Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Whole Life Learning - Unschooling - All The Details

Why we do what we do and what it actually is.
          We do not homeschool in the sense of "school at home" with our children. They were not pulled from public school so that we could force learning in ways we did not find to be benefiting our children.  We choose to take a more organic approach to learning with them. This is our homeschooling philosophy, whole life learning. We believe that children learn best when they are fully engaged and excited. You cannot force a child to get excited about a topic because you have some kind of need for them to learn said topic.
          Many children waste their time memorizing (not learning) facts to regurgitate them for tests only to forget them more quickly than it took to memorize them. We do not test our children. Testing is a system put into place for teachers to assess and gauge a child's learning because they cannot focus on each individual child in the way that a homeschooled child is attended to. I'm sure it is very helpful in a classroom setting for a teacher who has to keep track of all those children and also for parents who want to know how their children are doing based on a system of measure. But you see my kids do not need to be tested because they are learning in ways that tests simply cannot measure(more on that later....) and when they know something I know that they know. There is no use for tests aside from samples for end of year evaluation and test scores are not a great portfolio sample anyway. Project based samples are more thorough and have a better feel about them, with more creativity and personality involved.  
          We choose to unschool our children this means that they seek out things they are interested in and they learn because they are engaged in that particular topic. This is precisely how adults out of school and university learn. When you want to learn something new what do you do? Do you go sign up for a class because the only way to learn something new is by listening to lectures and taking tests? Or do you seek out the information you desire and the experiences required to fully understand the concept that you are curious about? I'm willing to bet that you consult with Google or a book store more often to learn new things than you realize and most certainly more often than you find yourself signing up for classes. Also, learning things in a class might be absolutely perfect for the way that you learn (there are different learning styles and this is important as well). In addition to classes being a great way to learn they can prevent you from making some big mistakes and also promote a healthy lifestyle such as with yoga or spinning. Classes that teach pottery making, homesteading skills, or how to quilt are also beneficial and a great way to establish a hobby and relationships with other people. You also learn much through conversations with other people and working together. You learn through trying new things. To stop learning is to stop living they are one and the same.
          Please note that unschooling our children does not mean we are hands off. If anything it is far more hands on. We present ideas to our children, topics they might like, and books they might enjoy reading or having read to them. Yes, even when they can read chapter books to themselves. Do you remember how comforting it was to be read to, to allow your mind to just fly away with the words, to close your eyes and day dream it all in your head? We're not stopping that around here and especially not at the expense of a child not realizing how much they love literature. We are "book people"(in that we love books, reading, libraries, book stores, you get the picture) and we want to share that with our children. We buy the tools to learn and seek out the experiences to facilitate their interests. They learn all the time. We talk about nutrition and budgeting when meals are involved. We round numbers to estimate the cost of the items in the shopping cart before we get to the check out. We talk to people we don't know and wish them well (and sometimes rude things come out of little mouths but this too offers the opportunity to learn and to improve). When talking about people we talk about culture and religion too. When we clean together and do home projects we instill responsibility in our children. I am in the process of making all of our craft and art supplies more accessible to them so that they can initiate their own activities and be able to clean up after themselves too(This stems from the fact that I love some of the Montessori approaches to home life and education.). I'm also planning some fun history submersion days in the new year that I think they will fully enjoy. They got an awesome microscope for Christmas along with a slide making kit and petri dishes. They received good for the environment soy crayon rocks and rubbing plates focused on botany and fossils. It is all about facilitating and making an amazing life for our children and anyone can do that!     
That thing I said about tests.        
          I mentioned that our children learn in ways that tests cannot measure and it is true. While a test can measure the level of comprehension attained through a story it cannot measure the personal influence. Short of assigning written essays that are more for defining writing and grammar ability than for establishing the impact of literature on a young student, these are the aspects that fall through the cracks in traditional schooling methods. Discussions directly with your young reader in which you're actively engaged and asking questions are a much better and more sincere way to really see through his eyes how much a story has impacted him.
          A test does not measure personal character. I don't know about anyone else but raising my children is far more about the kind of people they  are and much less about how quickly they can complete math problems. Kind of like The Tortoise and The Hare, as long as you're reaching the destination you need to be at. We spend time every day with our children working on life skills, how to treat others, and how to care for themselves. That last one is far more detailed than you'd think at first. It is important for children to be able to assess their needs on all levels; mental, physical and emotional health are all important parts of taking care of ourselves and children need our guidance. They also need to continuously work on building relationships with family, friends, and people in their communities. With that, it is imperative that they move towards establishing themselves within these groups. They need to know that their presence is always important and valued even as children. If we do not raise them to feel important now but suddenly dump it all onto their shoulders with expectations and a lack of instruction when they turn eighteen, what more can we expect, than for them to not know how to handle such responsibilities and social positions? Raising our children to be strong speakers, to have their own opinions, and to stand up for themselves is important to us. We do not request that they blindly follow our words because who's advice will they follow when we are not around? They have to learn to trust themselves and their judgment.
