Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Unschooling Philosophy

Since I spilled my running philosophy here earlier this week, I have been trying to work out my homeschooling philosophy as well, because running and homeschooling seem to be most of what occupies my brain these days.

We started homeschooling last fall when the kids were 3, 5 and 7. We did it as an experiment: try it for a year, see how it goes. After a year, each kid can decide whether or not he or she wants to return to regular school. At this writing, none of them do.

In the beginning, our days looked a little bit like this....

We had workbooks and a loose schedule. We tried to get our "schoolwork" done in the mornings and then head outside in the afternoons.

Nell (2nd grade) had a spelling book, vocabulary book, writing book, math book and history book. The boys had handwriting books, drawing books, math books and writing books. The boys enjoyed the novelty of doing the workbooks. Nell hated it.

This struck me as odd. Nell, after all, had been to school. She had dutifully gone off every day to kindergarten and first grade, retuning home every afternoon with piles of workbook pages festooned with stars and smiley faces. Nell enjoyed school. There was no reason to think that she would rebel so strongly against the school/workbook status quo.

But rebel she did. Every morning was a struggle to get my recalcitrant child to come out of her room and join in the "schoolwork." Her mornings were stony-faced, silent and grim. Our relationship was turning into a power struggle. I missed my happy-go-lucky girl.

Almost every day I thought about sending her back to school.

I think this is where my experience with ultrarunning helped me. Long runs can be difficult. There are always bad patches. But you keep running, because that is what you are there to do. One foot. The other foot. And things ultimately tend to get better.

One by one we jettisoned the workbooks. Spelling went first, then history, then vocabulary and writing. We started a new math program, one geared more toward visual learners. But more importantly, I gave up trying to be in control. I gave Nell a break from me. I let her go.

She spent the first few days of freedom listening to books on tape in her room. I think she missed her friends at school. She missed the daily social interaction. The books on tape were a voice in her head. Something to keep her company.

And slowly she came back to us. On her own terms, in her own time.

I signed us up for lots of classes and groups to give Nell the social interaction she was craving. The boys don't seem to need this as much -- they have each other. But they enjoyed the classes as well. Nell's swim team season started, which gave her access to some of her best friends three or four times a week. And she started horseback riding lessons. Riding is her absolute favorite thing, and if I could afford to get her to the horse barn every day, I would.

The arrival of spring has solidified our homeschool philosophy. Most of the initial bugs are out of the system, and most days are fantastic. We work for an hour or two (or not at all) each morning. I insist on a math page. After that, the boys usually do Silly Sentences (writing game they love) and Nell reads or writes in her journal. I read to them, usually something to do with history or some sort of philosophy. They play imaginative games together (I never would have believed how much they would end up playing together). We play board games or made-up games. We go grocery shopping (wealth of stuff here: math, advertising, economics, geography). However you slice it, the mornings are usually dedicated to some sort of learning.

After lunch everyone is free to do whatever they want for an hour and a half or so. The kids usually take turns on the computer. I usually read. And after that, we go outside.

In reality, no single day actually follows this pattern. This is the Platonic ideal. More often we are piling into the car to get to a class or a practice. Nature class, farm class, history class, piano lessons, homeschool group, swimming, gymnastics.

Yesterday we investigated frogs and baked apples over a fire.

(frog eggs)

Two days ago the kids had a blast at Terra Firma Farm while I ran for two hours and listened to my Zen book.

The day before that we worked in the garden planting peas and lettuce, and pulling up the last of last year's leeks.

I am doing my best to listen and be patient. I am doing my best to watch the kids (only watch) and stay out of their way. They each have their own style of living and learning. Given a pile of Legos, for example, Simon will open the guide book and build the most complicated model he can find. Nell will eschew the book and design her own structure. Ben will start with the book and end with his own bizarre and wonderful creation. You see: all different.

They each do things in their own good time. Simon read at 2 1/2, but did not speak much until he was 4. I worried and sent him to special needs preschool and got him into speech therapy. School made him nervous and speech therapy did nothing for him. This year I gave him a break from all that, and his speech has progressed beautifully. Our pediatrician says he no longer needs speech therapy. Which is good, since he no longer gets it.

I taught Simon multiplication in literally 20 seconds, because right at that moment he was ready to learn it. If you can catch the child just at the correct moment, his or her brain opens like a flower. The secret is waiting. Waiting for the correct moment.

Nell can read but has chosen not to read much by herself this year. I read to her and she listens to books on tape. Two weeks ago all of this changed. Nell discovered reading. All on her own. And now I can't get her to stop.

She had resisted writing as well. Until her riding instructor assigned her a paper on the Shetland pony. She had a great time researching and writing the paper. This led to a horse journal and a swim meet journal.

"I like to write about stuff I like to write about," she says.

Amen to that.

Nell notices that I have been reading and listening to lots of books about Zen.

"What is Zen?" she asks.

"Difficult to explain," I tell her. "The idea is to live each moment. No future, no past. The future and the past are not real. Just keep yourself in the moment."

"Do people really live like that?" she asks.

"Yup. People do."

"It would be a good way to live. I can see that. But you wouldn't be able to look forward to stuff. Like your birthday."

(Her 8th birthday is in a week.)

"Maybe," I say. "Or maybe I am not explaining it correctly. I think it's okay to look forward to something as long as you do it with your whole self. If your whole present self looks forward to your birthday, then you are still being in the moment."

"Oh," she says. "Kind of like a dog."

When the kids say stuff like that, surprising and right on and new, I absolutely adore homeschooling. It's our own adventure. All of us together.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave thoughts, suggestions, advice or queries. I love comments!