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-   -   Unschooling anxiety (http://www.mothering.com/forum/439-unschooling/1381567-unschooling-anxiety.html)

Attila the Honey 04-12-2013 08:23 AM

I've tried everything and anything when it comes to homeschooling my 9 year old - school at home, unschooling, classic education, charlotte mason and now we are using a cyber charter school.

 

So far we've not found the thing that works for us.  School at home and the like are just daily battles, and while my daughter likes certain aspects of the cyber school we hate others.  Mostly the problem is too much busy work, too much focus on stuff long after she's mastered it, some subjects are way below her ability level, and she complains she doesn't have the time or energy to learn about the stuff she wants to learn about after the school day is over.  (She just wants to get away from the computer and play outside or play with her toys or veg in front of the TV.)

 

My daughter has always had wide and varied interests and if I am able to keep up with it and support her then she's tended to immerse herself in whatever interests her.  Lately I've been just marking her cyber school lessons done and allowed her to do what she wants within certain parameters.  She has to do math every day, and luckily she enjoys it so that's been good.  She has to read every day, which she loves to do and does on her own anyway.  She has to write every day, whether it is to practice cursive or write about what she is researching.

 

Basically, based on all of that, I think she's a perfect candidate for unschooling!  The problem is me.  I have so much anxiety about her not learning things in "order". For example, last week she spent a few days reading about the Mughals and the Taj Mahal and talked about it constantly.  This week it's been the French Revolution.  Just today she mentioned Henry VIII.  (She gets most of her ideas from the HistoryTeachers youtube channel, she loves those songs.)  It makes me twitchy that she jumps around like this, without learning about what came before and what came after, if that makes sense?

 

She is the same way with Science - one day she wants to know everything about Space, the next day it's the brain, then she's making a coloring book of all her favorite unusual animals like the jerboa, quokka, mantis shrimp etc.

 

The first time I unschooled I got so completely burned out.  I think I overdid the whole thing.  She'd show an interest in a certain artist and off we'd go to the nearest art museum that has his/her work, sometimes 2 hrs away.  She'd show interest in any topic and it involved me going over the top to provide her with everything I could find on that topic.  The second time I unschooled I tried to be very laid back and didn't do much and that was a mess.  She got hooked on the computer and the TV and very little learning was done.

 

Sorry for the wall o'text, but I guess my basic question is this:  How do I find the happy medium for us?  Is my anxiety about her jumping around from topic to topic reasonable?  How can I make this work and balance her love of learning with my anxiety?


4evermom 04-12-2013 09:13 AM

Learning out of order doesn't bother me. We do tend to put things in context for ds, though. My dh is a huge history buff so when we take walks, the conversation often hits on history (unless it stays on computer games!) So if ds asks about the atom bomb, we'll tie it in with other historical or science related things that happened at that time. Or before or after.

 

But why don't you just make a huge timeline and hang it on the wall? Whenever a topic comes up, write it in. Doesn't have to be perfect or terribly detailed but it would make a great visual.


moominmamma 04-12-2013 09:31 AM

Think of the whole jumble of human history as being like a giant jigsaw puzzle in plain cardboard box with no reference picture. You dump out the box and the pieces are in a heap. Half of them are upside down. There are a bunch that are sky blue but a kazillion other shades of green and brown and black and bits of brighter colours here and there. If someone tells you "Start with the top left corner and work systematically right and down from there," you could very well put the puzzle together eventually. But that's neither enjoyable nor efficient, and there's a good chance you'd lose all interest in the puzzle before you even finished the swath of blue sky at the top. What most people would do is start pulling out any of the edge pieces (because they're fairly distinctive) and the bright snatches of interesting colour here and there. You'd pull together the bright green bits and discover that they're part of two different shrubs, and in some of the brown pieces you'd see some bold lines and realize that these are a window, and you'd develop an eye for similar colours and lines elsewhere. If you kept working like that you'd build up the interesting elements of the image in chaotic-seeming clusters. But eventually there would be a moment when you'd see that wow, this little bit of green on the edge of the window fits right into the edge of the big shrub! Now you see how things fit together in places, the small clusters start to aggregate into larger areas, and the entire image begins to take shape. You have the house and the foliage-laden right-hand edge fitting together but there's a gap below where the colour is very dark and indistinct, so you start specifically looking for what connects those elements. And you want to know: does the mailbox fit on the left or the right of the driveway? So you try out both configurations and find one that fits. You're starting to make sense of the big picture, but only because you've latched onto the smaller elements and built outwards from those.

