Month 3 of Learning at Home – Is this really how it’s meant to be? Is so much fun OK or an educational disaster?

FOREWORD: If you are new to homeschoolingmiddleeast, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything! Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster  – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you! Now for today’s post…

I’ve waxed lyrical and philosophical in the last few posts so I think it’s time to be a bit more down to earth and report on how learning at home is going. We’re still in the phase of deschooling/unschooling so most days everything is very relaxed. When we do deschooling/unschooling properly, our days are so enjoyable because we have so much fun together. Despite not having a minute to myself, the day ends and I feel like I haven’t seen them enough!

The  last two weeks have been especially great because Edward’s best friend has been on school holidays and although he’s busy with ‘enrichment activities’, he’s also had some time to play Edward’s favourite imaginary games. So Edward is a happy boy! It feels like they’ve really reconnected again after his best friend’s hectic term-time schedule. And because the weather’s perfect and the pool is right there in the compound, we’ve been swimming nearly every day. The kids continue their imaginary games in the pool and get a lot of Vitamin D and exercise which is wonderful not just for Edward but also for Petra (and me!).

I know Petra can drive the boys crazy. After all, kids these days tend to be out of practice playing with such diverse ages – Petra is 3, Edward 7 and his best friend is 10. But they do play together and it’s amazing to see it. They really try to work things out between them. And then yesterday in the pool, Edward’s best friend got really excited trying to teach Petra to dive. Yes, you read that right, dive, despite the fact that Petra is only 3! But she’s a pretty good swimmer and fearless so I thought why can’t she learn to dive, like the boys? Edward’s best friend was tireless in his encouragement and demonstration, Petra was so persistent and eventually, yes, she learnt to dive; those first dives where your knees are very bent so you’re close to the water, but she goes in hands then head first, just as she should. No more standing in a diving stance but then jumping in! It was so exciting to watch and Petra was quite rightly very proud of herself. It was wonderful.

And I kept thinking, ‘It doesn’t get better than this!’ and ‘Can you imagine, they’d be missing all this if they were at school!’ In the afternoon, we went to an Art class. It’s amazing. The teachers are really relaxed and very, very interested in the kids having a good time and feeling inspired. They have worked so hard to make everyone have fun AND learn something, right from my 3 year old to kids older than Edward. They have worked especially hard with Edward to find a way to excite and engage him because he wanted, as usual, to “do something different”. I thought it was so sad that when I was getting excited about these classes he said, ‘I hate art’ and wasn’t in the least interested. School did that. What kid can hate doing art? But once he had a chance to feel free and have some individual attention, he’s been flourishing. I would never have done these classes if he’d been at school. He would have been too tired and would have complained bitterly about the drive.

In the evening, we decided to eat out on our way home from the class. Whilst we were waiting for Edward, who was sitting opposite us, to finish eating, Petra stood behind me on the chair pulling my hair in weird directions. I pulled faces and Edward practically choked on his food he was laughing so much. I would never have spontaneously stopped to eat out and have the kids in bed after 8pm if they were at school. I would have been too worried about them waking up late and Edward suffering from sleep-deprivation on top of his everyday school stress. We had so much fun together, I again was so thankful we now live this more relaxed, family-oriented lifestyle.

We even had fun learning together. Recently, I got a fun new book called ‘Fabulous Fractions’ by Lynette Long which a kind homeschooler had recommended in answer to my plea about Maths resources. It has games and activities that illustrate fractions. We cut up (and ate) bread and chocolate spread as per one of the games. We discussed Jackson Pollock and his artistic style in preparation for his Art class, where he got a chance to try and be Pollock, but in his own unique way! I read two of the Knuffle Bunny books about a dozen times for Petra. The kids built forts, well actually, offices for some reason, but with the usual fort-like building materials including blankets and chairs. And the TV didn’t go on once (they usually watch a DVD for about an hour in the evening).

