Finding Structured Learning Opportunities that Aren't Too Schooly or Childist - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 12:36 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm wondering what everyone else's experiences have been with finding structured learning opportunities that are compatible with an unschooling philosophy. 

 

We live in a small town, nearly an hour from a smallish city.  We have been fortunate to find some learning opportunities that mesh well, but we've also had some major strike-outs.  We've quit a few activities or not signed up for others because the programs had very authoritarian/childist philsophies, or were wedded to doing things in a very schooly way.

 

The impetus for this post was a swim lesson this morning.  Last summer, we had a wonderful teacher.  This summer, the teacher started the first lesson by explaining that she was a former teacher/middle school principal and so she knew how to enforce rules. Then she called on the children one by one and asked them to read one of the rules off the posted sign.  The kids were ages five to seven, and the rules included phrases like "subepidermal tissue" (as in, don't swim if you have this kind of injury).  I find drilling kids on reading to be really rude (I mean, who would do this to adults?) and to be a way of labeling kids before one even gets to know them.  DD isn't yet a fluent reader, so I whispered to her, "You can just say, 'I prefer not to,' if she asks you to read."  She chose to read the words she knew.

 

The actual lesson was okay, though the teacher's tone was pretty condescending.  Afterwards she offered the kids candy for "trying so hard."  Then she approached each parent and made statements like, "I can tell Joe is a really great student.  He does well in school, doesn't he?" and some that weren't so positive.


DD is already a pretty good swimmer, so I think the confidence she got from swimming well (and the fact that the other children were really pleasant) made it an overall good experience for her.  I asked her if she wants to keep going, and she does, and so we will.

 

I just get tired of this stuff.  I'm sure if we lived in an area with more unschoolers (still hoping to relocate in the next year or so!) this wouldn't be such a problem.  Also, a larger area would inevitably mean more to choose from overall.

 

Experiences, anyone?  Do you have a particular process for "screening" to avoid a bad experience? 

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#2 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 01:24 PM
 
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Well, I would be running for that 'swimming' lesson.  But thats just my opinion.  Over the years I've learn to ask a billion questions.  DS went through a number of swim instructors before we found a good match, we even switched swim programs TWICE!  I'm now on the hunt for a swim coach and a swim team.  I look for rapport with kids, personality, how the entire program is run, how the individual run their class etc.

 

Some programs that DS has enjoyed over the years : almost anything from the library, lego classes/clubs, art classes (young rembrants), zoo classes, classes at the museums, etc.


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#3 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 01:37 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for your response.  I would prefer not to continue with the lessons, but I'm leaving the decision up to DD.  She knows that I don't like instructors using candy as rewards, asking them to read aloud in front of the others, talking to the children in a condescending manner, etc.  But this is the only opportunity for swim lessons this summer.  The previous instructors we've liked aren't available.  My sons prefer to learn swimming with my assistance, but DD likes the social aspect of the lessons.

 

Here's the crazy thing.  I NEED to hear you say you'd run.  Because no one around here BATS AN EYE at this stuff.  And the worst offenders always seem to be the school teachers.  We once had a babysitter who started giving the kids candy depending on how "good" they were.  We told her she couldn't do that anymore, and she was like, "Well, at the preschool where I work . . . " and "If I can't make them sit in time-out and I can't give them candy, how will I get them to behave?"  ARGH! She's not our sitter anymore.

 

Sorry for the rant.  We've had some pretty good library experiences (though they're big on rewards, too), and a disastrous art museum day camp experience where I had to withdraw my children after the first day because the director was so awful . . .

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#4 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 02:06 PM
 
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We haven't had any experiences like that with swim lessons-- the closest was a soccer class for very young kids where the instructor was in over his head.  Generally I see a dependence on candy as proof that you don't know how to build up a relationship with the students in your class.  

 

When I enroll my kids in classes, I try to talk a lot about the perspectives of other people in the class.  I think understanding why a teacher might have rules for students that you wouldn't have at home is helpful, and it makes it easier for my kids to learn to be thoughtful students.  With this perspective, they have enjoyed many schooly classes, especially if they are run by respectful teachers.  We try to find out how things are run before we enroll, and if we're looking for a specific kind of class, I'll ask around for recommendations.  

