Please explain unschooling - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 19 Old 08-21-2002, 08:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't quite understand- how does an "unschooled" child learn basics- math, grammar, etc...? Please explain the unschooling concept so that I can make an educated homeschooling decision.

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#2 of 19 Old 08-21-2002, 09:48 PM
 
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Hi!
There are some websites completely devoted to unschooling. I think unschooling.com is one. I'm sure you'll find lots of info there. I think many people look at it as child-led learning, but for your specific questions, it would be good to talk to unschoolers themselves.
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#3 of 19 Old 08-21-2002, 11:47 PM
 
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#4 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 12:09 AM - Thread Starter
 
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So, there can be a balance between curriculum-based homeschooling and unschooling? I am interested because I am a VERY hands-on learner, and public schooling left me feeling confused and inadequate. Yet there are some subjects (grammar, history) that I think are important to understand. I am glad to hear of unschooling. Initially, by the name, it frightened me. It sounds good to me now; and flexible. Thanks!

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#5 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 01:03 AM
 
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I think you can definately have a balance. Unschooling, to me, is just a way of learning that's unstructured. I used to think it was just letting the kids do what they wanted when they wanted. I've learned alot through reading, though, and trial and error. I am using an Oak Meadow curriculum which is really flexible. I don't do everything in it, either. I let them kind of choose and feel their way through it. Esp. my ten year old. He loves learning but he likes to control how and when. That's fine with me. We're very loose and unstructured. I want my kids to love learning and not feel like it's a job.

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#6 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 01:52 AM
 
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We have "unschooled" for 3 years (8, 5 and 3). We use some workbooks for grammar, math, early reading/alphabet, but mostly we do unit studies, which incorporates everything. I give the kids options for what they want to learn, usually something historical (this year is Ancient Rome/Greece and Western Pioneer Movement). I take out every book I can get on it from the library, and we put together the things we want to learn - we read stories and folk tales, learn about the food, language, dress of the culture, cook, make crafts, play games, watch related tv shows/tapes, just immerse ourselves in the subject. And while doing this, we cover other interesting areas including health, art, music, etc. We try to make everything fun, they learn so much better that way than saying "Today is page 34, no, we have to finish it today. It's easy? Well, we can't do p. 35, that's tomorrow. You don't like it? Too bad. It's hard? Hurry up, we have to finish and learn it by tomorrow. Curriculum!!" I try to following their interest, and if they really enjoy something, we continue it until they've had enough. If they aren't too interested, we wrap it up early and move on to another subject. There is some structure and planning involved, but it's for something they like. I think you've got to let a kid learn all they want at their own pace, or they're going to get frustrated with the "education process" and get bored, or never learn to follow through or find their niche.

I'm no pro, just my advice, but I wish this is how I got my education! My life might have turned out differently!

Best of luck in whatever method you decide to use.
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#7 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 01:59 AM
 
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I agree with the other responses. Most of what I do just comes to me from the kids' questions or something we see on a drive or just come up with one day... Suddenly we are learning about a topic that covers History, Art, Science, English, and Math. For example we go to the lake: we talk about why the water is cold on a hot day & warmer in the evening, how the water gets here, why the lake is here, the dam that made the lake, what the dam does & what was destroyed to have it, who lives here (in and out of the water), how big it is, how much water is in it, how many trees are over there, what kind of trees they are, the layers in this piece of slate, how it breaks when we drop it, how it was made, where it came from, on and on and on and on... we come home and draw pictures of what we did and the kids dictate a story about it. And that's just one afternoon of fun!! To me, unschooling is LIFE with new vocabulary!

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#8 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 05:00 PM
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I consider thing likes unit studies and allowing your child to pick which book he'll read or what area of science he'll research (while still insisting that he must read or study something) to be eclectic homeschooling, not unschooling. It's very different from what we do. My daughter is free to spend all day playing nymphs, or building houses for her rats, or swimming with her best friend. Actually, for most of the summer she's spent her days in various musical theater productions, with copious amounts of swimming through in. She does read, and loves to read, but what she reads is totally her choice - she reads almost only fiction, and often she'll just reread stuff she's already read, like archies comics or Harry Potter books. It's all okay - I trust that she's learning what she needs right them, and growing where she needs to grow. She doesn't make me learn about things I'm not interested in, and I don't make her learn abouit things she's not interested in.

As far as your specific questions, children pick up grammar by hearing it used, and they will learn the grammar specific to the linguistic system or dialect spoken around them (or that they read in books). They can easily master two or three, too, my daughter uses Cockney grammatical structures whenever she breaks into that accent, just naturally.

Math is such a huge subject - most people mean arithmetic when they say math, but there's so much more! Rain occasionally gets interested in an arithmetical process - adding with regrouping was a fun trick a year or so ago - but she's more into logic and patterning, and she likes playing pool so she's picked up something about angles and degrees. I have complete confidence that she'll learn it when she needs it - I know a lot of unschooled kids who decided at some point (usually their early teens) that they wanted to pick up some math and writing stuff, and they would work at it for a few months (in between the other cool stuff they're all doing) and it would come. Rain decided this summer that she wanted to pick up some spelling, so we came up with a system and she got pretty much up to grade-level (she'd be in 4th) and lost interest after that... but 6 months ago she was nowhere near "grade level" in spelling, and she doesn't have any multiplication facts memorized - but when she decides these things are important to her living the life she wants to live, she'll learn them.

