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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wading Out into the Unschooling Pool

To School or to Unschool... A Nerve-Wracking Dilemma!  One I've struggled with for a couple of years now..  and I'm giving this 'unschooling' a go.. finally.

I have been "homeschooling" my girls for three and a half years.  I started out, (because I was so new at this), with Reading, Writing, and Math.  When I withdrew my youngest daughter Robyn from a second grade, public school classroom, she could barely count to twenty.  Her reading consisted of, "the fat cat sat" type stuff.  And even that was slow and painful.
However, she had a large vocabulary, and could correctly use, (for example), the word "facetious" in conversation without batting an eyelash.  I got comments all the time on how amazing her vocabulary was.  When we went to speech therapy, it amazed her therapist that Robyn couldn't say her "r" or her "l", but she knew "all these big words".  Robyn was globally delayed, and legally blind, but I got large print books, talking books, and we read aloud.  I also didn't "baby talk" with her.  When you have a kid who is speech/language impaired, you learn quickly not to do that.  The end result is that she has a bigger vocabulary than many adults I know!  :)

Since we've been home educating, Robyn has grown by leaps and bounds in her education and knowledge.  Now how much have *I* taught her? I helped her learn to tell time.  She can now add, subtract, multiplication, and very basic algebra. She's learned how to bake brownies from a mix, and a few basic things... pancakes, eggs... Turning the stove off and on, basic kitchen safety, laundry basics.   But I've noticed the bulk of what she learned is *a* life skills, and *b* is things that she has learned all on her own.  She knows all about different animals, about why we use organics instead of conventional...  she's learned about why we stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and have no voice.   

She's learned about space, stars,  aurora borealis, and a million other things I cannot think of.  She has had cultural experiences.  Sitting in a Cuban restaurant, ordering in our pathetic Spanish, and eating Cuban cuisine.  She's had escargot in a French restaurant, and studied about the Eiffel tower, and leaned a lot about France in general.   The same can be said of Japan, Germany, and the Middle East.  

Yes, she has learned from reading her Seton books, and doing the work books.  In three and a half years, I've never given a spelling test, nor do I 'teach' 'spelling'.  I just encourage her to read whatever she is interested in.  I think that if you are "a reader", you can't help but become a good speller.  I have not "taught" science.  We go to the science museum.  The zoo. Her sister takes her to the beach.  We observe nature and talk about leaves and trees... we go on field trips with experts who know all about the native plants, animals, and the who's and the why's of what we are seeing, smelling, and experiencing.   We see what happens when we crack an egg into a pan and add butter and heat.  

Science.  We've raised a bird, fish, turtles, guinea pigs, and dogs.  

We've studied different forms of transportation.  Discussing importing and exporting.  She's attended ballet performances,  She's sang along with opera.  She's watched cannon fire, picked and ate fruit, learned to shell pecans, has helped make homemade fruit preserves, sprouted seeds, and learned about bats.  She has seen cows get milked, and made homemade butter from cream.  

Robyn has climbed, swam, rode horses, petted farm animals, alligators, and snakes.  She's wandered in a corn field, eaten raw unfiltered honey, ate produce from an organic co-op, eaten purple cauliflower, heirloom tomatoes, collected shells and rocks, examined fossils, attended a Green Expo where she learned more about green living.  She understands about food storage, hurricanes, and what to do.  She has beaded necklaces, thrown an ax, and is learning archery.  

Most of this, as you will notice, is not anything she has learned in a workbook.  

When I started buying "school books", we were up to nine... NINE subjects a day.  We have dwindled to four or five, depending or what we are doing.   I believe in quality over quantity.   From her schoolbooks, she's learned to repetitiously do math problems, read a story and answer questions about it. (which is kind of stupid if you think about it), do phonics, (again, pretty stupid if you're already reading on a high level and are a good speller).  And her religion books, which are mostly reading.  We also do English.. but good gravy... AGAIN... if you're already a strong reader, what difference does it make?   

I have pretty well decided to 'do away' with "sit down and do your schoolwork", and let her lead in her education.  I am still believing that math is necessary.  She needs to be able to do basic math, handle money, and make sure they don't cheat her on her paycheck later in life, pay bills, and so forth.  I have allowed her to be self-led from the very beginning with her science, history, health, and pretty well with her reading.  She independently reads on a variety of subjects.  We also read out loud.  Classics.. and Shakespeare.  We own two guitars.  A piano.  She takes karate.  And she wants to learn French, so I am looking into that for her.  Also, ASL, and Spanish too.  She already knows a few words/phases in German, Japanese, Spanish, French, and even Latin.

As much as I believe that "unschooling" is the route I want to fully go with, I find myself scared that I am somehow going to cheat her out of learning... which I know is dumb.. since the bulk of her learning has been self-led anyway.    The things I've listed, honestly, don't even scratch the surface of everything she has done, experienced, and learned.

Yesterday, hubby asked me if Robyn had "done any schoolwork today".  I told him she was on Spring Break.  He was happy with that answer.  For the most part, he gives me full freedom to do what I think is best in terms of her education.  But if I told him we are not doing "traditional" "schooling" any more, I am a bit nervous as to how he will react.  Will he think I've become a mother who doesn't care and has gotten lazy?  Or that I've become negligent?  I don't 'think' he would think that, but I do think it would 'freak him out' and make him worry.  I don't want to do that.  

But for pity's sake.  My kid learns better with hands on approaches... with things she is actually interested in.  As long as she is learning, does it really matter?  Until I can think of something better, we will stick with the math program we are using.. Math-U-See... as it's one of those, "you see it with your eyes, so you can see it in your head".  Besides, she likes playing with the manipulatives that comes with it. :)

I am nervous.  I admit it.  Nervous about not just being 'relaxed' with our homeschooling anymore.  Nervous about somehow 'failing' my daughter.  Nervous that this will make me a 'bad mom' or 'negligent' or whatever other word you want to use.  

Mark Twain (who was homeschooled, by the way), was quoted as saying that he never let schooling get in the way of his education.  I like that.  I like to think this way is more freeing.  Robyn will be free to learn at her own pace... learn what she is interested in.  Giving her 'wings', so to speak.   I want her to love learning.  And not stomp on her creativity but instead encourage her interests.  She has already learned how to research things, because that is how she has learned to "learn".  I want her to continue to love learning... and learn above and beyond what some work book can "teach" her.



  1. Susan,

    Robyn is already well on her way to being an unschooler! Yes, it's us mothers who have to overcome our fears. Having a support group to talk over worries and share triumphs with helps. I wrote something on the FB page under your comment. I look forward to sharing more of your unschooling adventures!

  2. You go girl! She will be fine! You are not cheating her and you are most definitely NOT being negligent or lazy! Just remember, you can always go back to the traditional way if this doesn't work for you! So go with it...go with your gut. Enjoy it....enjoy her!