 

I think this is why it makes sense for kids to jump from the Taj Mahal to the French Revolution: because by taking an interest in the smaller elements of history, they develop the understanding of those elements that eventually allows them to make sense of the way they fit together in a larger picture. Engagement trumps order. 

 

If I were you I would sit down with your dd and explain to her what you explained in your post above about your experiences with unschooling in the past. There's this extreme, and this extreme. And neither of them work well for us. How can we find something in the middle, something that appeases my anxieties, honours your autonomy, and takes advantage of the things from the charter school program that have kind of worked well for us? Can we experiment with ideas that will help us find this balance? 

 

Miranda


SweetSilver 04-12-2013 10:12 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Attila the Honey View Post

 

Sorry for the wall o'text, but I guess my basic question is this:  How do I find the happy medium for us?  Is my anxiety about her jumping around from topic to topic reasonable?  How can I make this work and balance her love of learning with my anxiety?

ETA: Here's a post to make your "wall o'text" seem puny!

 

First, it's good to see you back on this forum!  It's nice to hear parents doing their best to find what works for their kid and for their family.

 

The only thing I can speak to is your anxiety from jumping around.  It is perfectly reasonable to be anxious, though I wonder if part of that anxiousness isn't from needing to deschool yourself a bit more.  As a schooled-parent of 2 unschooled girls, I find myself framing their experience in schoolish terms.  I am not anxious about the jumping around, personally, but--wow!--do I ever notice that it happens.  It is one of the first qualities about my experience with unschooling that I mention to people when we discuss it, almost like a warning: "Be Prepared!"

 

I don't have any experienced advice to throw out here, but perhaps an idea: if she is suddenly interested in Henry VIII, for example, perhaps while you are helping her find books at the library, you can find ones on Elizabeth I, or the War of the Roses involving the future Henry VII.  Maybe framing her interests into the context of what lies around it might help balance her flitting interests with your desire for greater organization.  Of course, in my house, those other books might lie there, unused, but I've brought home other books and videos in this way that have been received with enthusiasm.  

 

I seem to remember-- correct me if I am mistaking you for another mom-- that you once were overwhelmed with helping her with her many interests?  Doesn't matter-- my advice would apply here as well.  Part of unschooling needs to be how they want to learn about something. Perhaps museums, etc., are not part of what they want.  What they want could simply be a good book from the library (my girls are 6.5 and 8, so that is appropriate for them--more isn't necessarily better at this age of flitting around).  Some things we do go to great lengths with.  My girls love chickens and horses.  We do a lot of activities around those, and that includes pulling in other adults from the community.  We are in 4-H and go to poultry shows.  They have riding lessons and will be working on a horsemanship badge for Girl Scouts.  "What do you think about doing a public presentation for 4-H?" Yes.  "What should we do first?"  Talk about what I want to tell people.  "Should I write it down while you tell me?"  The unsolicited help I've offered on this project was helping to narrow down the topic of the presentation, based on her many ideas for it.  Some of them didn't have enough "meat" that was familiar to her, so I worked at narrowing down the topics, shifting the attention from one "messy" idea, to an adjacent topic that she knows well and is based more on fact than opinion (her topic is now "What You Need to Know to Take Care of New Chicks").  I will continue helping them on this project, but the drive for it is theirs, so I'm not having to push it or do all the work for them.  (ETA: I'm hearing a lot about fishing recently, and feeling like this is our next Big Adventure.  3 other Girl Scout moms in our troop love fishing, and the whole troop is eager to start.)

