Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Can Unschoolers Exhort? : )

And does it work? Nice post at Living Without School

A couple of years back, I noticed that my kids had not been doing much writing. Now I was running a quite structured homeschool at the time, but in this case I didn't want to introduce "formal" writing. My older kids had written creatively in the past, and I knew they had enjoyed it and that it had added meaning to their lives. I wanted that again for them; we had gotten away from it as a family because of lots of life events. I didn't care so much about correctness or standard 5 paragraphs, or any of that; those things were not first priority for me then (correctness is important, but it's not of foundational importance).

So I started "requiring" 20 minutes of free writing daily. Requiring is a tricky word (like exhorting!!). I didn't threaten them or manipulate them or use heavy pressure. I guess I used a little mom leverage. Most of us have some mom or dad leverage built up. I try not to overuse it. I use it when I think it's important, and they know that.

So we sat down, with a few half-hearted complaints and a few expressions of cautious enthusiasm, depending on the temperament of the individual child. It was part of the deal that I would sit down and write too. I had better things to do with my time, you know how it is. But if they were going to put off their "better things" for the sake of what I thought was important, I thought I'd better model its importance.

The baby sat in the highchair with crayons. The pre-readers were allowed to draw. But everyone had to be there, and I set the timer.

At first everyone said they didn't have anything to write, and admittedly, I was a bit challenged myself. It was interesting how difficult it was for us all to sit there facing that notebook. After a while it got so we all were able to at least write SOMETHING, and sometimes, someone wanted to keep writing or drawing after the 20 minutes were up. After a few months we stopped, basically because I had a baby and it was a full-time job relactating for the baby, taking the baby to medical follow-ups, and caring for the older baby in the hospital (that's all part of another story).

But guess what? One teenager (the most reluctant writer) went on to write a 600 page novel. Another of those teenagers has written many stories, songs, and published some articles in a newsletter. Another one writes stories and poems in Latin and Greek. The reluctant one who now writes reams gives credit to the free-writing experiment for jumpstarting him.

So I think a boost sometimes can be part of unschooling. You look at the kid, your relationship with him or her, and perhaps at the "next step" of the direction they are heading for. Maybe you'll make a mistake, misjudge the situation, but I don't think that hurts as long as you are doing it interactively. There's a judgment call involved, but sometimes those decisions lead to an emotional richness that you wouldn't find if you took too hard a line OR what Charlotte Mason calls a "laissez-aller" (let it go) soft line. That's what I am thinking, anyway.

Leonie writes:
"A Mean Mum? Yes, in some respects.
"But you should have seen their smiles at the end. Anny text messaged his oldest brother, Luke, with his achievement."
Perhaps when kids see that we have confidence enough in their resilience and competence to offer them occasional challenges outside their comfort zone, they rise to the occasion.... perhaps?

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