I'm sure everyone has heard horror stories about "unschooled" children never learning anything at all. Trust me, I've heard them too. But it turns out that there is some very real and carefully considered philosophy behind the concept of unschooling, and much of it is very appealing.
It actually follows very easily from the education philosophies I'd already fallen in love with. Montessori education is what I always sort of wished I could create in my home. I read blogs like my friend Meg's and think "oh, come to my house and do that for me!" I also love Charlotte Mason style education, especially what I read on Elizabeth Foss' website and in her book (available in her online shop).
Montessori theory (in a very tiny nutshell) blends lots of hands-on activities with student-led learning. And Charlotte Mason believed in a complete lack of "twaddle", relying instead on "living books" as well as lots of time outdoors as a base for a good education. Unschooling is founded on a belief that children have an innate ability and desire to learn, and that if allowed to do so, and helped to follow their interests and passions, they will learn far more effectively than in a typical "school" setting. Do you see how these could all kind of work together? That's what I'm aiming for!
I think that the large, underlying problem that we were encountering with traditional homeschool was this: it blended parenting with education. (Hear me out; I can just see you all falling off your chairs!) I'm not abdicating my parenting role. Of course I want my children to grow up with stellar character. I want them to be able to persevere through difficult or unpleasant tasks. I want them to be obedient and kind and respectful. We work on all those things in our daily life as we do chores, play together kindly, obey instructions, etc. These are issues of parenting. I would work on them with my children no matter where they were getting their education.
What I found is that if parenting got mixed up with education/learning, we had lots of parenting/character based battles in the midst of our reading or art study. Which made the learning no fun at all, for either of us! And you know what? There is plenty of regular life outside of school to use for necessary character training.
So what are we doing now? Well, a variety of things. I've changed the way a lot of our supplies are organized, so they're much more easily accessible now. There are all kinds of art supplies, a box of beads, matching cards, math blocks, letter tracing cards, perler fusion beads, etc. all on the kids' level. They don't need my help or permission to get things out. We have always had books all over the house, and that certainly hasn't changed. :) There is a child-friendly piano book out that both Jonathan and Thomas are learning to use on their own.
I still have Jonathan's school folder stocked with math worksheets, science pages/ideas, handwriting sheets, etc. In fact, there is more in it now than before. But now, instead of saying "time for school!" I'll ask "what do you think you'd like to learn about today?" Often I don't even have to ask, because he's already off and running on a fascinating idea.
Unschooling doesn't mean no formal learning: it just means no uninvited teaching." - Nurtured By LoveThis is a much harder way for me to homeschool, because it requires more of me. It requires a careful attention to his interests, so that I can be proactive in having helpful supplies and books available. It requires my willingness to set aside whatever I'm doing (such as writing this post, as has happened already!) and look up answers to his questions or help him with a project. Basically it requires that I set aside my own affinity for schedules and timetables. This is hard.
And of course I have all the typical fears, like "Can it possibly really work this way?" and "What if my son never learns to read!!!" and "What if my kids would rather play than learn math?" I know, personally, that I can easily tend to laziness. I read novels, not theology texts. Then again, my husband reads theology texts instead of novels! And to be fair to myself, I also read tons of books on parenting and education and nutrition, all those things which I find needful and helpful in my life right now. When I was teaching music I read a lot of books about music and classroom education. Which is what proponents of unschooling stress: the child will learn what is needful, important, and helpful for the life he wants to live.
"I've also not found that my kids need much if any prodding to challenge themselves. Occasionally (rarely) they have needed some substantial support from me in following through on their desire to challenge themselves. But for the most part when they know that they are fully in charge of their own learning their ambition and motivation rises up and propel them forward. In fact they often challenge themselves far more than I would ever have thought of expecting of them." - Nurtured By LoveToday has been an interesting example of this kind of self-challenge. Jonathan started out the day chanting multiplication facts with Starfall. I've never introduced multiplication; he found these on his own and enjoys them. At some point when he wants to understand the concept, it will probably be a lot easier having "4 times 4 is 16" already stuck in his head! Later in the morning he asked for my help with a self-portrait.
He got his photo down, found the fancy art paper and colored pencils, and look at the result!
(We definitely worked together on this one - I did the outline and he did the coloring.)
During quiet time he took his school folder with him, emerging with a completed math page and handwriting page (of course he reminded me that he should get chocolate chips for the handwriting!) ;)
As quiet time was ending, I discovered Thomas "reading" The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear to Josiah. Charmed, I asked him to read it to me, which he did! Yay for books that lend themselves to memorization! Not to be outdone, Jonathan also "read" the book to me, but since he hadn't memorized it quite as well, he actually had to sound out some words to remind himself where he was. :) We followed this with a book about the various legends of St. Nicholas.
And now the kids are all outside eating lunch and playing with friends. We've all had a great morning, tons of learning has happened, and there have been no arguments or tears.
I think this experiment just might work for us.