 

I hate it when teachers label my kids vs. evaluating their performance.  It's one thing to say "She's got a great butterfly stroke" or "I could tell she was working really hard on her kicking today."-- that's helpful and encouraging.  It's something else altogether to label them as "a good student"-- when that has happened to my kids, I have had the feeling the teacher is putting each kid in a little box that will determine how they are treated for the remainder of the class.  I'm having a hard time explaining why I dislike it, but I really do.  More than the candy.  

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#5 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 02:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by onatightrope

 

I hate it when teachers label my kids vs. evaluating their performance.  It's one thing to say "She's got a great butterfly stroke" or "I could tell she was working really hard on her kicking today."-- that's helpful and encouraging.  It's something else altogether to label them as "a good student"-- when that has happened to my kids, I have had the feeling the teacher is putting each kid in a little box that will determine how they are treated for the remainder of the class.  I'm having a hard time explaining why I dislike it, but I really do.  More than the candy.  

 

I know what you mean.  I don't like the candy, but I can live with it for two weeks (though not for an ongoing relationship).  During our brief Montessori experience, the teacher said of my daughter--on the second day-- "She's very bright at math!"  It felt like a box, and DD heard it, and it really hurt her feelings, because she sees herself as an artist and doesn't care what people think about her math abilities. 

 

She wants to learn to swim better, so all helpful feedback on her swimming is welcomed, I think.  But she's not there to have her reading evaluated or to be judged a "good listener" or whatever. 

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#6 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 02:45 PM
 
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Can you mention to the facility that runs the swim lessons that you are unhappy with the instructor and why?  I did that at 'Aqua Tots' and they really did try to accommodate me.  Say things like 'I don't want DD to associate swimming with candy,  I want dd to learn to swim, not learn to read.  DD is really trying to be independent in the water, do you have an instructor who can help her do that?'  Quite honestly the front desk staff or mgnt may not be aware of what is exactly going on with this 'teacher' turned swim instructor.


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#7 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 03:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This teacher is the head of the entire swim program, unfortunately.  I have to think about whether complaining (in a constructive way) has more potential for help or harm.

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#8 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 06:52 PM
 
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If I had the choice, I'd hightail it as well, but if I couldn't, and my daughter was able to talk to me about the candy, the displaced pedantry, and the condescension, I would still cringe, but I could live with it for the summer.  I don't think it will turn your dd off to swimming, so I would talk about how she feels after class and what I dislike and then I would just drop it and deal, unless something particularly upsetting came up.  Then, I think I would just head for the free swim, something I gravitate towards in the first place anyway.

 

It's hard to completely avoid school-like tricks-of-the-trade, carrots and rewards that aren't intrinsically connected with acquiring skills or paying attention, especially for younger kids.  I haven't felt it remotely necessary to find unschool-worthy lessons, but I do keep an ear out for the kind of thing you are hearing.  IME, I have only just had to roll my eyes and just let it go, but I think if I found myself in your shoes, that would just be over the line for me.  

 

Free swim it would be!


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#9 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 08:03 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm a big fan of free swim, too.  For years we made a concerted effort (thanks in part to a prenatal reading of David Elkind's The Hurried Child) not to cave to pressure and enroll our young children in all kinds of structured, adult-led programs.  We went to free swim.  We went to story time when they wanted to and perused the library on our own.  We played soccer in the backyard instead of signing them up for leagues.

 

But it began to be a bit insular, and the two eldest starting developing specialized interests.  At age six, DS really wanted to learn how to play the drums.  We found a wonderful drum teacher (actually a talented, self-taught musician who had never taught children but was open to trying).  The lessons have always been more like "playing the drums with Drew."  Then DD wanted to do ballet, and we observed the program and felt like overall it was a good fit. 

