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Every year as part of the requirement for the unschooling-friendly umbrella program we voluntarily enrol in here in BC, we are required to submit a Learning Plan. I think I first drew one up the year Erin was 8, so I've been at this for 13 years now. At first I resented the process because the idea of "setting learning goals" and writing down plans for activities and resources seemed needlessly prescriptive. It also felt more like a fudge that would make unschooling fit the government requirements, rather than something that inherently supported unschooling.

But I've changed my mind over the years. I realized that the Learning Plan, a "living document" that could easily be changed over the course of the year, was nothing at all like a map of what we had promised to do. It was more like a lighthouse that would show us where we had once been, a location to which we might want to return to gather ourselves to see the lay of the land, or a landmark we might want to use as we turn away and move off in a new direction. The most magical thing about the Learning Plan was that often when we revisited it and noticed that we hadn't done this or that or the other thing that we had said we wanted to, my kids would say "Hey, yeah! I still want to do that! I just sort of got busy with other things and forgot. Let's make it happen. Can you help me?"

Our learning plans are often fairly vague and open-ended. Phrases like "Will have available the following resources..." and "Will explore aspects of ____, according to interests, aided by serendipitous exposure and conversation." We don't tend to lock ourselves into plans like "Will complete Level 4 in ____ curriculum," or even "Will read daily for pleasure." We like wiggle room.

Having said that, we have found that expressing and recording interests and intentions is a very helpful thing for us, in that it helps re-inspire us when we begin feeling like we are spinning our wheels a bit. And the starting point for our learning plan discussions, which are usually in the form of one-on-one parent-child dates at a local café, is usually a mind-map, or inventory of interests.

This year I found some pretty cool freeware for creating mind-maps. SimpleMind Free is available for Mac OSx and Windows. A mind-map is also known as an idea web ... just a set of inter-connected ideas generated through brainstorming, with no real rules about organization other than "do what seems to make sense." Fiona and I started with the idea of her and her upcoming year at the centre, and then fanned out to connect around the centre the twelve learning areas that our umbrella school uses. These are quite broad and overlapping: things like "Wellness" and "interpersonal/relational learning" and "science and naturalistic learning" and so on. We added her specific interests and ambitions as components of those. We ended up with a massive web like this:



We kept that as a saved file, and added to it over the course of a week or two. That was what we then used as a jumping-off point for her Learning Plan. "Okay: under creativity one of the entries you have is music, and then violin, and orchestra and chamber music and violin lessons. What do you mean by orchestra? Is that something you want to pursue during the year, or just during the summer? What sort of orchestra: with kids or adults or both?" From there we could gradually start to figure out specific priorities Fiona had, what possibilities were realistic, how she wanted to allocate her time, and how our financial resources might or might not be able to support that.

It's a process that as I say, we've been doing for years, but I thought I'd mention SimpleMind Free in case anyone else is interested in something like this. It certainly makes pretty pictures that are useful jumping off points for discussion, planning and prioritizing ... as well as revisiting later if you feel like you've lost your way.

Miranda
 

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That looks like a cool program...I think we have a book called something like "Writing the Natural Way" which is where I first saw those...the only thing I remember from the book, actually, because we didn't delve deeply into it.

This year, with a 17 year old who is planning on adding a full time job to her weekend gig, I have just a few broad categories: facilitate music lessons, hook her on math (so far going well, if slowly), and fill in a few "gaps".

We used to do the learning plan formally once a year (in the fall, sitting outside at a cafe) and then maybe look at it a couple more times. It was interesting how many of the things actually got done, because we tucked it into a folder and din't refer to it in between visits...

Deborah
 

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I just wanted to say a big thank you Miranda for taking so much of your time to share information like this. I appreciate that you are so willing to share the knowledge you have gained from your years of experience. It is such a wonderful resource for those of us new to this journey.

Cassandra
 

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Thank you. I love the idea of the mind map, as well as saving and looking back on these "plans" to see where we've already been. That's brilliant.
 

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Another warm thank you! I had been thinking of how to brainstorm and remember past interests since ds moves on pretty quickly with most. Ds diggs in on anything techy and I am learning along with, or rather, he seems to be teaching me 😄.
 

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Every year as part of the requirement for the unschooling-friendly umbrella program we voluntarily enrol in here in BC, we are required to submit a Learning Plan. I think I first drew one up the year Erin was 8, so I've been at this for 13 years now. At first I resented the process because the idea of "setting learning goals" and writing down plans for activities and resources seemed needlessly prescriptive. It also felt more like a fudge that would make unschooling fit the government requirements, rather than something that inherently supported unschooling.

