An unschooling approach to public school - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 12 Old 08-13-2012, 12:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My 12yo recently let us know that she really, really wants to go to public school. We've been helping her pursue her own interests and learn whatever she wants to learn to the extent that she wants to learn it, so she, her dad, and I agreed that we will spend this coming year helping her get to the place where she'll need to be to start 8th grade in the fall of 2013.

 

My reasons for wanting her to spend this year in preparation are so that she'll feel confident among her peers, and also so that, should she realize a few days or weeks or months into it that this is not for her, we can easily withdraw her without raising any red flags among school employees.

 

I realize that some people might see the path that we are now taking as an indication that unschooling is no longer working for our child -- or that dh and I have somehow been doing it all wrong -- but dd's recent behavior has actually been proving to me how perfect unschooling always was and still is for her. Not because I think she won't be going to school next fall, because she probably will still decide to do so, but because, after a week of wanting me to give her assignments, she has quickly moved back into the driver's seat and begun setting her own goals and figuring out how she wants to work toward them.

 

I realize that we'll need to provide her with some guidlines as to what exactly is expected of an 8th grader in our state -- but once we help her get to the resources she needs in order to learn the required information and/or work on the required skills, she'll be in the driver's seat and we'll simply be available as additional resources that she can draw on.

 

Some people might say that I should regret not having her start on all this earlier -- but what I'm seeing is that she's got a motivation now, and even if it's a motivation to catch up with her schooled peers, it's still a motivation and it makes it all very exciting for her.

 

The way I see it, we'll still be unschooling when/if she goes to school because she'll be pursuing her dreams as an empowered young woman who knows that she can use the vehicle of school for as long as it's working for her, and can return to home education if and when she decides to.  The world is and will always be her oyster.

 

Thanks for listening and I'd love to hear your own ideas and stories!


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#2 of 12 Old 08-14-2012, 07:35 AM
 
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I don't have any first hand experience, but many of my friends have had kids enter school at a similar age and they've done very well.  

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#3 of 12 Old 08-14-2012, 09:19 AM
 
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My middle dd surprised us a year ago at age 12 when she announced in July that she wanted to attend school in September. We supported her in exploring her options and ultimately enrolling in school 6 weeks later. 

 

Anyway, it has worked out beautifully, and yes, I think it has really blurred the line between unschooling and school for me. I mean, obviously I don't call her an unschooler at this point, but her motivations for attending, and the authenticity and freedom of her choice definitely feel consistent with unschooling to me. She has decided that she enjoys and benefits from the structure and accountability of school and that it is serving her desires at this point. It's a choice. School serves her, rather than the other way around.

 

She was academically advanced in most areas and I was comfortable that she would find her way with no preparation. There was a learning curve, to be sure, but she had support from the school and from friends. She figured out what was expected from a PowerPoint report on a field trip, what a poster display typically entailed, what tests and exams are like, what "short answer questions" are, and how to take notes, just as she went along. My confidence that it was no big deal, that she would figure it out as she went along, really helped, I think. If I'd made too big a deal about "being ready" she probably would have internalized a lot of anxiety about school and might not have had the confidence she needed in herself that carried her through new situations like timed exams and oral presentations.

 

In fact I've now had three previously unschooled kids head off to high school. My other two began part-time at age 14, eventually transitioning to full-time. Only my eldest did any prep, and that was because she wanted to enter the math stream at a higher level than her age-grade, and a higher level than she had systematically completed, so she did some gap-filling over the summer. I would say that the biggest adjustment for all my kids was the organizational time-management one. Not only did school take a big chunk of time out of their weeks, but their at-home time took on a different flavour, because it was now limited and things which had previously taken place based on whims and inclinations now had to be scheduled in or there just wasn't time for them. This past year was the first year of school for my two middle kids (my youngest is still homeschooled) and I wrote a bit of a summary about their experience here if you're interested.

 

I live in a rural part of Canada, where there are a variety of hybrid school-homeschool programs, the option of part-time school attendance and nothing comparable to community college for high school aged kids like in the US. So the vast majority of homeschoolers seem to transition into school sometime between 8th and 11th grades as they reach the point of wanting some systematic academic course-work. Most of them weather the transition just fine.

 

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#4 of 12 Old 08-14-2012, 01:22 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My confidence that it was no big deal, that she would figure it out as she went along, really helped, I think. If I'd made too big a deal about "being ready" she probably would have internalized a lot of anxiety about school and might not have had the confidence she needed in herself that carried her through new situations like timed exams and oral presentations.

 

I definitely do see your point here, and I certainly don't feel that everything has to be "perfect" before she can attend. However, the first day of school here is today or tomorrow, and dd just mentioned this about 2-3 weeks ago. When she first brought it up, she was, for example, at the place in her reading skills where she was having to stop a lot to sound out words; this was because, for the last several years, she'd have little spurts of energy and enthusiasm for reading, but then go for days and days where she just didn't want to do it at all. Of course, some of her computer games involve a lot of reading, but this is a lot easier for her than reading a whole page of text.