 

DS (almost 9) also joined a scouting troop.  DD is doing some scattered Saturday sewing classes because while I enjoy weaving, I know nothing about using a sewing machine and that's what she wanted to do.  Her aunt was going to work with her, but then she had a personal crisis and that fell through.   Fortunately, DD has a friend whose grandmother teaches the classes at the fabric store in the city, and they've been marvelous.  The teacher is absolutely respectful of DD as a person and never condescending.

 

I think the discussions you mention are important.  Tonight DD was playing Legos with her brothers and acting out a scene from the swim lesson where the "Miss M" minifigure said in a bossy voice, "You must not swallow the water.  If some gets in your mouth, spit it out."  DD then had another minifigure say, "Excuse me, but spitting is a dirty habit."  She learned that line from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and seemed to relish pretending to challenge the teacher.

 

The truth is--and I appreciate all of you who've read all my posts on this thread and elsewhere--because of our location we often have to choose between a less-than-ideal option or nothing.  It is one of the drawbacks of living somewhere where the local culture doesn't generally support progressive attitudes toward child-raising.  Why are we here, then?  It's DH's hometown, and nine years ago we both were younger and had more faith in our ability to make our own happiness no matter where we lived.  In August we'll be spending three weeks in the place where we hope to relocate.  It's like an unschooling family's dream, in many ways, compared to where we've been.  Not that I expect any place to be perfect, but having some like-minded community (now it's like one other family) would really help. 

 

Thanks, Sweet Silver, for weighing in.  We'll see how it goes tomorrow.  If it's bad enough, I'll certainly encourage DD to consider moving on.

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#10 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 08:37 PM
 
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My girls have absolutely loved their gymnastics classes over the last 2 years.  They still have a lot of the external rewards for everything, but it's really not that bad, and the teachers are really great and they don't push the recreational class kids towards competition, they are really supportive and mellow.  I have told the girls my expectations: arrive and be ready on time, be attentive and don't goof off.  They are better at this than anyone else in their classes, just about.  Almost too much!  7yo dd1 sometimes doesn't even talk to the girls in her class, and that is totally not what I meant by "pay attention"!  

 

Like I said before, I don't seek out classes that are necessarily within the unschool philosophy.  I mean, that would be very cool, but although I can attend open gym, they would not have learned back hip circles, or back hand springs and insurance doesn't allow for parents to spot their children there and I wouldn't know how anyway.  No, some things lend themselves very nicely to a classical approach, other things I am more ready to seek an open-ended exploratory approach, closer to my own unschooling philosophy.  The fact that the children are enthusiastic participants in this kind of activity is close enough to unschooling for me to call it good.  

 

But, like I said, eventually that line can be crossed, in which case I would have to talk with the girls and weigh our options.  A situation similar to yours would not be an automatic dealbreaker.  Like you have discovered, I imagine it would open up all kinds of conversations about what is going on that you take issue with.  I enjoy it when the subject of HSing and specifically USing philosophies come up in our house.  It gives me a chance to let them know why we are doing what we are doing, and the benefits I see us reaping from it.


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#11 of 23 Old 06-11-2012, 09:53 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Sweet Silver, I'm now asking myself what exactly I mean when I talk about classes that mesh with the unschooling philosophy.  Having a formal structure can be fine--as long as the participants are there on a voluntary basis, and the structure is integral to the subject at hand.  For example, learning how to swim a particular stroke requires having the stroke modeled in a pretty specific way.  Or sewing on a machine: a person can learn how to use a sewing machine without formal instruction, but modern sewing machines are fairly complicated, expensive, and easy to damage if one is just fiddling around; therefore, some fairly deliberate, if not formal, teaching seems warranted.

 

I think the big ones for me are first, that the teacher understands that he or she is there to support the learner in a specific endeavor, not to meet the teacher's own unaddressed needs for someone to lord power over, or to feel needed or chosen; and two, that the learner is treated with respect, and if the learner is a child, spoken to only in a way the teacher would address an adult learning the same skill.

 

So I'm probably talking about avoiding childism more than I am about unschooling per se.  For me, though, taking children seriously (in lower case, not the formal movement) is an integral part of the unschooling philosophy.  The candy bothers me not so much because I hate junky crap and because I think rewards decrease intrinsic motivation (which I do), but because it insults children who show up excited and willing at swim lessons to suggest that they might not work hard enough if there weren't candy involved at the end.

