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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