Taking an unschooling approach to learning is a bit stressful for me because I wake up each day thinking, “What shall we do today that looks more like learning than ‘just’ play?” Remember, you unschoolers who are about to jump in and judge me because your kids don’t have to do anything that looks like traditional learning but still learn; because your kids are able to do interesting outings or run little businesses like Lemonade stands etc… None of that is possible in Bahrain. And my kids are not at the stage, and maybe never will, to be left to devour book after book or write reams of fantasy fiction. So, I’m left to try and devise something that looks somewhat educational and is current with whatever the kids are interested in. Really current, so planning is almost non-existent. But at least I’m someone who’s not a big fan of too much structure, which I think helps as an unschooler, and I love the way our days just flow: I can suddenly come up with an idea and go with it, like starting our own history timeline. I don’t have any kind of plan that I’m invested in, having spent a lot time writing it, that I would put aside my great idea for. I can just come up with ideas on the fly that I know will fly!
Before we went on holiday, I finished reading Edward, ‘Volume 1: Ancient Times’, which is Susan Wise Bauer’s first volume in her ‘Story of the World’ series. Edward enjoyed listening to it so I thought it was a great introduction to Ancient History. I’ve decided to ‘teach’ history somewhat chronologically although of course discussions about historical events pop up from all over the place, depending on what we’re reading or where we’re visiting, and that’s fine.
After the holiday, Edward was keen to get on to Volume 2 but I felt we’d raced through Volume 1 a little too fast in order to gain an understanding of Ancient Times before we went on holiday. The first volume ends with the fall of the Roman Empire and I wanted to ensure we got there before we left home. I knew we’d be visiting ‘Archeon’ in the Netherlands, a historical interactive theme park, a ‘live’ museum with people dressed in period costumes, acting as if they are living in that period. It would be a great place to get a taste of Ancient Times, including Roman civilization, and I wanted him to have an idea how that period of history fitted together. I also knew we’d spend some time looking at Hammurabi’s Laws in the Louvre so didn’t want to skip over that on the way to Rome! It worked really, really well. Even going through Volume 1 quite quickly did help him get a grasp of the order of things and helped him enjoy our historical adventures on holiday whilst also putting them in some correct historical perspective. I was so pleased. Homeschooling allowed us to gain so much from our travels!
To avoid rushing on to Volume 2 (the Middle Ages/Medieval period), I had to come up with something exciting enough to keep his interest on the earliest period of history. I thought perhaps we’d go back to Ancient Times and map some of the main events, or those events Edward found most meaningful, on a timeline, as a way of revising what we’d done and as a way to start a new, major, project – our own history timeline. I started by explaining to Edward what a timeline was and started with his most important dates. The first date to go on the timeline, his birth! He was thrilled with this, then we added his sister’s, then his parents’. I couldn’t resist putting them in little hearts! We then zoomed backwards to where the timeline starts, where Bauer’s ‘The Story of the World’ starts, at around 9000BC. It’s been so much fun!
I was so pleased that I had another book to add to the mix – one I’d bought when we started homeschooling and felt sure, despite its expense, that it would be really useful one day and when that day came, I wanted to have it at hand. It’s a big heavy book, ‘History Year by Year – The ultimate visual guide to the events that shaped the world’ by DK – Dorling Kindersley. It’s a GREAT book and I like its global approach. I’ll quote from some of the forward to the book, “…history constructed on a timeline does not have to be a narrow account of war and conquest, treaties and treason. All of these feature here, but so do the dates of intellectual and technological innovations, the creation of key works of art, crucial shifts in patterns of agriculture, exploration and commerce. This is an exhilarating and comprehensive account of human creativity as much as its destructiveness, of discovery and understanding as well as natural disasters and human folly.” The book claims to be “the most comprehensive timeline ever assembled”. “Throughout the book events, discoveries, and achievements occurring in Europe and North America are set against the equally momentous and significant events from across the world side by side and reminding us that progress and discovery, feats of social organization, and challenges to a political status are no monopoly of the Western world, but as likely to originate in India or Egypt as in France and Spain.”
If I have this book, why am I doing our own timeline? Because there’s nothing like plotting history that’s meaningful to you rather than someone else, although Edward will have to put up with the additions of some of my particular interests! I can’t quite face managing individual timelines! So it’s a family timeline and Edward can always do one of his very own when he’s older. Talking of my particular interests, I have been a bit worried that I have been eating into our homeschooling time. The ‘problem’ with the DK book is that when we’re done plotting something from it on our timeline, I can’t help get carried away reading more detail than Edward’s interested in, so he drifts off to play and I can’t tear myself away from it. But I feel a bit guilty. Shouldn’t I carry on doing something with him, especially when I’ve got his attention?
When I’m reading the DK book, when I’m doing the timeline on my own and when I’m reading another very relevant book, ‘Worlds Together, Worlds Apart’, Volume 2 (3rd edition) which is a history of the world from 1000CE to the present, I’m eating into our homeschooling time. Why have I added another book into the mix? Because it’s required reading for a course I’m starting in September. So here I am, worried, I’m focusing a little too much on my own enjoyment during our homeschooling time and yet I’ve elected to do an online course, organized by ‘Coursera’, 4-7 hours per week, taught by a Princeton University professor. But, it’s not just for my own pleasure. I am doing it to help me be a better history ‘teacher’. I believe in the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ model of education (as far as I understand it but I have a lot more reading to do about it) that exhorts homeschooling parents to further their own education as far as possible for the benefit of their children. I feel good that I’m doing something for myself too, it should be really enjoyable, providing my tired brain cells can manage it and as long as I find too much doesn’t slip that needs to be done whilst I meet my course deadlines. But what’s interesting with homeschooling, especially this model of homeschooling, is that you need to consider how to balance your own learning with facilitating your kids’ learning, even though the former is meant to aid the latter, if not now, if not directly, certainly at some crucial point in time. How do you do this? You probably schedule time for the kids and time for yourself. But I’m not much of a scheduler, so hence the dilemma. Do I just trust my gut that they’re getting the time they need?
When I get too caught up in the timeline or reading the ‘Worlds Together’ book I hope that at least I’m teaching the kids about following an interest or a passion and that when you’re following a passion, WITHIN REASON (and that’s the hard part, defining this), it’s OK to put everyday life on hold or to the side and focus on it. It’s OK to do it at odd times, if that’s when the moment hit you. It’s OK to go with the flow because passions have peaks and valleys. They sometimes blow hot and cold and it’s nice to be able to focus on them when you feel the interest really grabbing you. I am really interested in filling in the first part of the timeline. I’m not going overboard; I don’t feel like I have to do it all now! I’m really enjoying the DK book and I’m both enjoying but also must read in short time the very thick ‘Worlds Together’ book. But I’m doing these things during the day instead of putting them off for a more sensible time, in part because a more sensible time is after the kids have gone to bed and I have about a thousand other things to fit into that time too!! So how to balance things? When do I know I’ve got the balance right?
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