 

Could it be your anxiety is from feeling like you need to construct activities or lessons with each interest?  At my girls' ages, I'm not likely to dive too enthusiastically into any one thing at this point, with the exceptions I mentioned above.  We are still in the age of "try-it" and learning about something for the first time.  I wouldn't put a lot of effort into a passing interest, even if I think it will eventually be important.  Both have shown brief interest in learning about square roots (which they heard in passing watching Vi Hart.)  I showed them the blocks, making the squares and talking about what it means.  "Oh, I get it."  Then, back to horses..... 

 

In response to Miranda's post: it is loads of fun when interests tie together.  For example, we've been devouring the Animal Planet series River Monsters on DVD (highly recommended--I am positively glued to the screen!)  DD1 shouted to me "Mom!  That's the same lake in Africa where they were looking for the giant crocs!  Lake Chamo!  That's the same beach!"  This has happened quite a bit recently.  New information touches into the familiar.  The girls are old enough that this happens with regularity now, young enough that the connections are still rather shallow.


Emaye 04-12-2013 07:13 PM

Just the other day, my husband said to me:" How is it that learning takes several hours of work a day in school and our kids spend barely any time at all on formal academic stuff?  How can we expect this to work out?! We must be doing something wrong!"  And there ensued a minor freak out until ... we took stock of what the kids are actually doing with their days.  Once we listed and went over all the great things they have learned this year, we were in fact impressed and not worried at all.  I find this, taking a step back and looking at the big picture, is a pretty good exercise for us as a family.  Of course, my kids are younger so it is easier but I hope to continue doing this in the future to appease both my mine and my husband's worries. 


crunchymama19 04-13-2013 06:39 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Emaye View Post

Just the other day, my husband said to me:" How is it that learning takes several hours of work a day in school and our kids spend barely any time at all on formal academic stuff?  How can we expect this to work out?! We must be doing something wrong!"  And there ensued a minor freak out until ... we took stock of what the kids are actually doing with their days.  Once we listed and went over all the great things they have learned this year, we were in fact impressed and not worried at all.  I find this, taking a step back and looking at the big picture, is a pretty good exercise for us as a family.  Of course, my kids are younger so it is easier but I hope to continue doing this in the future to appease both my mine and my husband's worries. 


Sometimes I worry about this too, then I remind myself of all the busy-work and administrative stuff school kids have to deal with that really takes up most of their time in school. Not to mention lining up for this or that activity, discipline issues, waiting for other kids to be done, ect. We can do stuff that they covered in a full day of school in an hour. Plus, homeschool/unschool kids I think learn all the time, weekends and holidays included.thumb.gif


4evermom 04-13-2013 08:35 PM

I was having a mild anxiety attack recently thinking about my son's lack of "math fact" skills. But then I remembered how confused about long division I was when I was his age and how I didn't have my multiplication tables completely memorized... I remember distinctly because I changed schools and had to take a placement test. Each year at that school, I moved up a level after originally placing in the lowest class. Anyway, that memory reassured me. He doesn't need to be doing math at grade level right now. His math isn't any worse than mine was despite being in school. His understanding of math concepts (not arithmetic) is likely better than mine at that age. Anyway, anxiety comes with the territory. I'm pretty good at talking myself down, thankfully.

Attila the Honey 04-14-2013 06:15 AM

SweetSilver>  That's me!  You have a great memory.  Yes, I do think part of the anxiety is I feel this pressure to make every interest an opportunity to educate.  

 

I know somewhere in there is the sweet spot between burning myself out and anxiety that she's not doing anything.  I just have to find it.

 

Thank you everyone, you've given me a lot to read and digest.  I do think a lot of what you are saying makes sense!



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