I a SAHM with a gifted/high needs DD who is 10. We've been homeschooling the last 2 years, but the last few months have been a struggle. Possibly partly because we also have a new baby, 8months old. We are discussing unschooling next year, at my daughters request. My husband and I both have concerns about it, different ones for each of us.
For me, I have found that my DD does better with predictability. I have tried to accommodate that by creating a daily schedule including school activities, free play time, extra curriculars, chores, etc. This has worked well for us for several years but lately we fight about it often. I feel like I'm constantly nagging to keep her on task. And both of us are tired of it. We aren't enjoying our time together (which is all the time pretty much) much any more. We tried unschooling for K after pulling her out of public school and it didn't go well. My DD thinks that because she is older now, and very curious, she will be able to keep herself occupied and we won't end up fighting so much. I worry that the lack of predictability will cause her anxiety which will lead to more problems. But maybe she's of an age to need more independence? Or maybe as she head into teenager-land I should just expect to butt heads more often? The skills I think she needs to learn are ones I'm not sure she will pick up doing unschooling. (time management, discipline, perseverance, writing a paper)
For my DH, he thinks that if we are unschooling DD will delve deeply into the subjects she is fascinated with, but miss out on some of the basic necessary skills (math mostly). She tends to obsess about something for a while, reading voraciously about it, and then move on. She is good at basic math, and is able to handle budgeting/spending money or scaling a recipe up or down while cooking, which I think is mostly what you need math for until you get to advanced science or something.
I think it likely that DD will go to public school for high school, so I want her to be prepared to do well there in 4 years or so.
So, unschooling mamas, what do you think? Is it worth a try? How do you manage the acquisition of basic skills without teaching?
I will let others speak to the issue of giftedness. I wanted to comment on your daughter's desire to unschool. Basically, I think it's a great idea to try. However, unschooling requires a paradigm shift that you and your husband seem hesitant to make.
Unschooling parents don't have specific academic expectations. There is no expectation regarding how often the child work on explicitly academic work. They have no expectation of what progression should look like. They have no expectation of specific outcomes. It sounds like you and your dh might have all three, but you can work with it. The important thing is to be upfront about what you still expect, but also give your daughter the benefit of the doubt (and give her a long stretch of time--not 2 months and "you haven't progressed in math enough--experiment's done!")
From your end, I would see this as an experiment in child-led learning and not unschooling per se, unless you want it to be. Clearly what works for your daughter has changed. The structure you've had might have taught its lesson and it's time to let her see if she can take charge of her own learning.
I would try to stop worrying about the lack of structure, and the gaps she might have upon entering high school. But be honest with yourself. This request is coming from your daughter and you are trying to catch up with the philosophy of it. Give yourself time. Let her know about your reservations. Keep talking with her about what is working and what isn't. The beauty of homeschooling is that it allows us to adapt to our changing needs.
"Let me see you stripped down to the bone. Let me hear you speaking just for me."
Just to clarify; I have no concerns about her progressing "on schedule" or anything like that. Most of my issues with letting her learn in an unscheduled way are behavioral. Re-reading my op just now, I realize that was not clear. In the past, even quite recently, when my daughter did not have a predictable schedule to follow she has had anxiety attacks and emotional meltdowns, sometimes violent ones. Creating a schedule for her, and with her, reduced these problems greatly. I am considering making a change to unschooling because what we are doing now is not working, but I worry about a return to the stress and violent outbursts we used to deal with. My DD has aspbergers, which is a big part of her difficulties and her abilities. (she is already doing middle/high school level work in many areas) I hope there may be some other moms of kids who have ASD who can tell me what works for them.
In regards to the skills I mentioned wanting her to acquire, I think of them more as life skills than specifically academic ones. I am not worried about her being on a level with her public school peers, but I do want her to be equipped to do well in the world. Am I wrong to think that unschooling parents want this as well?
I thought of another, more specifically academic question. How do you incorporate computer use into your child's day?
