Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning through Living

I had a conversation the other day with another homeschooling mom - one who uses a curriculum, but as this is her first year, and there are a whole lot of other factors in her life that make having the sort of documentation a curriculum provides, she probably made the best choice.

She says she's fascinated with the idea of our unschooling philosophy. She wonders how we manage to "do" it ... or rather, "not" do it, as it were.

I can't explain. There are so many layers and nuances to the practice of unschooling that there is no simple this is how it's done explanation. It's not something that is simply done, like planting a garden, and actually, planting a garden is a pretty good analogy, because it's not done in "steps", like Step 1: prep the bed; Step 2: plant the seeds. Planting a garden is a process that starts in the gardener's brain and ends up with jars and jars of fresh, homemade tomato sauce on the pantry shelf. But in between there are all sorts of things that happen, all at the same time, and even a lot of things the gardener never really sees or understands that are an integral part of the process from idea to jar of food for winter.

There are times when the gardener just has to trust in the natural process that takes the seed from dormancy to food.

So it is with unschooling. I think when it comes to the whole "unschooling" thing it all boils down to trust. I fully trust my girls.

Earlier I was listening to Precious and Little Fire Faery playing with their Polly Pockets. They create these incredibly elaborate role-playing scenarios, and I usually butt out of their play, but sometimes I like to hear what they're doing, just because it's always fascinating.

In the game, they were trying to determine who would go first. They decided it would be alphabetically, by name.

I heard Precious say, "B-b-b ... Boo would go first."

And of course, I feel a very strong sense of pride when I overhear this kind of thing, and I think about all of the rote exercises I did as a student (and gave, as a teacher) to reinforce this skill that these two little girls managed to pick-up ... from somewhere. Goodness knows I never gave them alphabeticizing worksheets or exercises to perform.

That's the thing, though. It was important to them, and so they learned it. Alphabeticizing, in this case, has a real world implication for them - to be fair, the dolls go in order of the first letter of their name. Brilliant!

And they thought it up all by themselves.

The mom I talked with said she was comfortable with the "idea" of unschooling, except when it came to math. She told me that her eight year old daughter does really well with geometry concepts, but just can't seem to get simple subtraction. I tried to say that I thought she'd get it when she needed it, and I believe she will. I believe that there are concepts that we might not immediately grasp, the first or second ... or even thirtieth time we're exposed to them, but when that knowledge becomes something that we need, it's there.

I trust that when my girls need to know a thing, they will find the answer.

Like alphabeticizing to determine the order of their dolls' turns in the game.


  1. Yep! Good post about unschooling. It is all about trust. I trust my son to learn what he needs to know, when he needs to know it. His performance in poultry judging recently proves it. I'm waiting to get the pictures to do my post on it, but he did amazing!

  2. I have had to go from very structured homeschooling to moments of unschooling and then back again. Not because I did not trust that my son would learn it when he needed it but his father ( not my husband) couldn't trust that it would just happen. So at varying times I have had to have "paper" to prove that he is being schooled. Now he is in his secondary years and he is unschooling by his choice and it is just amazing where that is leading him. Could his math skills be stronger? Sure. But when he fees that he needs stronger math skills he knows that I will support that learning through what ever source he decides to use to get that knowledge.

    In the mean time, he pursues his art, spends time with a blacksmith, reads the Lord of the Rings Trilogy for the Third time, studies to be a junior Maine Guide and occasionally works for a local farmer.

  3. Fleecenik, the mom I mentioned in my piece has the same issue - the non-custodial parent's belief that something "tangible" needs to result for all that larnin' :).

    I'm think I'm very lucky because my husband is fully supportive of our homeschooling methods.