Monday, March 01, 2010

Unschooling ... hello, old friend

I have always called myself an eclectic homeschooler.

See that? It basically means everything and nothing all at the same time. I LOVE that.

Yet it is the only way to describe this constantly changing and evolving process we call education in our home. Funny to think that I started all of this seven years ago with Abeka curriculum and an actual area set up for a school desk. I laugh in my own face when I think back. I was SO UPTIGHT! I still think I have a lot of areas where I don't trust enough and let things flow. Yet, today's version is light years away from teaching my Kindergartener perfect cursive and making her cry.

Cringe with me. It's okay. I have apologized and she has long since forgiven me. She was the first, the oldest ... a.k.a. the guinea pig. I was an idiot. I tried to do school at home. It took about three years for me to realize I could determine when my children had grasped a concept, and the extra 20 worksheets or problems were for the kids in a classroom who may not yet have nailed it.

We slowly worked our way to unschooling. We had workbooks, but my two school aged kids loved them - asked for them. We landed somewhere in the middle of Sonlight, with no set schedule and an insane amount of flexibility. Again, my kids got very excited and wanted to know what we were reading next. Sonlight gave us stuff to pick from and rarely disappointed, mainly because it involved books. We eat books for breakfast around here. So, we just went with our interests of the day, but we didn't talk about it a lot. Plenty of frowns and looks of concern in our circle. Not many unschoolers, though.

And then came attachment disorder. The key to healing and attaching and bonding was EXTREME structure in the beginning months. Now, we had flexibility in how we filled our days, but our home was already structured when it came to sleeping, waking, meals, etc. Tourettes and OCD appreciate the heads-up on those things. We just had to make our schooling more purposeful and more predictable every day. Written out goals to be checked off. Giving a solid sense of accomplishment, and plenty of opportunities to succeed (even if that meant checking off in the right spot!). It was vital, and helped us all to have a sense of control and organization in the always escalating behaviors.

We are nearing the two year mark. We have seen wonderful progress. I say that after a day of yet another clogged toilet, a PTSD induced pee fest and sudden death to a flower pot. Yet, the big picture? We are starting to loosen up our boundaries. Unbenownst to most of our kids, I have been slowly opening them up to directing their own learning more and more. If you do it too quickly, your attaching kids will wig out. I have had to give just a bit more opportunity each day ... say, "Well, what would you all rather do?" ... allow them to finish breakfast and immerse themselves in something completely self-directed, like playing Webkinz Survivor for hours.

Not kidding. Actually, it was a full three days of challenges, immunity idols, tribal councils. It all culminated in the finale, where the votes were taken, Jeff Probst Skeleton (a Halloween edition black cat) took the votes and "flew" across the house to the live finale show. There were interviews with voted off Webkinz. My husband and I did not stay for the whole live show, and appreciated them allowing us to sneak out early.

There have not only been miracles in learning throughout this stuffed animal monstrosity, but I have been shocked to see the amount of cooperative play, conflict resolution, trust and sheer joy with one another. I swear, my kids are leading themselves through play therapy.

I have had to approach these changes carefully, and keep a close eye on the hearts of the my most challenged kids. Yet, they are hanging with it. They are enjoying it. They all love to learn something new, and school themselves 24/7. It is almost as if we have always unschooled, except when we stop to open a textbook or workbook.

The heart and intent of unschooling is easy for me - most days. My dad was the poster child for autodidacticism. I remember walking into his office one day and finding him reading and talking about something new he had just learned. It was like crack for me. His desk was surrounded by books. I just wanted to hug them all. I LOVED being in his study. He taught himself electrical and plumbing through Time Life books. I cannot remember a day he wasn't learning something. He never taught that to me. Just exposed me to it constantly and I became an autodidact.

Now I do the same. It's not so much teaching it, as it is getting out of the way and letting it happen. The massive structure was for a season. We are able to move away from that now, slowly, without it harming the work we've done in the hearts of my kids. It is refreshing. It is still crazy. Most unschoolers do not have to plan around therapeutic interventions, but the basis of unschooling allows for that ... as often as my kids need it.



familygregg said...

love this post

Hannah_Rae said...

Hoping to get there.

My Dad exposed me to the same love for learning, and it's one of the biggest qualities I want to pass to my boys.



Unknown said...

Felt so blessed to experience unschooling in action. I really feel like I can let go a little more of the whole school at home tactic! Thanks! said...

some of my closest friends are unschoolers, it seems like such a good idea and she is so much more interested in so many things as a result.

Anonymous said...

arrg, not this again! I love the idea of homeschooling. I have a 13 yo bipolar autistic tourettes who was never able to self-direct, even as a child. He's always been 'i'm bored' . . and if i try to ignore the 'i'm bored' it often becomes a constant, constant begging for new video game craziness. he's been banned from having a pc on line because when he gets bored, he starts downloaded 'free' viruses. I have to keep him busy and he shows no responsibility for his education. Ok, its our first year, but i'm frustrated.

Lisa said...

Love it, love you!

It's oh so hard to let go but it is so rewarding to think outside the box.

Unknown said...

dbmamaz, in our house, "I'm bored" is secret code for "May I please clean the kitchen?"

