acts them out - again, I enjoy it, encourage it, and offer related things I think she'd like when I come across them.

I think its great to help out with a child's interests in whatever form you want, and whatever they enjoy, but I wouldn't be too concerned about whether you're doing too much or too little, if you are most likely they'll let you know!

-Kelly
post #9 of 10
We have gotten to the point that we have enough stuff in the house that if a child becomes engrossed in learning about something, there is likely to be a book or game or video or something an other child has related to that so I do not try to provide things, our house is like a treasure pile lol or stuff.
That is the joy of being married to a packrat.
My one that loves animals has hermit crabs, hamsters, betta fish etc, in his room, he has loved the new Animal Adventure cd game, also hoards jars to raise/release his bugs, he has enjoyed the Uncle Milton Surf Frogs (till both of the frogs died recently).
You got some great advice here, I really enjoyed reading and learning from you all
Love the idea of a classical unschooler, that is great!!
Mary
post #10 of 10
Another idea.

We're looking into 4-H for my animal-loving 5-year-old. Not all 4-H clubs do animal-related things, so we're looking for one that does and includes her age group (I think for her age group it's called Cloverbuds).

We are also hoping this will also be a place where she'll make some friends with similar interests.

Eventually we'll have our own animals, but between my allergies and our still doing a lot of work on the house, it hasn't been practical yet. Ideally, IMO, we'll end up with a dog, a couple of goats, and some chickens.

This has been a great thread. I've loved reading all the responses.
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