 

A few months ago, she'd actually started herself on a program of reading a page a day and she was making slow progress in her skills -- but now, with this new goal, her reading skills have totally taken off and she's been reading entire short stories.

 

It wasn't that I wanted to make a huge big deal about the situation or make her feel that she needed to be doing everything perfectly -- I just felt it would be cruel to try to toss her into a 7th grade classroom where, at the same time that she'd be getting to know a whole lot of new kids and teachers and rules and so on, she'd also be struggling to read a simple sentence.

 

I actually think it's likely that our school system would want to test her, and that they might very well want to put her into a much lower grade, and she has recently switched from being very positive about her height to feeling self conscious about the fact that many of her friends' heads are about level with her shoulder. (She's tall like me, and at age 12 she is 5'7".) Maybe I was overthinking it, but I didn't want her to end up in a situation that she might be very unhappy with, going to a class with a lot of younger kids -- and I was also concerned, should she decide that she didn't want to stay in this situation, the school might make it difficult for us to withdraw her. 

 

In our state, all a parent needs to do legally to withdraw a child is to write a letter of intent to homeschool -- however, I was concerned that throwing a 12yo into school when she was only doing very basic reading would probably result in a sort of "red flag" being raised, especially if she ended up not wanting to stay in school and we withdrew her. I've mentioned in other threads here that my sister called CPS on us and accused us of educational neglect four years ago, and even though no case was ever opened, I do feel concerned about the possibility of giving another individual the impression that our family is need of some sort of intervention. I know that we are definitely not neglecting our girls' educations, but I simply don't feel confident that whoever might be assigned to evaluate us would be well informed on unschooling philosophy.

 

Dd is actually learning so many things so quickly right now that, who knows, she may be ready for some sort of testing before this coming spring semester. I know a year is an awfully long time to wait, but she actually does seem to be enjoying herself and finding plenty of things to do now.

 

I love what you said here, Miranda (moominmamma): "School serves her, rather than the other way around." This is how I want it to be for my daughter, too.


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#5 of 12 Old 08-14-2012, 03:15 PM
 
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I definitely do see your point here, and I certainly don't feel that everything has to be "perfect" before she can attend. However, ...

 

Oh yes, I wouldn't recommend the "zero prep" approach unless you were confident that academically your child wouldn't suffer from any obvious lags. I didn't say that in my post and I should have. My kids have been academically advanced for their ages. A child who has been more of a late bloomer academically would probably benefit from some sort of prep and a decent lead-time. Your approach sounds very reasonable. I suppose I only meant that it's important to do the prep in a way that engenders confidence, rather than framing it as "If you don't master all this, you won't be ready for school and that would be a Very Bad Thing." Instead I would frame it as "It's great that we know a year ahead of time, because it gives you time to become familiar with what schools expect, which will make the transition no big deal. We'll just be gradually getting you into a school-like swing."

 

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#6 of 12 Old 08-15-2012, 06:22 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Anyway, it has worked out beautifully, and yes, I think it has really blurred the line between unschooling and school for me. I mean, obviously I don't call her an unschooler at this point, but her motivations for attending, and the authenticity and freedom of her choice definitely feel consistent with unschooling to me. 

 

It feels totally consistent to me, too. About the term "unschooling" -- I honestly don't use it that much IRL, but I don't know that I see dd as any less of an unschooler now than she was before. Maybe that's because, while the term "unschooling" has the term "unschool" in it, I see it more as a basic life philosophy that really has little to do with whether one sets foot in a brick and mortar school building or not.

 

I know that sounds weird but, in my mind, keeping her out of that brick and mortar building if she wanted to be there wouldn't be unschooling, while helping her have the experience she wants, with total freedom to change course whenever she wants to, seems pretty much like unschooling to me.

 

I just honestly don't see it as being anything like schooling because, to my way of thinking, the school experience is not something that most children are free to opt out of. I realize that many do indeed love it, and some not so much, and, of course, I'm glad for the ones who love, love, love it -- but I don't think most of them had a choice about whether to go or not. Whereas my children do have a choice.

 

I do think that some mainstream parents have a nice, refreshing, unschooly approach to homework. For example, I recall that when my brother's kids were in 1st and 2nd grade and were bringing homework home, he refused to make them do it in the evenings because he felt that they'd just spent a good part of their day at school and they needed some time to play and do whatever they wanted. I thought this was great -- however, since he lived with my parents, things didn't really pan out the way he'd intended. Mom was the one who gave them their breakfast in the mornings and saw them off to school, and she'd pull their homework out of their bags and make them do it at the breakfast table.

 

Anyhow, when dd does go to school, my approach will be to be available to help her with anything she needs help with, but to continue to let her structure her own learning just as she is doing now -- and doing quite and awesome job at, as I've already mentioned.


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#7 of 12 Old 08-15-2012, 06:37 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I guess I see "schooling" more as having your life and education directed by others, and "unschooling" more as directing it yourself while availing yourself of any resources that you find helpful along the way. If one of these resources happens to be school, I still see it as unschooling as long as you really want to be there.