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#12 of 23 Old 06-12-2012, 09:19 AM
 
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Exactly, Luckiestgirl! I think it's about finding a teacher who respects children and takes delight in learning from them as much as from teaching them. We've been able to find great teachers for art and martial arts, and occasionally for music. Sometimes the classes were highly structured and controlled (martial arts in particular) but that respect for the learner, and the interest in understanding him or her, was always there. My middle two kids have started high school this past year and three of their five teachers are exactly of this sort, while a fourth comes close. Their sudden immersion experience in school has not been difficult or traumatic, and has in fact been quite incredible, as a result.  

 

I realize it's not always possible, but whenever we've been able to we've observed classes before enrolling. Alternatively, if I know who the instructor is, I'll try to call them and chat about their class, their aims, their philosophy ... all under the guise of "I'm hoping to figure out ahead of time whether it will be a good fit for my child." And I ask around with other parents of children already in the program. 

 

I live in a village of 600, an hour and a half from a very small city. We have a very limited set of options for activities, and we've just had to come to terms with the reality that one or two good-fit activities is the best we can hope for. It's unfortunate there isn't more, but we just remind ourselves of the perks we get living in the forest far away from a large population centre. And we tend to become very committed to (and have our lives in part shaped by) the good-fit activities we can find. 

 

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#13 of 23 Old 06-12-2012, 01:18 PM
 
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So I'm probably talking about avoiding childism more than I am about unschooling per se.  For me, though, taking children seriously (in lower case, not the formal movement) is an integral part of the unschooling philosophy.  The candy bothers me not so much because I hate junky crap and because I think rewards decrease intrinsic motivation (which I do), but because it insults children who show up excited and willing at swim lessons to suggest that they might not work hard enough if there weren't candy involved at the end.

Perhaps this is an oversimplified judgment, but I don't know any kid who needs candy for any reason at swimming lessons.  My girls cried when we had to stop the swimming lessons due to budget reasons, and no candy or sticker or anything ever presented itself.  They always worked hard.  I think the teachers did exactly what you were hoping for, come to think of it, which makes me wonder what your instructor must have been thinking.

 

Anyway, I don't need a response, I was just shaking my head.  My girls love the stamps and handouts at gym, and it's no big deal but I wish they weren't there, all the same.  (No reading practice, thankfully!)  This kind of stuff is so much fun, I just don't get it.  Now, piano practice, that was not always fun, though playing piano was.  Stickers now and then and earning a framed picture of a composer were, if not motivating every day, a really nice reward for having worked as hard as I did.  (My piano teacher's husband owned a framing shop.)  I think I would have kept at it regardless, though.  I wasn't in it for the "stuff"!  

 

I think it is just a sign of how endemic this view of children is: kids will not work unless offered a reward, they cannot be trusted to make the "proper" decisions.  I hope I am not too optimistic when I think I see the beginning of the end.  Just as this way of relating to children seems to be reaching an absurd peak, there is a movement on the rise, with parents and scientists, that suggest that we've been going at it all wrong.


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#14 of 23 Old 06-13-2012, 06:47 AM
 
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From the other side, a group swim lesson is absolutely a place where the teacher needs to expect a certain level of "schooly" behavior, have rules and expect them to be followed.  They should be reasonable rules, and it helps to explain to the kids why you have them, and I don't see any need to reinforce them with candy.   But a group lesson, by its nature, needs at least some structure to it.

 

A few years back there was an unschooling family signed up for group swim lessons at our Y.    As far as I can tell, she signed up her kids and said "Okay, just hang out and learn what you want to learn from the teacher, but you don't have to do what the teacher says unless you feel like it."

 

And it was chaos, and it was dangerous chaos.   One teacher in the shallow end with 6 kids who couldn't touch the bottom, one of whom felt no need to wait his turn before jumping, randomly launched himself or others into deeper water, and would demand the teacher pay attention at the moment that another child was in an awkward position.   The lifeguard ended up having to intervene and fish kids out of the pool more than once.   And his mom smiled and waved and applauded from the bleachers as he shoved other kids aside, pushed them away, took his turn over and over instead of others... 

