Friday, January 16, 2009

Teaching Ourselves

When my older kids were little we used to have a "Teach Yourself" month once a year. It usually came in February and was a nice reprieve from the February Blues. Its origin was that my second-born son, Brendan, saw me reading Agnes Leistico's book called "I Learn Better By Teaching Myself"He said "That's true, I do too!" So I told him we would try.

In theory I wanted the children to design their own lessons but in practice, as you'd imagine, we ended up with a plan more along the lines of "And the Children Played". My older children were always full of things to do, so much so that I remember very often having to pull them away from their play to do some "lessons". So February gave them a chance to unschool and me a chance to watch them, usually, and ponder a bit how our homeschool was going and usually, (1) read some homeschool books (2) plan a bit how our homeschool would go the next year (3) get set up for our last burst of academic activity in the spring and early summer.

Later, we dropped the tradition. When Aidan and then Paddy were born and faced much medical intervention, life got quite complicated -- we usually had unplanned breaks when they were in the hospital so those put us behind our schedule. Plus, the kids were older -- middle school and high school. I didn't feel as comfortable about ditching the curriculum. We were never "done" in June as most homeschoolers were: never. In fact, we generally just trickled out of academic energy sometime in that month and closed the books.

After things with Aidan and Patrick settled down, I faced burnout. That was when I started this blog to deal with unschooling questions. So the school year of 2005-2006, I "went on sabbatical" as I called it to myself. The middle kids were on or above grade level; the older kids were in upper high school and mostly self-directed and following syllabi under their own steam. I decided to take the opportunity to do my level best to really work through my unschooling questions.

It was a challenging year! I can answer one common unschooling misunderstanding from experience. Is unschooling the "easy way out"? Not at all. Let me compare it to something like stay-at-home-mothering. Is it impossibly hard? No. There are natural advantages. But it is not kicking back in the least, as any SAHM knows. It goes against our conventional society norms in several ways, and that is never easy. The pacing is different, the demands are different, the rhythm of work is different. It is rewarding though.

What am I trying to say here? Well, this year, we haven't really gotten back to academics, even though holidays ended two weeks ago. For one thing, I could scent the smoke of a mild burnout from my just turned 13 year old and I didn't want to push. One of the things that I learned from unschooling was to pay attention to these signals. I feel like we have time to do this. In conventional school, you can't. But at home, it seems to me, there are a bunch of different resources and options for a given situation. Pick the one that suits best. If it doesn't seem to work, try something else.

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