Then today the guilt and doubt crept in – the days seem far too much fun and I’m worried they’re not learning enough, as a conventional educator would view learning. Some days I get wobbly about unschooling and try and take the more eclectic approach. So when his best friend left us at midday, I tried to get Edward to knuckle down to some ‘Life of Fred’ Maths and a worksheet. He was not happy. He sighed and slumped. He said, ‘I hate Maths’ which always makes me feel so sad. After that, I tried to get him interested in all sorts of other things – and he would be interested, for about 5 minutes. We chatted a bit about the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty and their similarities and differences (age vs. size). He asked me to look up information about Queen Victoria (I have no idea why but I was too busy looking her up to jinx his interest by questioning him about it), ‘Sea Captains’ for some reason and the Kings named Edward (for obvious reasons) all of which I did, but again, the interest lasted only a couple of minutes, not long enough to learn anything really. He read, but only a few pages of a chapter book and then otherwise picture books.  At his most grumpy he said, ‘I hate learning’ and broke my heart. In the meantime, I read ‘Knuffle Bunny’ a few more times to Petra and quite a few other books.  Edward’s interest and attention leaped about the place because what he really wanted to do was play and eventually I let him be and he hit his Lego until our neighbours came back from school and outside to play.

It’s true, when kids want to learn, their learning is incredible. I’ve seen it happen. It’s amazing. But much of the time, or so it feels, Edward has limited interest compared to other kids that I’ve read about. But I think this is because Edward’s been spoiled by school. When I read other homeschoolers blogs some of their kids, at a similar age, and even some boys, WANT to read chapter books for extended periods of time, type up or write and illustrate their own little books, do loads of hands-on experiments (whereas today I got ‘I just want to eat the bread and not have the lesson’!), do incredible crafts creations – all in one day! See  http://writingonthedoorposts.com/2012/04/12/natural-learning/ for someone else’s typical day that involves only natural learning but their kids are learning so much I feel totally inadequate! If unschooling looked like this for us, I would never have any doubts about doing it. My dilemma is: Does Edward need more deschooling to flourish with an unschooling approach? With proper deschooling would his natural love of learning come back and he’d want to learn more rather than ‘just’ playing. Or if we unschooled properly, would he continue to only want to play, because he’s just a guy who needs more direction with learning and an eclectic approach would be better? Or does unschooling usually look like more conventional learning, like the kind I’ve been reading about, when the kids are older and at the moment most kids learn plenty enough through play?

The educators that advocate unschooling, like John Holt and Carlos Ricci, always tell parents to ‘trust’.  But when you’ve never seen a product of unschooling, let alone homeschooling, it’s very frustrating. If I knew kids who’d done well with unschooling, who had an insatiable desire to learn, what I wouldn’t so much care about, but something, I would feel an awful lot better! It seems strange to place my trust in a stranger’s advice ‘to trust’ that kids turn out well with very little help, just being ‘there’ to help them with anything they want to learn. What happens when the kid doesn’t want to ‘learn’ but ‘just to play’? Maybe I need to do more reading. Unschooling feels so right instinctively for my son. I feel sure he’d flourish in an unstructured environment surrounded by the opportunity to pick up an interesting book – to read alone or for me to read to him, educational DVDs, the internet to answer any questions that spring to mind, me always there to talk to him about anything and everything, but it just doesn’t seem to be working so far. And even if it was, that would be doing a great job developing his wonderful mind, but what about skills?

I think this list makes a lot of sense: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-skills-you-need-to-succeed-at-almost-anything.html for people defined as successful in all sorts of ways, including the unconventional. It’s worth a quick click through. Right there at number 2 on this list of ’10 skills you need to succeed at almost anything’ is writing, “Writing offers many of the same advantages that speaking well offers (which is number 1 and isn’t a problem for my son at least): good writers are better at selling products, ideas, and themselves than poor writers. Learning to write well involves not just mastery of grammar but the development of the ability to organize one’s thoughts into a coherent form and target it to an audience in the most effective way possible”. But what if your child has absolutely no desire to write or even type a word (Edward can type)? How can they learn to write other than by doing it? I don’t think reading is enough, especially without being a voracious reader and yet when I look at any ‘encourage your child to write’ resources, as much as I love to write, I find these utterly boring, so how can I expect Edward to do it? More to the point, enjoy doing this? Because I hardly see the point of learning to write well if you don’t also learn to enjoy writing. It’s got to be possible, I just can’t think how just yet. Any ideas anyone?

I do believe in Holt’s wisdom, but it’s hard to practice with a 7 year old boy sometimes, when he’s not in a ‘I hate learning’ mood, “Let me sum up what I have been saying about learning. I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all when we feel the wholeness and opennesss of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it. When then can we do about it? How can we create or help create these conditions for learning?” John Holt from ‘What Do I Do Monday?’

