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Unschooling > Getting Started?
ldupuis44's Avatar ldupuis44 07:51 AM 06-27-2012

I am a mother of one 2.5 year old little boy. I want to start unschooling. I know that sounds strange since most parents naturally unschool toddlers. But I feel like 1) I'm always trying to do 'educational' things for him, like letter A week (reading books that start with the letter A, eating snacks that start with the Letter A or doing arts and crafts to try and teach him something, not because they are fun).  2) I am always 'laying down the law' telling him not to do things, then realizing that what he is doing isn't going to hurt anything, but I'm telling him not to because I was always told not to. 3) Not wanting to sit down and talk with him because I end up feeling frustrated, like he can't understand what I'm saying anyways and can't really communicate back 4) Trying to get him to entertain himself while I do chores and such because I just want to get them done (aka not involving him).


I am looking for tips on how much of this is at odds with unschooling, tips on how to change it, and how my day should look if I'm doing it right...I just feel like if I don't do #1 (aka Letter of the Week) he won't learn his letters. If we don't sit down and work with numbers (with play doh balls or coloring) he won't learn his numbers. He'll be 3 in September and still doesn't talk great. He does talk, but he seems to speak more clearly and pick up more words when we do Letter of the Week. I just feel so lost and turned around. I truly think that unschooling is best, I just don't know where to start!

Luckiestgirl's Avatar Luckiestgirl 08:42 AM 06-27-2012

Welcome.  I think it is admirable that you have identified some aspects of the way you were parented that you don't wish to repeat.  And I think you are correct in recognizing that unschooling is a philosophy with larger implications than simply "education."


None of my children learned their letters, colors, days of the week, etc. from formal instruction, or from me "working" with them.  I simply played with them, and provided materials to foster their own play.  Over time, these concepts became important enough to each child that they were learned painlessly.


I don't know what you've read about unschooling up to this point, but given the fact that you are most concerned about your own role in the learning process, I would recommend John Holt's Learning All the Time: how small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world without being taught.   I think it will take a lot of pressure off of you, and perhaps help you to see how these are things most children will learn to do on their own, given enough time.


Instead of trying to teach your son, I would just enjoy him.  Do play-doh because it's enjoyable, not to check some item off a list.  Go on nature walks and let him help you cook and blow bubbles and play with pattern blocks and grow some plants in little cups.  He will learn from these activities, but you won't have to "teach" him anything.

moominmamma's Avatar moominmamma 01:41 PM 06-27-2012

Whenever I find myself getting the way of my kids' natural learning, I find that the best remedy is to observe them more keenly. I think of myself as documentarian, making a mental (or virtual, or physical) article or journal designed to sell some imaginary audience on the benefits of natural learning. I remind myself of what the great early music educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki said when asked why he spent a few quiet moments with his eyes closed outside the studio where his students awaited: "I am bringing myself down to the physical limitations of 5-year-olds, and up to their sense of wonder and awe." In other words, he was trying to imagine himself into their heads, in order to be a better teacher and guide. That's where observation is helpful to parents. Time we spend observing is not spent directing. And it can change our whole focus, building our appreciation for the self-directed activity that breeds wonder and awe.... and learning. For me actual documentation was helpful. If I could read back over a description of a day of play, household and community activities, and natural learning, one written from the perspective of an educational observer, I would never fail to be impressed. Immersed in it I wouldn't necessarily appreciate how much learning was happening. Stepping back and re-reading my whole account I would see the big picture much more readily.


I also find it helpful to internalize the stories of other unschooled children, whether through books, magazines, in real life or through blogs. We are surrounded by conventional adult-led models of education. It can be tough to break out of that mindset. So surrounding ourselves with people, or at least their stories, following a child-led model is a useful counter-strategy.



4evermom's Avatar 4evermom 07:20 AM 06-28-2012

I love the toddler age... It is so fun and fascinating following around young toddlers and watching them discover things and watching how their minds work. Some adults get impatient with the repetition and try to get the child to move on to something new rather than let the child finish exploring or watching the same thing. If they are repeating an action or wanting the same book reread to them, they are getting something out of it even if you aren't sure what. It's easier to not let your adult boredom derail the child's exploration if you really observe the child, like Moominmomma described.


Someone said "Don't let your need to teach interfere with your child's need to learn." I know dh and I tend to over explain things. I work hard at not doing that. Ds is really good at letting me know (though often not in a terribly polite way) when I do it.