So, I win either way. Sometimes I find myself BEGGING them to whine that they're bored.

Take a step back and relook at what education is for your child. Expose them to lots of things, but don't have any expectations as to what they take away from those things. None. Think of how many field trips and lectures and papers and projects we all did growing up. Were they all really special? Did they all spark something in us? Heck no.

My gal with Tourettes has a hate-hate relationship with math. So, I let her. However, when she is working on something in which she is interested, I can teach her some basic algebra because it pertains to what she is doing! The frontal lobe of her brain is open and regulated in that moment, and we GRAB it!

I have to keep a tight reign on TV and computer because one of my kids has always used that as a way to shut down and tune out feelings and attachment. So, I set them up on Farmville, where we can work cooperatively - it is a family thing. I have a list of "allowed" sites and programs which are not dry and "educational," but will spark interest in things.

I try to always stay on top of the, "Mom, why does ..." questions, and RUN to the computer to look up the answer. Right then. Right when they are fascinated and excited. Then, they can decide if it is something they want to pursue, or if that satisfied what was itching inside them.

For almost nine months, I had zero idea if Mar even had any interests. It was a weird place to be as a mom, watching a child live in hypervigilence and try to charm everyone at all times and in all things. Then, one day, I discovered she loved to read. She didn't want me to know so I downplayed it - BIG TIME. Almost made it a privilege. Slowly, she exploded.

I get it. It is exhausting to know when to let loose and when to structure. Special needs kids can't always fit the radical unschooling mold. They just can't. But that's where the term "special needs" comes from. We modify as we must. :)

Rose said...

I absolutely love this post. And the assignment at the beginning of the post is such an accurate description of how I want my kids to learn. We do use workbooks sometimes, but not always, it just depends on what we're interested in and how we want to learn at the time. And it's so much fun to watch the kids find an interest and develop it.

Jessica Lynn said...

oh gosh I am thinking I'm going to have to homeschool my ten year old, in second grade (adopted and was VERY behind) and is refusing to do any work at all for her teachers. She is very bright, and they want to put her in the special needs class which in our area is a dumping ground, not a place to get extra help. I looked up the two homeschooling places you mentioned and its soooo expensive. I know I can't afford that now. Any other cheaper options?

Unknown said...

Jessi, I would say stay away from curriculum ALL TOGETHER! Our kids spit on curriculum.

Read, read, read and read some more. Cuddle on the couch. Cuddle under the covers. Enjoy books together.

Count as you go about your day. Have them help you cook, shop, sort, etc., and they will learn addition and subtraction.

I have never paid for Sonlight curriculum. I just get their free catalog, check out the books (or get them cheap online or at a place like PaperBackSwap). And we read them. Just as we get through them. That's it! The curriculum just gives you a schedule. Screw that. Take your time. Rush through the easy stuff. Whatever. But second grade? Totally relax and enjoy.

And if you have a kid with special needs, I highly suggest running away from Abeka - screaming. :)

Dianne said...

We just started homeschooling our 5 year old. He went to Kindergarten, but was so stressed out he was crying in the mornings and angry at night. He is doing much better being at home now. I have to admit that I'm a bit of a curriculum junkie, and I can't image going for unschooling. I do try and let him decide what to do each day whether math or reading or science though.

Lyn said...

Preach it, sista. In these parts we like to call it "delight-directed" education. Read like crazy. To them, with them, for them, at them. Whatever they drop on your lap. You can teach a whole year from a phone book...seriously. The yellow pages are awesome, ask my 8 kids.

Eileen said...

This is such a timely post for me as I am praying for God to show us if He wants our littles to be homeshooled. And if He does to please pave the way. I believe it would be the best thing for our 5 year old, but we are .... long story.... we are doing kin care. My two boys were hsed. I would like to say we were unschoolers, but we were so crazy not anything that I don't believe unschoolers would accept us, as the official (old anyway) unschool definition is to totally let the child lead.

We had a wonderful consultant who would say that all you need to homeschool is a Bible, a math book and a library card.
For the worriers out there I have a confession to make - my boys NEVER wrote an actual composition in our whole school career. We hsed the oldest from 5th grade through high school and our youngest from 1st grade through high school. Our youngest is now in college pulling As and Bs AND he took a language class with lots of comp writing. He wants to be a teacher or go into politics as a man of integrity, to work for US - you and me. We didn't do real grammar, we read, alot - classics, good literature, we stayed away from the trash that is out there. We did Bible study. We volunteered at church.

I am more concerned about character than academics, godly character. As for our littles - 3 and 5 - I am more concerned that they know they are loved by God and by us, and that that they grow to people of godly character than anything else. Our 5 year old has developmental trauma issues and well, so does his 3 year old sister, I believe the best path for them is to walk with us.

I could go on - can ya tell?

Christine YOU ROCK!! And so do the rest of you wonderful moms!

Darcel said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing it with us. We are entering our 2nd year of unschooling, and I admit that I am nervous because my kids are getting older, but I'm also very excited.

Jessie V said...

LOVE this. we have always unschooled our 7yo daughter. she's so free, creative, and joyful that it is a miracle to me every day. YAY! what a great post you've written. thank you!