Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Montessori, Unschooling, Trusting the Process

Why is life so complicated? Why can you find several utterly contradictory opinions on every issue to do with parenting and education? It's not just about religion vs unreligion, either. Here are some comments across the religious continuum, all of which make sense to me and tie in with my experience. And yet, and yet....

Alicia wrote a very good post on Fallen Nature vs Let the Children Come to Me

This quote from Maria Montessori, which she quoted, has come to my mind often in recent days.

"Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely greater patience, than feeding, washing and dressing the child one's self? But the former is the work of an educator, the latter is the easy and inferior work of a servant. Not only is it easier for the mother, but it is very dangerous for the child, since it closes the way and puts obstacles in the path of the life which is developing."
(Maria Montessori The Montessori Method)

Unschooling Philosophy
from Joyce Fetteroll's site

I think unschooling is similar to what Maria Montessori envisioned originally. (I haven't read that much, just absorbed a bit so I don't know for certain.) But the Montessori schools now only pretend to advocate free exploration. The "prepared environment" is very goal oriented. The children are allowed to "play" in only certain ways so that they can "discover" what the materials are designed for them to discover.

Unschooling isn't like that. Ideally there shouldn't be a "prepared environment". There should just living life. But most of us have been trained to view the world in terms of work and play, e.g., Disneyland and TV are fun, non-fiction books and museums are educational. We tend to focus our lives on getting through life in order to get free time to enjoy. So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously. We need to rethink the work before play maxim. We're trained to believe the laundry or grocery shopping must get done and the board game or book can wait for "free" time. We're trained to get through the life maintenance stuff as quickly as possible so we can have free time. But laundry is opportunities to discuss sorting and measuring and the cost/benefits -- and perhaps experiment with! -- hot versus cold water. (Is the impact on the environment and budget worth the benefit -- if there is! -- of cleaner clothes with hot water?) At the store there are scales to weigh things, signs that identify where fruit came from, labels identifying nutrition and ingredients, sales, unit pricing.

And we need to be more aware that learning isn't in a resource but in the interest a child finds in the resource. Something "educational" isn't educational unless the child is interested in finding answers to those particular questions. A child who loves Fairly Odd Parents will learn a lot more from watching that than going through the experiments one by one in a science kit he has no interest in.

So to unschool, many of us need to live life more consciously and with more curiosity than we might normally feel inclined. Rather than feel like we need to drive the kids to be more curious about life, we should be more curious. We should put on the CD of digeridoo music because we're curious not because we think it would be good for the kids to hear.

Which is a long winded way of saying unschoolers need to "prepare the environment" so everyone can learn, not just the kids.

Cindy writes about lulls

Charlotte Mason taught me long ago that learning is about process and not product. Narration is a great example. Kids take in ideas, mull them around, then the pop out again in conversation, writing, playing, art, etc. They have made the ideas their own and related them to their world, an often cited definition of learning.

She also writes of the importance of Masterly Inactivity, reinforcing to us that children need lots of time-time-time to simply be and let the ideas they absorb take hold.

John Holt also talks about giving the children time and space to make sense of information and their world.

All this said, lulls can still make moms uncomfortable.

Leonie in Living Without School writes:

Gal 5:1 "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." ~NIV

Recently, there was a discussion on this list about our faith and our unschooling. Can the two mix? Is there a dichotomy there, somewhere?

A poster said that she found that as she unschooled more, she learned more about her faith. And vice verse. Someone else pointed out that, if this is where God has lead us, then we need to listen to His prompting, in the gifts and talents and personalities of our dc, and not necessarily look to curriculum .

And this is where I am - acceptance. Acceptance of where and who we are, and moving along with the help of the Sacraments.

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