unschooling

At the door of the ocean exhibits at the Museum of Natural History in D.C. this weekend, we were greeting by a shark. He said he just ate a biologist -- see the legs sticking out? -- so he could answer any questions we have. They discussed how big sharks get.

I’ve been moving a little away from unschooling since this academic year began.  We’re still far, far away from being schooly, but I’ve been asking Rhiannon to do some math almost every day, and just generally trying to establish a “study hour” or work-before-play routine. I really want to trust that my kids will learn everything they need by following their own interests, but since I don’t have much example of grown unschoolers in my life — none that I know personally, only people I’ve read about online — it’s hard to trust completely.  After all, this could affect my children’s future.  I do believe that they learn from everything they do, but when they get stuck doing something for hours and days and that thing doesn’t seem likely to contribute to their future success, I think I’d better step in and provide more guidance.  Not that I know it won’t.  Who knows what the future holds?  But still, I think there are some basic skills everyone should master and the sooner the better, like reading and the basic math facts.   Yes, I’m beginning to get a little pushy — just a little — with Caroline about reading (she’s nearly 7 and will have to submit evaluation to the school district for the first time this year), and I’m so glad I finally found something Rhiannon enjoys for practicing the multiplication facts (TimezAttack).

Perhaps it’s just harder to see the learning as kids get older.  Little kids are so obviously learning all the time, from the time they study the fascinating hands at the ends of their arms to the enthusiastic curiosity of preschoolers and beyond.  As I’m typing this at 6:40 p.m. Ian and Caroline just came downstairs.  She grabbed a huge sheet of drawing paper, exclaiming, “I have a great idea!”  Ian looked at the desk, where she had taken the paper, and announced, in a tone matching his sister’s, “I’m going to get my measuring stick!”  Then he followed his sister, talking about lines and numbers.

I know there are a lot of unschooled kids who learn to read much later than average, and then quickly catch up to their peers without having lost the enjoyment of reading like many who are forced to read in school before they are ready.  And I’ve been asking myself whether I really think Rhiannon must have her multiplication facts mastered just because she’s 9.  I even talk with her about it, about how often I use multiplication in everyday activities, such as in cooking and shopping.  She understands the concept of multiplication (she mastered that at the same time she was learning addition around age 4 or 5) and she understands that it would make certain things easier to just know the facts rather than have to still count up to the answer.  I guess practicing these things are not as high priority for them as I, having been schooled myself, feel they ought to be.  So I’m finding a balance.

In the meantime, here’s a good video about unschooling I just came across today.

Learn Free from Lillian Mauser-Carter on Vimeo.

In a schooly world, I have to keep reminding myself with resources such as these, that unschooling makes so much more sense than imposing a curriculum on children.

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