Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Unschooling Voices #13

Unschooling Voices is an online "'zine" which is found through the Internet on various people's blogs. You can find out more about Unschooling Voices at THIS WEBSITE. I enjoy reading how other families have approached unschooling and incorporated the philosophy of learning all the time into their lives.

This month's topic is on helping your children gain information on a topic without it becoming schooling. From the website: Silvia at Po Moyemuwill be hosting this edition and has submitted this question: What do you do, as an unschooling parent, when your child expresses an interest in a particular topic and you don't know how to help them in a way that doesn't involve lesson plans and curriculum?

First I have to say that neither curriculum nor lesson plans are totally unschooly IF they serve a purpose for what the person is looking for. I've met several unschoolers who actually enjoy curriculum and like schedules. Those things in and of themselves is not a horrible thing. I feel, though, that a lot of it comes depends on parental expectation. If I help my child find the curriculum that s/he needs to accomplish a task s/he has set up for him/herself, then what are
my expectations? I have to trust that my child will learn at the pace that s/he is needing and step in where s/he needs me.

As an example of this, Gothgirl really wants to learn Japanese. Just purchasing various books and curriculum wasn't helping. She would work her way through them and not feel she had gotten anywhere. She asked if she could take a Japanese language class somewhere and I found one for her at the local community college. She thrived on this class for an entire semester and was deemed "the best student" by her sensei. She asked me weekly throughout her class to help her with her homework. I did this quite willingly and gladly. She had a curriculum and she had lesson plans that she had to stick to. However, no one forced her to. It was something that she had craved to learn for so long that she was willing to do the work to gain the knowledge. Had she taken a few classes and decided it wasn't the right fit for her she always had the option of not going back. There was no parental expectation of her finishing the class. There wasn't even any parental expectation of her doing well.

I think it is important to point out here that there is a huge difference between parental expectation and parental hope. While I never expected Gothgirl to complete or do well in the class, I always hoped she would. When you can easily separate those two things in your brain, it will open up a whole new avenue in approaching such things as curriculum and lesson plans.

My children expressed an interest this past fall in learning more about mathematics. Boo loves math and numbers. She sees them as puzzles more than anything. The Boy just likes anything that is interesting. So we headed off to the curriculum fair this fall and found a Math-U-See curriculum that the kids had all been eyeing. It sits mostly in the draw in the living room untouched, but it does come out periodically. On a rainy afternoon when there is nothing to do or when boredom strikes one (or all three) of the kids might pull out the math curriculum and work a few pages or lessons or units. There is no parental expectation for them to finish it or do things in order. Sometimes a concept clicks easily and they move on sometimes it seems confusing and they get stuck. Either way it was their choosing and it is for their leisure. It's something that they all asked for and all use on occasion, but without force or rules or that pesky parental expectation.

I don't know if I could have done this 3 or 4 years ago when we first started our unschooling venture. I don't know that I had enough faith in "the system" to be able to allow my children to freely use a curriculum at their pace. It was something that I came into on my own. I will admit when we first got the math curriculum and it was knew there were daily lessons being done and the kids asked to do it each day. I had a momentary hesitation that I had done something horribly wrong in introducing curriculum with lesson plans and charts into an unschooling home. But as time wore on and the newness factor wore off, it got settled into the same level as the rest of the items in the house. It was there for use when wanted, but not required.

Oh and if you read back through my blog to the first post which talks about "un-unschooling" you will be happy to know we have found a happy medium. I still consider ourselves unschoolers. Radical at that. I've just found more ways of increasing that "more, different" that the kids were looking for.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing that. I think I have been mulling similar things but couldn't get my thoughts together in response to the question.

By the way, I've been exploring math (which is puzzles, only "school" makes it otherwise) and have posted about some books recently. (

I have also discovered the term "recreational mathematics" which might be what one of yours wants. You might check out Martin Gardner who wrote (writes?) a math column in Scientific American.

Sandy Feet said...

Thanks for describing your approach. It was great to read.