 

Dangerous chaos -- and the other kids didn't get much of a chance to learn anything.   


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#15 of 23 Old 06-13-2012, 07:19 AM
 
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That's not what Luckiestgirl is asking about.  Not by a long shot.


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#16 of 23 Old 06-13-2012, 08:36 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Dangerous chaos -- and the other kids didn't get much of a chance to learn anything.   

 

I'm wondering if you read my posts above.  Or even the entire title.  My last post explains why unschoolers are often drawn to structured learning (i.e., not chaos).  To be clear, by "schooly" and "childist," I mean operating under the assumption that:

 

1.  Children need to be threatened ("I'm a former assistant principal, and I know how to enforce rules!") to gain their cooperation. 

 

2.  Children need to be rewarded with prizes (candy, stickers, etc.) or else they won't try challenging things.

 

3. It is okay to speak to a child /make demands of a child (e.g., quizzing a child's reading ability in public) in a way that any adult would find insulting or humiliating.

 

 

We search out classes/lessons in those situations where informal, casual learning doesn't seem the best way to get where we want to go (see my above example about learning how to use a sewing machine).  Every unschooling family I know does this to varying degrees.  My children and I expect that there will be safety and social guidelines for sewing class, swimming class, etc.  We want to be safe.  We want others to be safe.  We want others to have a positive, enriching experience.  And all this is possible without threatening, rewarding, condescending, and humiliating.  Interestingly, my daughter--the only unschooler in her swim class--is the only one who didn't get up and wander off a single time during the past two days.  Her ballet teacher has repeatedly told me what an eager learner she is, how kind she is to the other children, and what a joy she is to have in class.  Of course--she is there because she wants to be. 

 

Some of us had a discussion on another thread about John Holt's distinction between S-chool and s-chool.  If anyone is interested in this, or thinks unschooling means "opposed to all structured learning," Holt's book Instead of Education is a fascinating read. 

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#17 of 23 Old 06-13-2012, 09:20 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Just want to add:

 

I really don't want to be harsh.  But I get tired of hearing about the one unschooling family everyone has met whose kids are rude and a danger to everyone.  Not saying those families don't exist--it's just that there are plenty of schooling families like that, too. 

 

And, more to the point, do I sound like a mother who thinks her children should be running and jumping into the deep end during swim lessons?  Perhaps the word "schooly" is problematic, but I really did try to define my use of it.

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#18 of 23 Old 06-13-2012, 10:54 AM
 
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I get tired of hearing about the one unschooling family everyone has met whose kids are rude and a danger to everyone.  

 

Yeah, I certainly share your sentiment. The one local family I know where the children are most rude and dangerous was a school-going family ... until 3 months ago. They are now unschooling, and I wouldn't be surprised if people encountering them now blame the behaviour on their unschooling. It's nothing of the sort. It existed for years before academic difficulties led them to try unschooling.

 

In general I see unschooled kids attending structured activities by choice to be paragons of virtuous behaviour. Two of my kids have taken high school courses part-time. They've both commented how ironic it is that they as homeschoolers seem to be the only students who actually want to be there to learn. Fortunately their teachers have been pretty cool ... but many teachers design their classroom management and disciplinary strategies around the assumption that the children in their classes don't want to be there and don't want to learn.

 

Unschooled kids who purposely choose structured learning situations to meet particular needs are pretty awesome to teach. I have a 10-year-old violin student like this and he's just amazing: totally unschooled with almost no structure in the rest of his life, and yet he is the one kid who will do whatever I ask and arrive at his next lesson eager for more assignments. When he was younger he occasionally needed explanations about why I expected certain things from him, stuff I thought was self-evident but which wasn't to him, but given reasonable explanations he totally got it.

 

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#19 of 23 Old 06-13-2012, 12:06 PM
 
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Yes, it sounds more like those unruly "unschooled" kids have special needs that effect their impulse control... The only problem my ds has in the very very rare structured activity in which he participates is that he tends to call out answers rather than raise his hand and wait to be called on. If he wasn't eager and interested, that wouldn't be a problem, of course.


