Sunday, April 09, 2006

Unschooling Questions

Atypical Homeschool has asked for a favour:

This week would be the week for another unschooling carnival. For this carnival I’m asking you to consider writing a post (and leaving a comment on this one) about one of two subjects:

  1. Unschooling feels, sounds or appears like a good philosophy to follow, but ________ prevent me (or make me hesitant to) follow through with it.
  2. Unschooling my child(ren) has enabled me to see ________

If you can spare the time to write a post on one of those 2 subjects, it would be great. Both subjects would allow us to share the 2 sides of the coin and perhaps we can help one another see our way through one difficulty or another

Spring is traditionally my time to plan for the next homeschooling year. So these questions -- both of them in fact! -- have been on my mind a lot as I try to discern where I am going as a homeschooler? What does homeschool planning look like to an unschooler? How do I acknowledge the fact that I am not a spur of the moment, spontaneous type person when I am seriously trying to make a go of unschooling?

I have 7 children. Six of them are at home and one is at college. The ones at home are ages 3 to 17. All are very different in personality and interests. Frankly, there are not that many things we can do all together that span those ages and ranges.

So, there are two of my unschooling concerns right there:

One, how do I make allowances for my personality factor: that I do best in most life experiences when I have some predictability, some preparation, some over-arching goal in mind? How does that fit in with unschooling? Can you plan ahead, set goals and still be an unschooler?

Two, how do I do justice to the wide family variety I have in an "unschooling" way? When I am being more structured, it's pretty easy. In a word, checklists. I give them out to my kids; I use them myself. Can you do checklists with unschooling?

These are about logistics and how unschooling works in a larger family system.

I also have a philosophical concern. I have an ideal of what education should look like. It is definitely NOT what standard schooling looks like nowadays, but it is little emphasized in unschooling circles, either, as far as I have seen. (It may be an implicit undercurrent; that is something I am still trying to figure out). Historically, it was called "paideia". ... the enculturation of a child into what it meant to be a person. Obviously, this was an ideal, and not carried out perfectly. But the idea of paideia gives an idea of a dynamic, of an interaction between what society is, what human nature is, and what the individual child is meant to be.

The late Pope said in relation to a family's mission: "Families, become who you are." I want to give my children a chance to become who they are, who they are meant to be. That's in many ways, essentially, an unschooling mandate. But part of who they are is what they were born into, and the place they are meant to have in their particular society. That implies to me that there IS a role for parental direction. The details of that -- when, how, why we interact with our children to help them become what they are -- continually boggle my mind.

For further discussion on this, read an unschooling thread on 4reallearning


Alice said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and interesting post.

Theresa said...

yes, it is alot to ponder and I am struggling with some of the same questions myself, as you know. It is great, though to have the support of each other as we work our way through these topics. I know I get so much out of reading about your thoughts as you seek your answers.

Rebecca T said...

I think one of the things we need to ask ourselves is what is the goal of our educating our children. Often, without even realizing it, we think that we must teach various character traits to our kids through academic work. So then when a parent says that they are "unschooling", people think that this means that they are not actively working on those character traits. In fact, usually what is happening is that once an issue like work ethic isn't tied up with a book report, both the character development and the acedemic progress benefit. This doesn't mean that one let's work ethic go, just that it is taught through the everyday requirements of living in a family. And once work ethic is no longer conflated with school work, it sometimes becomes easier to spot developmental issues or deficiancies in understanding which may be thwarting a child's progress. So, IMO, unschooling can align very well with the idea of education as being broader than just academic study.
Also, most unschoolers still work with their kids more directly in various ways. For us, I have a pretty good idea of what skills should have a their age. So as we move through the year I sit down with them to work on those skills for a couple of hours a week. Then I set them loose in an environment with lots of books and educational resources which they can apply those skills to. I look at it as introducing a new tool to a child. For example, I worked with my 6 year old for a couple of months about 3 times a week to help him learn letter sounds and patterns using simple readers. Once I knew he understood how to sound words out, I stopped. With in 3 months he was reading at a 4th/5th grade level. I helped him aquire the tools and he set about putting them to use. Same thing with math.
One of the best things about our unschooling experience has been that we has so much more time to devote to learning how to be a whole person and function as a family.

WJFR said...

Thanks for posting, Rebecca (and others!)
This does give me some ideas about how I can satisfy my need to prepare and also how I can teach some skills I think my kids are ready for, without getting into a lockstep mode.