But I've changed my mind over the years. I realized that the Learning Plan, a "living document" that could easily be changed over the course of the year, was nothing at all like a map of what we had promised to do. It was more like a lighthouse that would show us where we had once been, a location to which we might want to return to gather ourselves to see the lay of the land, or a landmark we might want to use as we turn away and move off in a new direction. The most magical thing about the Learning Plan was that often when we revisited it and noticed that we hadn't done this or that or the other thing that we had said we wanted to, my kids would say "Hey, yeah! I still want to do that! I just sort of got busy with other things and forgot. Let's make it happen. Can you help me?"

Our learning plans are often fairly vague and open-ended. Phrases like "Will have available the following resources..." and "Will explore aspects of ____, according to interests, aided by serendipitous exposure and conversation." We don't tend to lock ourselves into plans like "Will complete Level 4 in ____ curriculum," or even "Will read daily for pleasure." We like wiggle room.

Having said that, we have found that expressing and recording interests and intentions is a very helpful thing for us, in that it helps re-inspire us when we begin feeling like we are spinning our wheels a bit. And the starting point for our learning plan discussions, which are usually in the form of one-on-one parent-child dates at a local café, is usually a mind-map, or inventory of interests.

This year I found some pretty cool freeware for creating mind-maps. SimpleMind Free is available for Mac OSx and Windows. A mind-map is also known as an idea web ... just a set of inter-connected ideas generated through brainstorming, with no real rules about organization other than "do what seems to make sense." Fiona and I started with the idea of her and her upcoming year at the centre, and then fanned out to connect around the centre the twelve learning areas that our umbrella school uses. These are quite broad and overlapping: things like "Wellness" and "interpersonal/relational learning" and "science and naturalistic learning" and so on. We added her specific interests and ambitions as components of those. We ended up with a massive web like this:



We kept that as a saved file, and added to it over the course of a week or two. That was what we then used as a jumping-off point for her Learning Plan. "Okay: under creativity one of the entries you have is music, and then violin, and orchestra and chamber music and violin lessons. What do you mean by orchestra? Is that something you want to pursue during the year, or just during the summer? What sort of orchestra: with kids or adults or both?" From there we could gradually start to figure out specific priorities Fiona had, what possibilities were realistic, how she wanted to allocate her time, and how our financial resources might or might not be able to support that.

It's a process that as I say, we've been doing for years, but I thought I'd mention SimpleMind Free in case anyone else is interested in something like this. It certainly makes pretty pictures that are useful jumping off points for discussion, planning and prioritizing ... as well as revisiting later if you feel like you've lost your way.

Miranda
Thank you for this information. I'd like to give it a try. It seems that you are doing a type of education style that I'm very interested in, it isn't exactly unschooling but it isn't out of the box curriculum for homeschooling. I've heard it referred to as Hack Schooling by this great TED talk. We are just starting our journey down this path. How much outside of home education did you take advantage of?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
How much outside of home education did you take advantage of?
I'm not sure what you mean here. Fiona is enrolled in two courses at school this year (math and science) but this is the first time she's officially done that. My older kids were all homeschooled until 10th grade level or thereabouts.

She has a number of out-of-home activities she's signed up for, if that's what you mean. We started with just violin lessons, and have gradually added and substituted things as she's grown. Right now she has violin lessons, gymnastics and ballet and that's pretty typical for her.

As to whether this is unschooling or hack schooling or whatever, it depends on your definitions. Obviously since she's going to school part-time for those two courses, we have a bit of a blend this year, but that issue aside to me what I've described here is out-and-out unschooling viewed through the lens of school structure.

Fiona happens to be precociously academic and her interest-led learning is as likely to move in those directions as it is in more stereotypical unschooling directions like crafting, theatrical play, computer programming and other things we tend to think of as "hobbies."

My litmus test for unschooling has nothing to do with what is being learned, or how, or when or even where. The "what" could be Latin verb conjugations or chemical stoichiometry and the "how" could be from a textbook. My litmus test is "why is it being learned?": and if the answer is "because the child decided to do it," then that's unschooling.

Miranda
 

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My litmus test for unschooling has nothing to do with what is being learned, or how, or when or even where. The "what" could be Latin verb conjugations or chemical stoichiometry and the "how" could be from a textbook. My litmus test is "why is it being learned?": and if the answer is "because the child decided to do it," then that's unschooling.

Miranda
Thanks for summing that up so well. This is what I try to get across to people when I am asked about homeschooling but sometimes have a hard time doing. Now I'm going to just say this! :)
 
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