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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rethinking My Style

It’s May, that time when we evaluate how the school year went and what we’ll do differently next year…and I’m torn.  Right now, after my really schizo year full of fits and starts and bad curriculum choices (not bad curriculum, just bad choices for us), I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  Unschooling is looking very attractive.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not equating unschooling with not doing anything or anything like that.  I’m just seeing how badly the best laid plans can go…and appreciating the amount of learning that can happen when the kiddos are allowed to just “have at it” themselves.  And the value of throwing together a unit study (not exactly unschooling to some, I know) in less than 24 hours, simply because it was what my kiddos wanted/needed at the time.  There’s nothing lazy about that.  Or traditional, or classical, for that matter.

We had a beautiful experience on Tuesday when I took the kiddos to the library to choose their own topics for research (we had to leave when the “baby” started dousing everyone with the water fountain;0).  I asked the older 2 to each pick at least 1 biography and 1 nonfiction book on a topic they wanted to learn more about and 1 book fiction book just for fun---they each came back with a stack of books that fit the bill.  And they have been bird watching and sketching birds from bird guides since.  Because they want to.  David looked up Whip-poor-wills on-line and wrote a brief report.  He even blogged about it.  Because he wanted to.

The trip to the library wasn’t planned.  It was something a “little bird” told me to do.  Nor were the nature walks, kitted out with binoculars, cameras, sketch books and the like.  We have a bog nearby.  Great place to hear unusual (to us) critters calling to each other.  And a great way to spur all kinds of questions.

I’m taking this as a sign, an answer to some prayers, that, yes, we do need to go with some more delight-directed learning.  And more spontaneity.  There is fruit there.  And joy in the learning that can’t be planned.

But I’m getting some other signs, too.  Like the Well-Trained Mind book that Emma very helpfully found (somewhere, I know not where, my library shelves are disorganized and double stacked and I hadn’t seen this particular book for ages) and left in the middle of the floor for me to trip over.  So I read it.  Again.  I read it many years ago, before we started homeschooling.  I was so going to do it that way.  And then real life happened and I didn’t.  It just didn’t quite fit.

And  Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist, another gem Emma found for me…I was totally going to do it that once upon a time.  I even looked into the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum.  Didn’t happen.  Reread it.  And now I’m starting to see why I didn’t go this route.  Or the Well-Trained Mind route.   But I’m also seeing how I may be able to incorporate elements of both into the plan.  I don’t have to do it that way, but I can use what I want from it.

A clearer picture is starting to form in the haze.  I’m being directed.  If I can just keep my bright ideas out of the mix, it should be ok.  But I’m impatient.  I want a plan. 

This is what I’m hearing in my heart:  classical unschooling.  Can you get much more paradoxical than that?  Of course, that’s not really what I mean.   I prefer to think of education, like all things, as being a continuum.  Few things in life are all one thing and nothing of something else.  And I’ve never been good at fitting into one box or another anyway.

Here’s a very vague idea of what that might look like, from a logistical standpoint (I told you the picture was still hazy):

  • teacher-directed 4 (short) days a week, with “free” time in the afternoons for the kiddos to read and pursue personal interests
  • 1 research/free day a week when we spend some time at the library and the kiddos pursue personal interests while Mom plans for the next week
  • the hope is to have weekends totally free for family stuff, maybe we’ll actually go somewhere next year

Hubby likes this idea. 

Teacher-directed studies will focus on the 4 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic and reasoning), social studies, the arts, possibly Latin.  I think I’ll let the kiddos handle science through their interests (they love science), and of course there will be overlap between what is teacher-directed and what is child-directed, particularly in the arts, reading, writing and possibly social studies.    Nothing’s going to be set in stone.  I’ll talk more about the specifics in a later post…as the picture becomes less hazy. 

This is our tentative “plan.”  Next up, I’ll be considering what our overall goals are for next year and how to make them happen.  And I’d love to have input from other homeschooling mamas out there.  What’s your homeschool style?

5 comments:

  1. This is my first year & I've learned I don't like to be fenced in by one curriculum. My 6yr old son has spurred many child-lead studies that have produced great results. When we study body parts I pull video off YouTube to enhance the lesson. I have a basic guideline I follow but give myself the freedom to veer off the path.
    I do know I need a plan and be more organized to have a successful day.

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  2. Candes,
    I hear where you are coming from, we've always been eclectic, following our own groove, too. I never know what to say when people ask me what curriculum we use...my irl fellow homeschoolers seem to follow one curric or another and I sometimes feel like the oddball.

    The past year or so, though, I've kinda been controlling the groove too much for my kiddos' taste. The reviews have been a part of that and the threat of high school not too far on the horizon is probably also a factor. And my public school origins (insert sheepish grin here).

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  3. Yay yay yay! I completely understand seeing that joy when we just "go with" an interest that pops up. I like your hazy plan! I so need to make the library trip with the children more of a habit again. It's become easier to order books online and grab them at the drive thru (not a bad thing). I took all of mine last week and they just had so much fun picking things out themselves and exploring the library. I'm not sure I'm up for once a week trips with them all, but maybe every other week.

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  4. Unschooling so so not my style, but I am a FIRM believer that every family has to do what is best for them. What's that old saying... ain't no one happy if mama ain't happy. This holds true for most families I know.

    When you think about it, unschooling relates so much more to how you learn in real life. As an adult, you learn about things you are interested in, when they interest you. If your kids are happily learning, go with it. No one knows your kids better than you and Chris.

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  5. Part of what brought us to this point were those lightbulb moments when we both realized how little we actually remember from our own formal schooling and how much we actually use the knowledge that we pursued on our own.

    I learned zilch in home economics, but I can sew a dress and cook dinner. I don't remember how to diagram a sentence, but I can tell you in jiff if something is not grammatically correct purely by how it sounds/looks. I learned these things by sewing, cooking, and reading tons and tons of books.

    Now, don't get me wrong, it's incredibly important to train their brains (something sadly lacking in the public school system and in many private schools) and provide plenty of quality content for those brains. If I just leave my kids to do their own thing, they will take the easy way. They do need structure and guidance.

    By "unschooling," I'm leaning more towards looking at education as lifelong learning as opposed to "school." I'm getting tired of them asking me "is this school?" as if we can divide our lives up into categories like that. Does that make any sense?

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