She can sing beautifully and act wonderully, and swim 3 or 4 strokes and dive, and she stilts on peg-leg strap-on stilits and plays soccer and reads books from the adult section (fiction, of course).

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#9 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 10:06 PM
 
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DS is 8 and we've unschooled up to this point. We may add five in a row to suppliment our unschooling this year. Thnking hard about it (not the Christian aspect but definatly the literature based stuff).

DS learned to read before we had a chance to teach him. He was always surrounded by books. Science came easiely because h e's fascinated by it. We just try to seek out scientific opportunities (had a science museum membership for a few years). Math has been a bit tricky- but we did do mental word problems/simple algebra at the water park this summer trying to figure out how the pump system worked. Grammar- well... he's an oddball. He found a grammar textbook at a garage sale (about grade 2 or 3) and got excited. He read it cover to cover in 2 nights and retained all of it.

If they are interested there are a million ways to extend what they are interested in into all the "subjects". It just takes a lot of thinking outside the box.
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#10 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 11:20 PM
 
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for us unschooling is much a matter of exposing our kids to as many intereasting people and situations as we can. They seem to fill in the rest. We spend our days visiting friends, swimming, cooking,doing chores, reading, driving from place to place, going to chess club, camp fire, and park day, and just spending time together talking about what ever they are thinking about.They learn handwriting as they want to make list (in my son's case he wanted to list hias pokemon collection) or write a letter, etc. Math works its way in when they need to figure out the size of something or measure stuff (often by the time that they are 3 they will compare sizes, etc). Reading comes as they want to fill their minds with new information or just for entertainment. I agree that grammer seems to be modeled more than anything else.

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#11 of 19 Old 08-22-2002, 11:39 PM
 
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So, what if your child only wants to play video games all day? Or what if he's not interested in ANYTHING? I mean, my oldest will get into things like space exploration and history if I bring it up first but there is NO WAY that he would do it if I didn't. My dd wants to do workbooks etc. She begs me from 7 am to 7 pm. I still consider myself an unschooler. We are way less structured than any homeschooler that I know personally. We also do a lot of field trips, cooking, cleaning, chores, etc. I guess my kids just aren't motivated to learn the basics on their own.

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#12 of 19 Old 08-23-2002, 01:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ekblad6
So, what if your child only wants to play video games all day? Or what if he's not interested in ANYTHING?
In the former case, I'd think he'd play video games all day. Rain's gotten into some game obsessions, when for a week or two it was All Sims, All the Time... and then eventually her interest flags a bit, and now I don't think she's played Sims in months.

I can't conceptualize a kid not interested in *anything*. Sometimes kids say this when they're deschooling, and getting used to having their freedom back, but eventually they develop interests, be it video games or comic books or soccer... or opera, or the history of Zaire.

I don't worry about "the basics" - I assume you mean stuff like reading, writing a simple essay or letter, doing basic arithmetic. I figure it will all eventually prove useful and then Rain will learn it - and if it doesn't ever seem useful to her, then perhaps I was wrong and she doesn't need it. There's certainly no reason to worry about it when you have little kids, like under 12 or so...

However, unschooling doesn't mean that you do nothing. A big piece of unschooling is modeling - are you actively learning about things that excite you? I also think that children should have many opportunities to be exposed to ideas and knowledge - they need houses full of interesting books and movies and games and records and artwork and tv shows and computer software and animals and plants and *everything*, and they need parents saying, "Hey, there's a neat Maori art exhibit (production of The Odd Couple/ soccer clinic/nature hike/skiiing class/party with some people visiting from New Zealand/ Civil War reenactment) going on this Saturday, wanna come?" And of course, sometimes they'll say yes and sometimes no, but it's out there...

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#13 of 19 Old 08-23-2002, 09:05 AM
 
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dar, are we living similar lives? wow. what you described is our concept of unschooling as well. some may see it as lazy. but i say "lazy with intent" LOL

We travel a lot, at least four times a year to different countries. at three and a half, she realizes that different places have different money, words, food, etc. (but hotels are always the same LOL) She is learning geography cuz we always use maps and such to find out where we are going and how far it is from our country. We live by the national museum with a huge natural history section so we do "field trips." I take her everywhere I go, so she learns by living. That is unschooling to me. It's our life. I learn. She learns. We live.