 

You may even choose to put up with some rules and regulations that you think are stupid in order to have an experience you really want. I see this as a normal part of life because we live in a world where the majority of people have a "schooling" mindset, at least when it comes to children. And while parents of introverted children may be able to totally meet their needs at home, and through relationships with other unschoolers, to meet my own dds' needs, I have been finding it increasingly necessary to interact and build relationships with some people who have a very schooly way of looking at things.

 

Of course, there may be some truly amazing parents who've been able to meet their extraverted children's needs without needing to do this, I'm certainly not assuming it's impossible, I'm just talking about my own experience.

 

So for a few years now, I've been letting my daughters know that they have a choice about whether to be part of an activity, but if they want to join in, they need to be willing to follow the rules of whoever is leading it. And, of course, this will also be my approach to any school experience.


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#8 of 12 Old 08-15-2012, 07:39 AM
 
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Miranda, I think you posted many moons ago about grades (marks) and and how you and your kids handled that essential aspect of schooling.  Could you share again?


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#9 of 12 Old 08-15-2012, 07:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Miranda, I think you posted many moons ago about grades (marks) and and how you and your kids handled that essential aspect of schooling.  Could you share again?

Yes, I'd love to hear about that, too!


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#10 of 12 Old 08-15-2012, 10:57 AM
 
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Miranda, I think you posted many moons ago about grades (marks) and and how you and your kids handled that essential aspect of schooling.  Could you share again?

 

I don't recall what I've written in the past, but in a nutshell they barely notice their grades. Well, dd13 does notice a bit -- she goes into tests and exams with the hope of getting a good score -- but even she pays less attention to her marks than average schoolkids. My kids are in school to master the learning that is part of the curriculum, not to get good grades. Their own sense of mastery is what they care about: if the questions on the test are easy to answer, if they do a project that seems well-organized and informative, if they know they have put effort and creativity into an assignment, then they are happy. Good grades often confirm their own perceptions about their mastery, but they're more of a beside-the-point correlation than a goal. 

 

I feel like they have extremely healthy attitudes to grades. Far more healthy than my attitude when I was in school. But I don't really know why or how they arrived at this attitude. I suspect it may be personality combined with unschooling through their formative years. They are perfectionists with strong drives to autonomy and competency, but introverted. When they were young they tended to avoid competitive and comparative situations because of their own perfectionism. When they did academics as unschoolers, there was no marking things right or wrong: if you checked an answer key you just reworked anything that was wrong, and the work was usually done on ephemeral media like a whiteboard or scrap paper so that the only "record" they had of the work done was in their own minds. The point was always to understand and master, not "to get the right answers" or "to do the work." So the main measure of competence they used until school entry was ease of mastery and completeness of understanding. And they've continued to use those measures, rather than grades, even once they entered school. 

 

When they mention a good grade my reaction is "Nice!" but that's about all. I might ask how they're enjoying the course, whether it's interesting. I don't congratulate them and say how proud I am, I don't make a point of bringing the accomplishment up at the dinner table or at family gatherings. If there's a not-so-great grade, I'll ask them whether they're learning what they want from the course. If yes, that's fine. If no, well, I guess I'd offer help solving any problems with content, comprehension or format. 

 

This year, the first in school for my middle two kids, we had the helpful wrinkle of some job action by the teacher's union which included not providing report cards for the first two terms. That made it much easier to avoid putting too much focus on grades, since we didn't receive any official ones anyway. We are also fortunate that the kids are for the most part very academically inclined; it's much easier to ignore grades when they're consistently solid, when the sense of mastery is repeatedly confirmed by results. I'm not sure how all this would have played out if they had faced academic struggles.

 

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#11 of 12 Old 09-13-2012, 12:39 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I just wanted to give an exciting update. I see that I started this thread a mere month ago, about two weeks after dd had decided she wanted to start working on all this stuff -- and, this afternoon, she just read two chapters of Louis Sachar's book Sideways Stories from Wayside School to me, smoothly and almost effortlessly. She's been working on her reading on her own, and, as I mentioned upthread, it was challenging for her to read a simple sentence six weeks ago, but four weeks ago when I started this thread, she had progressed to the place where she was reading short stories, but was just reading them to herself. And those stories were in large print.

 

Now she's easily reading whole chapters of a book with words in small print, and it's easy as pie for her. She's also been making tons of progress with her writing and math skills. And, as I mentioned upthread, she's organizing all of this herself. We provide her, of course, with materials and website links and so on (for her to choose from), and she also likes for dh to print out math worksheets for her, but she's also getting pretty darned good at finding some things that she's interested in on the Web on her own.

 

This is a real testament to the power of unschooling, of trusting our kids to direct their own learning. When she sits down in a classroom, this will just be the next step in her self-directed education. She'll be there because she chose to be there, and she'll be free to keep on evaluating that choice and determining, day by day, what environments are the best fit for her ongoing learning. Hooray for unschooling!

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#12 of 12 Old 09-13-2012, 02:05 PM
 
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That's such an exciting update! Very gratifying to both you and your daughter. 

 

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