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#20 of 23 Old 06-22-2012, 09:37 PM
 
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Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

 

Anyway, I don't need a response, I was just shaking my head.  My girls love the stamps and handouts at gym, and it's no big deal but I wish they weren't there, all the same.  (No reading practice, thankfully!)  This kind of stuff is so much fun, I just don't get it.  Now, piano practice, that was not always fun, though playing piano was.  Stickers now and then and earning a framed picture of a composer were, if not motivating every day, a really nice reward for having worked as hard as I did.  (My piano teacher's husband owned a framing shop.)  I think I would have kept at it regardless, though.  I wasn't in it for the "stuff"!  

The summer reading program at the library always offers little junky toys & also free books & shirts for kids who read a certain amount. This includes toddlers who are being read to! We want kids to enjoy reading b/c reading is enjoyable, but even the library doesn't trust that kids won't read unless forced to or bribed.

 

How have swimming lessons gone? I was esp interested in how your daughter processed her experience. I think it speaks volumes that she had some not-so-nice thoughts about the teacher & was able to keep them to herself and have some fun with it later. Sounds in-control and not dangerous to me :)


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#21 of 23 Old 06-24-2012, 09:13 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Dogretro, somewhere on Alfie Kohn's website there's a link to one of his articles about the effects of rewards used in reading programs.  I was really tempted to share that with our children's librarian a few years back.  Instead, I took the smaller step of asking if she would consider NOT giving out stuff from Oriental Trading Company every week during summer reading program.  I explained that OTC had been involved with numerous recalls for lead violations, that the stuff was pretty disposable, and that several times I had a crying child because the toy he or she was given broke before we even made it home.  The result was that the librarian distanced herself from me dramatically (cold shoulder kind of thing).  The library still gives out OTC stuff, the last I heard.

 

Swimming lessons are now over (it was an every-day-for-two-weeks session).  DD is doing all kinds of new stuff in the water: underwater somersaults, handstands, etc., and can now do a pretty decent breaststroke and sidestroke.  Interestingly, none of these things were taught in swim lessons.  We've simply been going to the outdoor pool every other day on our own time.

 

On the last day of lessons, the teacher gave out report cards and certificates.  DD asked, "What's this?" and the teacher told her what was in the envelope.  She hasn't even gotten around to looking at it, so obviously she doesn't really care how the teacher rates her performance. 

 

Honestly, I think if I could do it over I would just skip swim lessons entirely.  DH and I are good swimmers, and I think being taken to the pool and having swimming modeled is probably the best way to go.  I came across this piece online (written by an unschooler), and I'm adopting the term "competence model" as a regular part of my vocabulary.  I'd love to hear what others have to say about the piece. 

 

http://familyrun.ning.com/profiles/blogs/swimming-to-lesson-the

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#22 of 23 Old 07-06-2012, 08:55 AM
 
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Finally getting back to this thread after reading the article.  I found it interesting that the girl still credited her brief experience with swim lessons for her swimming ability.  I think that is one reason why I am sticking with family swims instead of lessons with my 5yo and 7yo.  Just building confidence and learning to float and swim seems to be the best first step, and I like the idea that they will know they learned it themselves, much like reading.  Later, when or if they want to learn more about specific swimming strokes, etc. then lessons can be in their future, but I managed to get through life and find joy in swimming with only a handful of beginning lessons as a kid and no further instruction.

 

To some degree, swimming is one of those things that people will learn on their own.  Teachers are fine and all, but it's nice when we can feel confident that they are not always necessary.


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#23 of 23 Old 07-06-2012, 09:46 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

 

To some degree, swimming is one of those things that people will learn on their own.  Teachers are fine and all, but it's nice when we can feel confident that they are not always necessary.

 

Yes. 

 

I also found this article

 

http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/0708/of_swimming_and_schooling.htm

 

that has helped me make peace with the fact that my eight-year-old DS still has no interest in going underwater. 

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