Friday, February 24, 2017

Unschooling Concerns and Questions

(A blogpost in which I actually use my words ... followed by my usual long string of random photos)

For the vast majority of human history, children have learned in their communities alongside their families. In literate societies, children (and adults) have acquired reading and math skills from other family members, tutors, mentors, and through daily interactions. They have learned history from elders and storytellers. They have learned social skills through watching and interacting with those around them and through making mistakes and observing the natural consequences. Yet sometimes as unschoolers, we can still get worried. What if I'm doing this all wrong? 

What if my child doesn't gain all of the knowledge and all of the skills to become a successful person in this day and age? What if my child struggles with learning to read or memorizing their times tables? Or social skills? Or motivation? Or impulse control? What if my child would prefer watching Minecraft videos on Youtube over reading Shakespeare? A curriculum couldn't impart all of the answers, and school is not a magic place that leaves no child behind, so those questions don't only affect unschoolers; they affect all parents. However, as home educators, we often feel a different level of responsibility for those outcomes. 

If I could shape my children's learning in any direction that I choose, what would that look like? What life skills should everyone learn? What do I consider necessary for my children to grow up to be responsible world citizens and successful people? In large part, those questions are going to be answered differently depending on what is considered to be a "successful" life. For me personally, beyond a very basic level of financial stability, success is defined by the joy, purpose, and connections that you cultivate in your life and not merely by the possessions that you acquire or the accomplishments that you achieve. 

In shaping my children's education, I tend to prioritize respectful interpersonal skills, the ability to think clearly, and the skills to put one's efforts towards a meaningful purpose. So, I look to see if my children are engaged with learning through asking questions, seeking answers, making up theories, and seeing how those theories pan out. Our world and our workplaces need creative thinkers who are flexible, have good communication skills, and care about others and the environment. 

What if instead of memorizing spelling words my kids are watching cartoons and designing their own super hero costumes? Does that mean they will never learn to spell? Or is written (and typed) communication important enough that they will learn to accurately express their thoughts in that format? What if my teen would rather learn sign language than dissect a frog?  What body of knowledge does she need to acquire? If college is the goal, how does a child who is free to learn fare in secondary education? The majority of home-educated and unschooled children do get into college (if desired) and indeed excel at it. The years of being engaged learners and active participants in their own education tend to serve them well. 

How do I move forward in light of these questions?

I will help my younger children sew their superhero costumes out of fabric scraps. (Their superhero personas? "Cuddle Kitty" and "Mother Earth"). I'll watch my older daughter translate songs into sign language. I'll cook with them, and discuss current affairs (at age appropriate levels). I'll read to them and listen to them read to me. We'll laugh and dance and maybe go for a walk. We'll talk about how to navigate difficulties with friends and with each other. I'll set my worries aside and appreciate my life with these young people who are happy to learn alongside me, and indeed who teach me things everyday.

The following photos are little glimpses into our unschooling lives during the month of January...
sister face-painting fun during a sleepover

next morning sledding fun

reading together

water color pencils on a pre-printed canvas board

snap circuits with our Girl Scout troop

"a poem in Gallifreyan" by Camille

hammock time with Sparks, the kitty

I'm all ready to head to work (as a library assistant)

a little girl with a big stick

Ayla wanted me to take close-up photo of the ice crystals

a lovely visit from a long-time friend

Sylvia took this pic of Ayla learning how to use the sewing machine

"Cuddle Kitty to the rescue!"

Sylvie working on her "Mother Earth" superhero costume

Mr. Jupiter Zeus Goose

 Ice Castle in the Dells


 a behind-the-scenes tour with our Girl Scout troop
to see how the ice castle was built and maintained

*photo by Camille

  hiking on the Wintergreen Trail
at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

"The only source of knowledge is experience." ~ Albert Einstein