Speaking from Experience: An Honest Discussion about Unschooling

Ever wonder what unschooling is actually all about? Join me as I give an honest review of what this homeschooling approach was really like for our family.

Mention the word “unschooling” to someone in your homeschool group, and you’re likely to get one of two extreme reactions- elation or disdain. When it comes to this controversial homeschool approach, it can be very difficult, indeed, to find a middle-of-the-roader.

From the very beginning of my homeschooling days, I was mesmerized by the thought of learning with no curriculum. No books? No seatwork? No daily mother/child struggles? It sounded too good to be true. Nonetheless, after several years of homeschooling with varying methods and finding none that I felt was the perfect fit, I decided to venture into the world of unschooling. Continue reading “Speaking from Experience: An Honest Discussion about Unschooling”

Natural Learning Vs. Assigned Learning

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Today I’m going to address the third and final question of a commenter on my post My Answer to a Common Concern about Unschooling. [The comment has since been removed at the request of the author.]

3) It [unschooling] is premised on the idea that people don’t “love learning” if discipline is involved. My experience & observation of others is just the opposite – people tend to come to love those areas of life in which they apply the most discipline – and not just self-discipline, but where adults have taught them discipline.

On this particular comment, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. Unschooling takes a lot of discipline- on the part of the child and the parent. The question is, what is that discipline being applied to? Remember that I haven’t always been an unschooler. Our homeschool has evolved from school-at-home to unit studies to eclectic and then finally to natural learning, so I’ve seen the outcomes of all of these methods. With regard to my children, they have retained the most information from topics that they themselves pursued on their own. Pursuing their own interests, in itself, takes discipline, so discipline is certainly not an issue. And whether the discipline is coming from the child or being taught by the parents is not the issue. The issue is what path will their education take? Yours or theirs?

When we were still doing unit studies and would be learning about a particular subject, such as American Indians, they really seemed to have a good grasp of what I was teaching them, and they did have fun doing it. We made false face masks and headdresses and visited a Lenni Lenape museum. They had a ball. Fast forward a few months- I asked some questions about the American Indians unit, and they hardly remembered anything.

Contrast this with a perfect example of my son, Dillon. He loves spiders- especially wolf spiders. I have never covered spiders, specifically, other than that they are classified as arachnids. So Dillon took it upon himself to find out everything he could about wolf spiders- books, websites, documentaries, YouTube videos, you name it. What did he get from all this? I now consider him to be an “expert” on wolf spiders. He can tell you where they live, what they eat, how long they live, how big they get- I could go on and on.

We spent four weeks on that American Indians unit, and even though they seemed to enjoy it, now they remember nothing, other than a few things. On the other hand, Dillon still remembers everything about wolf spiders and has increased his knowledge of them even more since then.

This is not surprising to me. I did the same thing when I was in public school. I remembered what I was supposed to long enough to make the honor roll and graduate in the top 10% of my class…and then I forgot it. It was no longer needed. What do I remember from school the most? The subjects I chose to take- mythology, theater arts, parenting (thank God I remember that, 11 kids later), cooking, nutrition. What do these have in common? My interest.

And I will go even further to say that, unless you have a need to learn something- and by need I’m not referring to a need to fulfill state requirements, but a need to learn something in order to achieve a goal- a lot of what is taught in schools is unnecessary. In the majority of cases, people will pursue a career in something that they’re drawn to- interested in. Is it really important that an astronomer knows that laissez faire means “hands off”? Does a historian need to know what alliteration is? And who exactly decided what is important to learn? This is why homeschooling is the ideal choice because these things should be decided on a case by case basis. Not everyone is the same. God created us to be unique individuals, and we should nurture that.

Before you jump the gun, let me just interject that I love learning. I’m learning all the time, and it is a good thing to be knowledgeable, but why you’re learning something is as important as what you’re learning. Alluding back to my high school days,- sorry for all the trips down memory lane- I took six years of German. Six. I should be a pro, right? Not so much. I could probably help someone in their first year of German, and it would end there. Why? I haven’t had the need to use it.

Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s great to report to the school district that you taught your third grader Euclidean geometry. It’s awesome to look back at those old homeschooling journals and see that your seventh grader completed a course on quantum physics, but are they going to remember it? Unless they have an interest in those fields, I’d say probably not. Why? Because they won’t need to use it.

This is why it’s so important to let your children’s interests come into play. This time is precious. Let them spend time pursuing things that they’re going to retain and possibly use in their future endeavors. I myself know how hard it can be to realize that our children may not care about the things we care- or think that they should care- about. Let them lead the way. Trust that they have the ability to increase their knowledge in the things that are important to them and that they will have the discipline to do so. That’s the best kind of learning- the kind that they won’t forget.

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Can a Christian Be an Unschooler?