As for math...right now I would rather her "get" the concept of numbers, which she does, rather than rattle off numbers in a sequence without knowing what they *mean.* She understands what "three" is. She "gets" it. Yet she doesn't write it and sometimes doesn't recognize the actual number when she sees it. We use math in everything. It's there if you just look for it. Playing with her dolls beside me right now, she has four naked dolls and only three dresses....hmmm. math? YES!
She helps me cook. We measure out flour to double a recipe. math? YES!

as for grammar, like dar posted, you speak therefor you learn grammar. I'm even expanding my beliefs on "correct speech." As long as people can communicate, why is such a big deal if they use textbook speech? (I realize this is out there...i'm still working on this)

thanks for starting this thread! it's great!
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#14 of 19 Old 08-23-2002, 09:40 AM
 
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We do have a house full of many interesting things to do and more books than we even have room for. The TV stays off for most if not all of the day. I just think that unschooling means whatever you want it to mean to you. Like I said, we're unstructured. Apparently not as unstructured as you are but to us, we're unstructured. I think it's great that you can be so relaxed about it. I guess I'm not entirely to that point yet, though I feel that what we do is unschooling. I believe it's a wide spectrum. We belong to every zoo and musuem within a 60 mile radius of here and visit them very often. People often laugh at me and ask why I call it "homeschooling" when I'm never home!

Thanks for your input, though. Maybe I can be more relaxed as the years go by.

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#15 of 19 Old 08-23-2002, 09:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ekblad6
I just think that unschooling means whatever you want it to mean to you.
But then it becomes meaningless, if there's no common understanding of what it means.

I know people who claim to have "exclusively breastfed" their children for a year, when those same children were getting water at 6 weeks, juice at 3 months, rice cereal at 5 months. To me, exclusively breastfed means just breastmilk. When someone says their child is exclusively breastfed, I make some assumptions, and one is that they're not eating rice cereal, and my feedback is based on those assumptions.

I have a similar set of assumptions I make when someone says they're unschooling. It's easier to have a one-word descriptor, rather than having to add a paragraph explaining what exactly someone means when she says "unschooling". It's sort of like the Alice in Wonderland quote about "glory".

I did notice when we lived in the bay area that there was a certain cachet to being an "unschooler". It was "cool" - but these were people who had their kids doing lessons every day. Does anyone know why people seem to attached to the unschooler label?

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#16 of 19 Old 08-23-2002, 09:56 PM
 
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#17 of 19 Old 08-24-2002, 02:14 PM
 
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I think that part of the problem defining unschooling is that there is a continuum of how much structure families have. This is not a black and white issue. There are some families that are radical unschoolers who don't even like music lessons or any structured activities. There are very structured homeschoolers, and there is every shade in between. I know several families that do math everyday, but don't follow any sturcture or curriculum for any other subjects.

I don't like the term "unschooling" because it seems to have become very political and trendy. People declaring themselves unschoolers when they just aren't; people trying to decide if other families are relaxed enough to "count" as unschoolers; people thinking they are more highly evolved because they unschool. The whole thing just seems silly to me.

Different things work for different kids at different times. I've decided that we will not concern ourselves with labels and instead just do what works for our kids. What works best for my kids at this point would not meet many people's definition of unschooling, as my kids are happiest with some structure.
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#18 of 19 Old 08-24-2002, 10:42 PM
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To my mind, unschooling isn't about how much structure a family has at all, but about whose choice it is to have that structure. It actually is pretty black and white, in my mind - either the kids get to make their own decisions about their learning - all of 'em - or else they don't. There may be a continuum about how many decisions kids get to make about their learning, but that's not a continuum of unschooling, because unschooling begins with the premise that the kid gets to make them all. A lot of families just don't want to go there, that's not how they work - and that's okay. They're generally eclectic homeschoolers, who chose the structures and resources that they believe work best for their children. Why can't it be okay to just say that, why does it have to be called "unschooling"?

I do think the unschooling lifestyle is qualitatively different than being a relaxed, eclectic homeschooler, and there are certain issues that are unique to one and not the other. If the parent of a ten yr old nonreading unschooler asked me for help and support, I'd give her a very different response than I might give an eclectic homeschooler in the same situation - just like I'd be likely to give a vegetarian different advice than I'd give a non-vegetarian on nurtritional issues.

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#19 of 19 Old 08-25-2002, 11:50 PM
 
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<<I don't quite understand- how does an "unschooled" child learn basics- math, grammar, etc...?>>

Inspite of all our chatting about what unschooling is, I don't think any of us have answered your question! I will venture an answer, which can then be torn apart by the unschoolers on the board

Part of the premise of unschooling is that children will learn what is important to them when they find a need to learn it. For example, math is necessary for playing many games and doing many tasks, such as cooking or working with wood. As children find a need to use math, they will learn the math that they need.

Unschooled children can use text books as they, not their parents, see fit. So if an unschooled children finds it interesting or useful to work through a text book, they can.

The parent must trust that what the child really needs to learn, they will, and believe that we (the adults) do not know what will be most important for our kids to know.

I'm a middle of the roader -- we don't do school at home and neither are we unschoolers. Some ideas about unschooling that I find very easy to believe are:

1. The things that are considered basics come up so often and in so many ways that it would be difficult for a child with an active life and an involved parent to not learn them. That is why these things are considered basics.

2. Children learn things much more easily and quickly when they are learning for their own reasons rather than having someone else's time table and expectations put on them.

3. Grade levels, letter grades, and defined subjects do not add to the learning experience, and often get in the way. For example, elementrary school math is so redundant that kids can not do any formal math a year or two, and then catch up with their peers in a few months of concentrated work.
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