Experienced unschoolers out there – what do you think? Do you have experience with this ‘only wants to play’ problem? Is it a problem? Do I have to further deschool myself? How can I inspire my son to write/type – anything! Typing emails or any of his creative stories if of no interest to him. Any advice very welcome! Thank you!

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About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is pjmontford@hotmail.com. I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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19 Responses to Month 3 of Learning at Home – Is this really how it’s meant to be? Is so much fun OK or an educational disaster?

  1. I am not terribly experienced and definitely not unschooling but I have an opinion. Feel free to take it or leave it. He is & so relax. He doesn’t need to be writing much at all. In fact if he is a good communicator then he will probably become a good writer as well when it is time. It is not time yet. Have you ever read what a seven year old is expected to write? It is not much at all and has nothing in their verbal language. He is a little kid and the best thing for him is play. If you can sneak in something educational into the play without him knowing it then you will do better then trying to force it. If you want him interested in history then watch a history documentary while he is in the room. Ask him to pick out a book for a read aloud (long term but only a chapter or two a day) and read to him. If you are sneaky you might give him a stack of books that relate to history or science that he will choose from. For math, look into games that involve math and find ways of getting math into other areas that he enjoys like his legos or maybe cooking. You might ask him questions about his creation with legos that allows him to teach you to build the same thing but use words that help him relate it to math like how many bricks or refer to the 2 peg bricks as half of the 4 peg bricks. I think the idea is called strewing where you make sure the most important things to learn have resources he can readily make use of without pushing to do anything on your timescale. even with life of fred you can delay until he is ready as you can theorically do the entire elementary series in one year and the same with the middle school level. He is ok, just let him play and you work on your sneakiness and strewing.

    • Thanks so much for those comforting words. I really do appreciate them. I do a lot of strewing but it doesn’t work too well because Edward’s so busy playing that he’s not interested in picking up that juicy-looking book or DVD! It’s only when I pick things up randomly from what I’ve strewed that he’ll engage for a while and it work beautifully but for a fairly brief time – although some days are quite a bit better than today. i also worry that it’s all a bit random whereas if he chose what to learn it might be more coherent, it might build on what he’s learned a day or two before.

      I just read a couple of posts on your blog and your comment, “They (homeschooled kids) hadn’t learned to keep their heads down and pretend they didn’t exist”. That really struck a chord. My kids definitely don’t do this to an almost embarrassing extent! But really, isn’t this a fantastic way to be and perhaps all these life lessons they are getting at this tender age are in fact more important than anything else and, as you say, a lot of formal learning can happen in a very short space of time, when they are much older, and maybe learned much more effectively then. So maybe unschooling is a bit like delayed-formal-looking-education or something?!

      Why do you choose not to unschool by the way? What is your preferred style of home educating?

      • I think I am working toward it but haven’t made it there yet. I must get my husband inboard with the idea as well as get myself past my need to control. On the dh front , my plan is to eventually be at the point of unschooling and have it working before he realizes what is happening. I could discuss it and debate it but I fear that he might not get to a point of agreement without seeing it working first hand.

        As for my preferred style (or what we’re are doing now)…..let’s call us eclectic. I have played with the ideas of classical, Charlotte mason with the living books and all, unit studies but nothing has really fit us. We have tried computer courses and workbooks but they get boring. The one thing that has been popular all along has been story time. I read a chapter or two of a book or two each day. I usually give them an assignment from the story time like a narration or what do you think will happen next and why. They have workbooks for math (though that began as a cd-rom/workbook combo but they got bored with the computer. I sometimes ask them to do nature drawings and then write about what they drew. Our books will relate to history, science or sometimes just literature. Nothing is really scheduled and we kind of go with the flow.

      • You said story time is popular, it sounds like we have the same curriculum – the Library curriculum! I go to the library every couple of weeks and choose a bunch of books my son might find interesting (he doesn’t like to join me, it’s not a very nice space but my daughter comes at least) and we dip into them over the next few weeks. He’s not interested in reading non-fiction himself so I read it to him/them. Like you, I have a range of history, science etc… books. We discuss it (I don’t call it an assignment, it’s much more freeflowing than that). I think he picks up e’thing we learn because he’s interested, even if it’s not a lot of volume. But better than being subjected to a lot of volume learning at school and picking up nothing!!