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Today I’m continuing on with the second question posed to me in the comments of this post.[Please note-I have removed the comment at the request of the author. She was not intending to appear judgmental. She was just curious.] Here’s the question:

2) The method seems to put the child instead of the parent in the leadership position -which doesn’t mesh with my understanding of Christianity

This is not the first time I’ve heard the inference that unschooling is disobedient to God’s word. Again, as I answer this, this is how we do this in my family.

My children have boundaries. They also have responsibilities that I fully expect them to accomplish everyday. We have ten kids still in the house, so obviously, there are rules they are expected to follow. Believe me, my children know who the authority figures are in the house- and it’s not them!

I give them freedom in learning, not a free for all. My children are encouraged to pursue their own interests to their hearts’ content. I am there to guide them, offer suggestions, and ensure that they are treating each other with respect. I do not put them in a room and say, “Okay, kids- have at it! I’ll be back in an hour or four!” I jest when I say this, but I get the notion that some people truly think this is what unschooling is all about. If anything, unschooling requires even more parental involvement because we have to have our eyes and ears open all the time and pick up on the tiniest clues that tell us what our children are interested in, so that we can find resources and activities that our kids may like.

Another comment I’ve seen in many a blog post is (I’m paraphrasing) that “God’s word teaches us to train up our children, and unschoolers don’t do that because they are not giving their children formal lessons.”

Okay, let’s stop right there. The verse they’re referring to is this:

Proverbs 22:6-
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

What is this verse speaking of? Certainly not how to teach math, grammar, or geography. It’s speaking of training up your children so that they are obedient to God. So that they do His will. That’s it. And, unless the four versions of the Bible I have are wrong, there’s no addendum that says:

And be sure to use Abeka or an another quality curriculum when you do this, so that it’s done properly.

Please don’t think I’m anti-curriculum. I have tons of it. I’m just making a point that there are many ways to teach your children about the Lord or any “school subject” that do not involve textbooks. There’s nothing wrong with using them for that purpose; there’s a lot of really good literature out there, but it’s not the only way. Another great passage that gives credence to this is:

Deuteronomy 6:6-7
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

This is what unschoolers do! We don’t view learning as being done at certain times- it is happening all the time! And specifically speaking of teaching our children about God, this happens throughout the day, and, as I’m sure it is with traditional homeschoolers, as well, it is a natural thing.

Read the Bible to your children. Talk to them about sin, redemption, and grace. And do it in whatever way you choose because, no matter how you do it, God knows your heart. And He knows mine.

What are your thoughts?

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More Unschooling Questions Answered

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Boy, my recent posts on unschooling have opened the floodgates for questions, and that’s great because I’m still new to this whole unschooling thing, too. Please don’t mistake my passion on the subject for expertise because I’m surely no expert here. Having said that, I’m excited to attempt to answer these inquiries the best that I can. Always remember, though, that unschooling looks different in every home, so I can only refer to our experience with it.

Here is part of a comment that was written for yesterday’s post.[Please note that the comment has since been removed at the request of the author.] I will follow it with what I hope is a satisfactory response.

1) The majority of unschoolers I know have grown up to be rebellious young adults. I cannot help but wonder if this is related to them not learning school-related discipline. They might learn certain academic subjects quite well, but I am concerned about the character development.

I’ll start with the section on rebellion-

I really can’t answer this in a completely factual way because I have never met any other unschoolers. This homeschooling method is rather rare, so I’m surprised to hear that anyone has met so many formerly unschooled adults that an opinion like this could be formed in the first place. I have, however, met many, many rebellious young adults who graduated from public school, so this is where I believe the lack of “school-related discipline” theory is flawed.

My oldest child graduated from public school. He used to come home daily with tales of the “discipline” taking place in his school. Kids texting, painting their fingernails, listening to music, and doing each other’s hair during class was a rather commonplace thing. My son’s science teacher actually gave up halfway through the year and would just sit at his desk for the entire period because the kids were so unruly. Obviously, discipline in the schools is becoming quite the rarity. So, rebellious adults from public schools-check.

When I was in public school, the local Catholic school was well-known as a haven for rebellious teens, and I’m pretty sure they were given much discipline there. So, rebellion in private schools-check.

I don’t know any homeschooled adults, but I have read plenty of anti-homeschooling tirades written by none other than people who were formerly homeschooled. And I mean traditional homeschoolers, yet traditional homeschooling is full of structure and discipline.

So from this information, I can come up with these points:

Public school kids can become rebellious adults.
-Private school kids can become rebellious adults.
-Homeschooled kids can become rebellious adults.

And I’m going to take a gamble and say that

-Unschooled kids can become rebellious adults.

Notice the broad spectrum of learning and discipline styles. Rebellion can happen in any kind of environment, certainly not just unschoolers.

Now onto the section about character development.