My own ds had a pretty determined and contrary temperament so he taught me not to try to keep him from doing something unless it was damaging or dangerous. It was actually more dangerous to over react since he was more likely to run into a dangerous situation if I ran over to him because he was close to the street or something. He was naturally a careful kid but has an excitable nature with an over active fight or flight reflex and a hyper startle reflex. Plus he had a huge contrary thing going on. So he'd reliably stay out of the street at age 2 unless someone ran over to him or said "don't go on the street." Really, we ended up unschooling because his temperament demanded it. 

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 09:27 AM 07-02-2012

When I finally settled in my mind what I was going to do to educate our girls (considered Waldorf kindy for a time) I decided that what I needed to do first was to change my own habits.  In our state, we do not need to declare our intent to homeschool until their 8th birthday, so I decided to use this time not to teach, but to focus on making myself a better HSing parent.  I wanted to set up my day to make it easy to slide into activities they asked for.  Like Miranda, I started keeping notes on everything remotely schoolish they did that day (conversations about where the earth came from, any writing, anywhere they used math, any exploring they did, books we read, arguments we worked through, even silly things like dd2's fanciful "robots" were written down).  It was also something of a diary, but I didn't try putting it into educationese, just recording it was enough for me.


So, I needed to get off my ass and get ready and get the chores done.... but wait!  So much easier than it sounds with little kids.  Age made everything easier.  Having toddlers made HSing, even USing, seem impossible.  Even today, when my girls are 5 and 7 and growing up ever faster, even today I still never get all the essentials done. Guess what?  I'm still alive, my house doesn't look or smell like a garbage dump and the girls had their bath last think...... so all that stuff really isn't as essential as I thought.  But what I did was move my chores around to where they were.  Playing in the bedroom, I would fold laundry.  Move to the playroom, I'd shift into the kitchen.  I don't need to do that so much anymore, but it helped.  Knowing when to shift was helpful, and it is not always when the task is done.  After lunch, I just want to get outside at some point, so I announce that I am working in the garden, who wants to come outside?  Breaking tasks into smaller chunks helps.  This area has been fraught with frustration and difficulty, but I found a few tricks.


So, you are on the right track-- examining yourself and what you want to change.  You want to be more responsive.  That's terrific.  A letter a week isn't going to derail that for now.  Just change things gradually as you feel ready.  I am not the perfect whole-life unschooling parent yet, either, though I am continually working on letting go of the authoritarianism.  It is an ongoing process.  

Cassidy68's Avatar Cassidy68 12:35 PM 07-02-2012
Originally Posted by 4evermom View Post

Someone said "Don't let your need to teach interfere with your child's need to learn." I know dh and I tend to over explain things. I work hard at not doing that. Ds is really good at letting me know (though often not in a terribly polite way) when I do it.



Really, we ended up unschooling because his temperament demanded it. 


Just wanted to say thanks for this-- it made me laugh out loud because I could so relate to both of the above comments. My son is a born unschooler and I am still battling my over-explaining tendencies...


One other thought for the OP-- kids do learn naturally but since they are driven by their own interests and curiousity, unschooled kids won't not necessarily the same things in the same order that they would in school. I agree with the suggestions to step back and observe. My son has always gone through phases of intense interest in different topics, during which he would learn voraciously- but at age 2 or 3, it would have been about steam engines or plumbing or computers, not so much letters and colours and animals, which seemed to be the pre-school topics of choice. He did get to those on his own time though :)

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 07:47 PM 07-02-2012
Originally Posted by Cassidy68 View Post

One other thought for the OP-- kids do learn naturally but since they are driven by their own interests and curiousity, unschooled kids won't not necessarily the same things in the same order that they would in school.

My friend is just starting out USing.  Her son doesn't like writing or reading Lessons, but loves stories and especially loves his books (adult) on logging and chainsaws and will spend hours perusing the books whereas he otherwise can't sit still 3 minutes.  And he loves knots and lassos.  He is 5 and just out of preschool where he was told he couldn't use the whole piece of paper to write his name.  Why are letters and numbers so much more important that big tomes on logging, lassos and knot tying?


BTW, my 5yo asks, "How did this get started?" when I drone on too long.  Yes, a bit blunt! orngtongue.gif

Tags: Unschooling