  2. Jade says:

    Hey Penny,

    Why don’t you try scribing for E? Have him tell you his stories out loud and then you right them down. I find with a lot of young children, their minds move faster than their hands can at writing or at typing and they get discouraged when they can’t get their ideas out fast enough and then consequently “lose them.” Perhaps if he might be inspired to create his own books if he knew that the text had been preserved for him. Very simple … take two small pieces of card stock and then place on a larger sheet of pretty paper (plain or otherwise). Glue the card stock on the paper with enough overlap that the paper can be folder over like a present. Leave a space between the two pieces of cardstock too so that the book can be folded easily. Then get enough sheets of paper and fold in half and staple along the fold in the middle. Glue the front and pack pages to the card stock folder and voila, a simple book that is all his own! This can teach E. about authors, illustration, book construction etc. He could even do a mad lib and then write down a sentence on each page and illustrate the crazy ideas that mad libs produce. Kids like to take ownership of their own work and learning. My Jonathan HATES writing, hates hates hates it, but when it comes to doing his journal about a topic HE loves, I get full pages of text not only in English, but also in fluent French. He also adores spending hours making his own books of pictures … and slowly these books now also have text done on his own initiative. Has E. ever done any experimentation with stop animation. I think that this is something that he might love to do. Jonathan is completely hooked and he gets to use his lego, which he likes even more. As for play … children learn through play, don’t forget that!!! Hang in there, you are doing GREAT!!!

    • When you suggest things, Jade, you make it sound so easy but my brain seizes up! I’m like ‘What to stick, where?’ And Jonathan sounds so accomplished which is totally unsurprising with you as his Mum, but I just think ‘Yikes!’. Edward had to do loads of writing at school, so I know he can do it but he HATED it and I don’t want to continue to push him now. And yes, the typing is so slow because he doesn’t practice.

      I hope the lady who commented before you is right, that since he’s an extremely verbal super-communicator he’ll naturally become a good writer, but I do worry! It was so funny in his art class, the teacher was saying how great art is because it helps kids express things they find so hard to say and I had to admit that that approach just wasn’t going to work with either of my kids because they know exactly how to express themselves verbally and frequently do, it’s more a matter of trying to steer them into knowing when they should or shouldn’t tell the world how they feel!! Edward especially of course.

      I look forward to having a go at your suggestions at the w/e – they are awesome and if they work I will be forever grateful! 🙂 By the way, did you check out the link I posted on my FB that Kris commented on as ‘priceless’? It’s hysterical. http://speakinlove.com/2012/05/01/just-a-mom/ xx

  3. Jade says:

    ack, should be “you write them down” … sorry, I have mummy brain!

  4. Jade says:

    If you wanted to see an example of Jonathan’s stop animation, check out metalLegosolid on youtube. It’s worth a chuckle at the very least.
    Jade xox.

    • Definitely will do! Just opened and left the window open for E to see in the morning! He’s been dying to put something on youtube for ages, perhaps this will be a fun project for him too! Wish the boys could remember each other but it’s probably too long ago now, maybe some kind of cellular memory somewhere? That would be nice!

  5. By the way, it was this post http://writingonthedoorposts.com/2012/04/12/natural-learning/ that made me feel inadequate. I’d looked and looked for it to include in my blog but only just know stumbled upon it again. This post describes a ‘typical’ day and the kids do so much learning, in a natural way, and they are so young!! I am so jealous!

  6. My eldest boy is just about 10, and I think the most valuable lesson he has taught me as he’s chased knowledge with a voracious, insatiable appetite–and then put the brakes on, and apparently did nothing but jump on the trampoline and play Minecraft and throw rocks in the river for weeks and months–is that learning (everything?) happens in spurts. It’s making me relax so much more with his sister, who’s 7 (and the littlest one will be luckier still). There’s an age and a stage when he wants to — learn everything there is about the Titantic, becomes obsessed with the periodic table, whatever. And it is invariably followed by a stage that looks fallow–when he’s disinterested, doesn’t even really want to be read to, doesn’t want to go anywhere. But I’ve learned that’s an important processing/grounding stage. And when I reflect on it, it’s a pattern I mirror myself both in my personal and professional life. I throw my all into a project–and then I need a bit of fallow time to recharge and regroup.

    Homeschooled and unschooled kids have the luxury of enjoying that stage.