I have two older kids (now 20 and 17) with some anxiety issues and spectrumy traits, a middle dd15 and a younger dd who just turned 11 who is about as low-needs as I can imagine, but they're probably all gifted, and we unschooled all of them through to high school, so I do have some thoughts.
I think I would step completely away from the label of unschooling and just talk with your dd about what she wants in practical terms. What does she really mean when she says she wants to unschool? Does she mean she hates the current curriculum stuff she's being asked to do? Does it mean she wants to be able to choose her own materials? Does it mean she wants the flexibility to allocate her own time? Does she want let hovering and nagging by parents? More privacy and autonomy in her learning? The ability to seek out non-mainstream resources for learning? To work her way backwards into the details from big-picture ideas rather than working to master the smaller building-blocks first? Does she want the freedom to tackle projects that don't fit neatly into subject-area categories? More social time? More down time? More hands-on learning? More integration of her learning with real life?
If what you're doing isn't working well, and if she's voicing a desire for something different, I think it's definitely time to do a homeschooling makeover. But that should be a customized thing, rather than simply a process of putting on a new ready-made outfit called Unschooling. The individualized process of re-imagining her home-based learning should be one that takes into account her particular concerns and desires, and which also gives some consideration to the issues you and her dad have.
"We've noticed that you tend to get irritable and unhappy when you don't know what your days have in store for you. I wonder if there's a way we could create a general shape or rhythm to our days that would give you the freedom you want while still giving you a way to anchor yourself. Some families have fixed meal-times together, and some chores or outdoor exercise that happen regularly before or after meals. Or they might have a no-screen-time-until-noon rule to create some time for reading and creativity, or the mom might set aside two hours in the afternoon to help out with any projects, school work or other learning-related activities they want. Or they might create some very minimal expectations for a certain amount of academic work each day or each week. Or they might have certain days that are parent-led and then the rest are kid-structured, and it's really clear which are which. Do you think anything like that might help structure your time in a good way?"
And about focusing on her areas of greatest strength at the expense of her [relatively] weaker areas, well, in my experience stronger areas and the enthusiasm that they invite tend to drag the skills in the weaker areas forward. But perhaps she would have some ideas that would appease her dad's concern about weaker areas being neglected: even just a "let's wait and see for a semester" approach, or a challenge to her dad to find interesting non-curricular 'enrichment' math resources to engage her with, or a commitment to do enough formal math to keep at least at grade level.
Kids grow and change, and if she wants a hand in remaking her homeschooling I think she's definitely at the age where she should be granted that, whether you end up doing something that would be called Unschooling or not. That's not to say that remaking your approach has to be accomplished in one fell swoop. I'd view it as an ongoing collaborative process built on trust and mutual respect, and on the understanding that because she's the one most affected by her education, she's the one who should be afforded the most latitude for experimentation as you move forward into new ways of doing things.
I've always scheduled a meeting with each of my homeschoolers about every three months (more often at times of big changes) to tweak whatever approach we're using. For us it's usually a café date, which makes it a special and enjoyable ritual full of positive energy and optimistic communication. I take notes, we read over notes from the last meeting, we talk about what has been working well and what hasn't, and we brainstorm new ideas.
Mountain mama to two great kids and two great grown-ups
I wanted to thank all 3 of you for the ideas and thoughts about this, as they are all very helpful for me too right now, as I seem to be embarking on a more child led learning journey as well.
Miranda, I really value your input, you seem to have such great wisdom in this!!
Thanks for the responses, everyone. Interesting to read. I'd love to hear more, Miranda!
My 5yo struggles with OCD, SPD and severe anxiety, and while we've always been on the unschool-ish path, I realize (now that she's school-aged) that there is no way she'd be able to cope in a bricks-and-mortar school anytime soon anyway, due to her special needs.
As for gifted, I suppose she is that too, in that she can read at about a grade three level and is doing grade two maths. We haven't bothered with testing of that sort, although it has come up with the pediatrician and psychologist that we're connected with for ongoing supports.
Anyway, I'll be watching this space, with hopes that perhaps I'll glean some insight into how to better support my own quirky kid.