          A test cannot measure the passion they feel for topics that excite them. While a test can tell me that my child is remembering many facts and details about a particular topic it does not reveal to me how much she loves to learn about it. A test could easily mark the end of a learning endeavor and wouldn't it be a shame to cut her excitement short because a lesson simply ends here? Instead I will encourage and facilitate learning until her brain is satiated and she wants to move on to another topic. Which, guess what... might not happen right away! The level of learning my children experience from reading and enjoying the things that they love to learn about has been much more thorough than weeks of lessons on subjects that bore them. But, yes it does sometimes take time for them to become excited about a new topic when the last has passed out of their lives. Sometimes they say they want to know more about astronomy and change their minds just after you've printed pages of information and bought a telescope. I always trust that someone will get use from these dropped interests even if that person isn't any of us.
This is the way we live, please respect us.
          It is fairly apparent that unschooling isn't just about education but it is also about how we live. Maybe it is even more about how we live than it is about education. The way that we live allows for whole life learning. When asked about school our kids will often claim that we're not doing it, that they're not learning, or they will avoid the person quizzing them. When they honestly claim that they do not know something and then are told of this topics (*ah hem* arbitrary) "importance" but not in ways that are applicable to their current lives the entire conversation is pointless. Unless of course the goal is to confuse, intimidate, and belittle a child, in which case you've succeeded. I understand that others feel that they need to know that the children in their lives are doing well but that is their personal situation and one should use caution when coming from a place of fear or judgment. This means that often we push our ideals on others in ways that are not helpful but instead hurt others without our realizing it and there are better ways to communicate. Perhaps it would help everyone involved by asking questions like "What books are you reading?" or "What fascinates you most about the planet we live on?" or any number of other awesome questions for kids like:
"What would you like most about being a jelly fish?"
"What is your favorite animal? Why?"
"What do you like most about having dogs?"
"What are you good at?"
"What is the best thing about being a kid/(or the age they are now)?"
"What is the hardest thing you've ever had to do?"
"What is your favorite word? Why?"
          You can simply strike up conversations in almost the same ways you would with adults. You can share information that you think is interesting and see if they share in your interests. You can ask them their interests and see if you know anything about those topics that you could share with them. Sharing knowledge and experiences is wonderful. Over sharing and stressing the importance of topics in arbitrary ways is not conductive to a good relationship. Again, building good relationships is something that we're working on teaching our children about but also something that so many adults seem to skim over as though it lacks any kind of significance at all especially with those who are young and know not what they know.
More of that philosophy thing.    
          They learn from you/me/them/us(get it?), you learned from the people before you. This is how we all learn and change and grow and choose new things. You can help change cycles worth breaking; you can influence the next generation. You can "be the change" you wish to see, if you see a change worth making. If the parents of these children are working toward something different, something you may not quite understand, respect and an understanding attitude go a long way. Relatives and friends, help the people in your life to facilitate the life(whatever life that may be) they desire not the life you may think they should have or standards you thing they should be living up to.
          We're not radical in the sense of electronics and have set times for the entire family for use of electronics daily except for clearly educational uses/consulting Google for questions. I know, these are useful learning tools. But they are also time suckers so we choose to live more conscious of our electronic use by limiting it and establishing routines that help to balance all aspects of our lives.
What do we do all day?      
          We like to maintain a daily routine because it helps us all function. I have one child who likes to rise early, one who wakes with me, and one who wakes later than us all. We stager our morning activities, eat when we are hungry, and start our day in whatever way feels true to ourselves and what we need or need to get done. This does not mean we cannot get up and get out of the house when we need to be somewhere. This means that when we have morning plans we go to bed at the time that waking demands. In the mornings we read, write in journals, work on art, play board games, complete any fun/educational activities I have planned or they have requested, and sometimes watch educational films. We break these activities up with household responsibilities as they become apparent. Lunch is also served when our stomachs need it and with a range of options since we have different demands and expectations nutritionally. In the afternoon we clean up morning messes, start planned activities educational or otherwise, play outside, run errands, the kids sometimes play with friends, more reading happens, and playing with each other. Snacks are encouraged up until the time that dinner is cooking, then kids have to wait. After dinner the kids can use electronics for whatever they like, watch television, and taking turns playing video games. I have found that I like keeping a bedtime for myself and my kids understand that they each have different sleep needs and meet those needs accordingly. They go to bed between 10 and 11 and I go to bed around midnight.  This is what daily life looks like for us.

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