I think it’s important to note that we are not radical unschoolers. Radical unschoolers do not enforce rules in their homes. In this form of unschooling, children can decide when they go to bed, what they eat, what they will do with their time, whether or not they will brush their teeth, and are not expected to do chores. THAT IS NOT WHAT WE DO. We have ten children; that’s a lot of cleaning and laundry and dishes to do, and we all have set jobs that we do. My children make messes, so they will help clean up. My children eat, so they will help with dishes. I am very strict about this aspect of our life because a family of this size will not function if we are not a team, which brings me to the other aspect of character development.

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We live in close quarters with each other, so learning to get along is crucial to a peaceful (as peaceful as you’re going to get with twelve people under one roof) life. My children are also being raised as Christians, so serving others is a high priority here. You will often find my children weeding the neighbor’s garden, shoveling her driveway, or helping their Grandma at her house. I can assure you that character development is not an issue here.

Some of you may notice 11 kids here. Our oldest is 20 and no longer lives at home, which is why I always refer to just 10 kids.
Some of you may notice 11 kids here. Our oldest is 20 and no longer lives at home, which is why I always refer to just 10 kids.

As for character development in public school…well, I wrote a little about that here.

If you’re interested, I wrote a post back in January giving a basic rundown of a typical unschooling day. Feel free to browse my archives, as well, because I frequently write about what our days are like.

I hope this has given you a better picture of what our unschool philosophy- our life philosophy- is all about.

Any other questions? I’d be more than happy to address them.

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Is Unschooling Just Lazy Homeschooling?

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Ever wondered just what those unschoolers do all day? Sleeping in late, watching TV, playing a computer game and then counting it as a school day? Apparently, this is the view many people take on this method of homeschooling. But is that all there is to it?

While all of these activities do take place at our house (okay, I don’t get to sleep in :(), this is not an accurate picture of what we do. Today I’m going to discuss exactly that.

Firstly, the role of an unschooling mom is different than that of a school-at-home mom. Neither one is more important or involved than the other. They are just different. Instead of acting as a teacher as a more traditional homeschool mom, my role is as a facilitator. I am there to answer questions, provide a stimulating environment, and introduce, but not force, new concepts.

Another misconception about unschooling is that the parent has absolutely no involvement in the child’s learning activities. I don’t know about other families, but in our home this couldn’t be further from the truth! Are there things that I think my children would benefit from learning? Absolutely. But I am not going to compromise my children’s love of learning by making them do anything.

Speaking from my own high school experience, I can tell you that I really don’t remember anything from the required subjects that I had no interest in. Was I a lousy student? Actually, I was quite the opposite. I was a gifted/advanced placement student who graduated in the top 10% of my class. So obviously, I did learn lots of things…but after exams were over, it was like I opened a valve in my brain and let out all the information that I deemed as unnecessary. I have, however, retained all of the useful information from the classes I chose to be in.

This is exactly why I’m approaching my children’s education differently. As I mentioned before, while there are things I’d like to introduce to my kids, I will not force anything on them. So how do I do it? There are two methods I use that seem to work nicely.

– Strewing. Everyday I set different books and activities around the house that I think may interest my children. Today, I pulled out Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records books and laid them on the table. I also pulled out some paper and giant coloring books. Did everything get used today? No, but that’s okay. They have seen it and know that we have it. Oftentimes they will go looking for it at a future time.

Today was a great example of that. My kids kept themselves busy all day with items I had strewn last week even though they had no interest in them when I laid them out. Dillon spent two hours putting together a WoW lego set, Luke and Ireland played with clay for a long time, and Bailey spent quite a bit of time drawing, coloring, and then cutting out animals. Arianna painted for a while, and Caollin and London used some stuffed animals to play “crane machine.” (Their latest obsession since Daddy won them all animals out of a crane machine at Denny’s Diner last Saturday) Just because you introduce something to a child does not mean they’re going to be interested. Be patient. They’ll learn about it when they’re ready.

Another way I engage my children is…

– Family read-aloud time. I am very intentional about the books I choose to read to everyone. If there is a concept or a time period I think they would enjoy, I’ll look for a corresponding book. Over the summer we read Little House in the Big Woods. I can’t even begin to tell you about the flurry of activity that that started. I would find my kids outside everyday playing Little House. They dressed in pioneerish clothing, made their own “little house” with pieces of wood we had lying around the yard, and I could hear them discussing things like churning butter and making salt pork. They were interested, so they learned! We just finished Little House on the Prairie, which also brought some wonderful rabbit trails to our home. Today I started reading The Odyssey to them. I can’t wait to see what springs from this because we all love Greek mythology.

Hopefully, I’ve put to rest the idea that unschoolers, particularly unschooling parents, are lazy and uninvolved. We are just as involved and passionate about learning as other moms. We just do it in a different way.

How do you introduce new concepts to your children?

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