    To relieve your mind on math specifically: we unschooled math with Cinder completely until this year, didn’t ever sit down and do a single worksheet. It was all real-life math: shopping, baking, explaining negative integers on the thermometer when he became obsessed with weather, etc. This past January, he got suddenly interested in “doing some math.” And covered all the grade 3 “curriculum” in about 3.5 weeks. Then worked on grade 4 (his level) stuff for about a week–and then went off math again. It’s back to Minecraft and the trampoline. I don’t know what will be next, but for the most part, I don’t really stress. (For the most part. When we enter week four or eight of naught-but-trampoline, I do start to get a wee bit anxious, even now. 🙂 )

  7. I loved your post and lived it. I enjoyed your moments (hoping to have the same inshaa Allah) and had your same worries and concerns. Although I am in no situation to giving you advice, I have to say you’re such a GREAT Patient mother and I am sure that God will reward you in your son in a brilliant unexpected way; that you put him such a priority that you dream of him that you care so much of how his future well being should be, that is GREAT. I would have never been able to go with this, I mean with a son who refuses to learn. Oh, I would freak out! I think for me it will be that I FORCE him and teach him that although it is best to choose to learn what we love, we have to love what we learn. Yet I don’t think this is your attitude at all. So, never mind.
    I have one suggestion since I am a big fan of imaginary play and can recollect I have spent hours and hours enjoying this. So my point is why don’t you get into playing with him? This might help in history and you can apply it in other subjects. Let’s suggest you will take the role of queen Victoria and he is King Edward and through living the characters you would be actually studying history! Maybe at another day, you would imagine if king Edward lived now with all his experiences, how would he compare his time to today’s? … etc
    Good luck

    • Building on what imanetranslator has said I have an idea that might work with this idea of acting things out in play. I believe I read that you are from Britain. How about reading a chapter of Our Island Story to him each week and they you guys to find ways to act it out. My kids have loved that book and it could be a fun game that is also hiddenly educational. Even if you don’t use it I just might.

      • And you just blogged about this!! http://lifelibertyeducation.wordpress.com/ Very exciting. Just wanted to check out your blog, which I will do more of in due course, and there my blog was mentioned! A lovely surprise! I love the idea of the ‘Island Story’. I saw they have an abridged CD too on bookdepository.co.uk The only problem I foresee with that particular material is that my husband is Palestinian and not a huge fan of colonial British history!! I can’t blame him! I watched the Simon Schama ‘The History of Britain’ DVDs recently and couldn’t get beyond the first. It’s non-stop kill and conquer. Not to say other countries are much better but do I want to get into this with my 7 year old already? But you guys found this book good? The idea you had to act it out is excellent. I am just, as I said to Imane, not at all a playful person. I feel really sorry for my kids, although I don’t see other Mums doing this either really. I’ll have to think!! Thanks SO much for the suggestion. Keep ’em coming, please!

    • Hi Imane, It’s quite strange that both you and ‘lifeliberty’ suggested that I join his imaginary play. For the last few days, Edward has been asking me to play with him. He didn’t really used to. He waited for the occasional times with his Dad, played with friends and of course plays a lot by himself. Both kids are pretty good at this and I think it’s very good for them to immerse themselves in their own action figure/dolls house worlds. Very occasionally, they play together! I think Edward’s got more time now and much, much more energy now that it’s too hot to spend much time outside and he has so much more energy since he left school. I do not enjoy playing with the kids. I LOVE cuddling up with them and reading as many books as they like! I like discussing anything. I will just about suffer baking with them but not much else. It’s just not my thing. I am not a playful person! My husband doesn’t have much sympathy. He thinks I should do this, not that I see him doing it either the small amount of time he’s here!! We’ll see. I have just bought a unit study that covers France in time for our holiday and http://www.intellegounitstudies.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=31 this might require a bit of role-playing. Thanks for the thoughts, as ever!

  8. Amanda says:

    Hi, just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post, as I am also having some doubts about hthe homeschooling process, and wondering which method will work best for my son! Good luck !

    • Thanks, Amanda! I’m feeling a bit better these days about my wish to unschool even more. I met a really inspiring lady today that helped me enormously. It’s a lonely road so all support is so much appreciated. All my instincts are screaming ‘Take it easy on Edward. Follow his lead. He’s a bright kid, all he needs is an inspiring environment and the support to discover it when he’s ready.’ I know I am ALWAYS ready and willing to help at any point and I will keep racking my brains for things that might turn on the ‘I want to learn this!’ mechanism inside him but I don’t want to do more than that. But it’s hard to follow one’s intuition when the outside world is so against this approach. But I will keep trying! Best wishes to you too! Please let me know if you come across anything you find useful!

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