Thursday, April 15, 2010

(Un)School Books

I've been a little preoccupied with school stuff for the past few days. As a homeschooler, it's my responsibility to keep track of what my children do "for school" on a day-to-day basis, and while I usually start the school year out pretty well with daily or weekly entries in my journal, at some point, I get a little lax, and then, I have to figure out what we've done ... you know, for the record.

I realized that I had fallen a bit behind, and it took me a little while to get everything caught up. It was a bit of a challenge to sort through all of the bits of paper with scribbled notes, calendar entries, pictures in the camera, and the other carefully saved souvenirs of our daily activities, and then to input the information into the Homeschool Tracker software I use to keep us organized. (This week's lesson: a stitch in time does not just apply to darning socks).

When one is not limited by what can be seen in the inner walls of the box, many activities that might not seem applicable become learning opportunities, i.e. "school."

This is especially true of books, and while we have some number of traditional textbooks (as reference, mostly, and not so much the foundation of our daily learning about a given subject), most of the books we use would never be found in a regular classroom.

A visit to the bookstore yesterday yielded several gems, which will be added to our (un)school library. I told Big Little Sister that the book, My Grammar and I ... Or Should That Be Me?: Old School Ways to Improve Your English, would be her high school English book.

Her response?

I'm not in high school, yet.

My reply was, essentially, now that we own the book, it will wait for her ;).

We're using the Louis Sachar book for math lessons right now. It's actually fun, and I realized that I have a lifetime's worth of unwarranted math-anxiety to work through, especially when I get scared when confronted with the problem:


It's all algebra-esque math problems where letters have numerical value and the object is to figure out what numbers the letters represent and get the correct answer. It's fun, and as Deus Ex Machina and I discovered when we were trying to help Big Little Sister solve the problem ...

- seal

... there is more than one way to come up with the correct answer.

But isn't that how it is with life? There is often more than one way to get the correct answer, despite what we've been taught. Just like, there's more than one way to get to a destination.

The amazing thing about watching my children, who've never been exposed to the very rigid school standards of problem solving, is that they've taught me the truth of that. I may find it easiest to write out the problem step-by-step and count on fingers or use coins or rocks or buttons. They don't always find that to be the easiest way, but that's okay. They don't have to do it how I say, and they don't have to show their work, and they don't have to explain how they arrived at the correct answer - as long as they understand how they got from point A to point B and the next time they see a similar problem (like getting from point r to point s), they can apply the same strategies to get the answer.

Afterall, that's the mark of true intelligence - being able to figure out a problem based on one's past experiences, even when the circumstances seem completely unrelated.

My first year as a public school teacher, the interim principal told me that it was not my job to entertain my students, that my job was to teach them. I can't disagree with him, at least in a traditional classroom setting, but here, in our "un"school, my daughters are constantly entertained, and they are constantly learning, too.

And our textbooks are a wee bit unconventional.

The knitting book was 100% Big Little Sister's idea. She's planning to make knitted gifts for her friends and relatives. She's offered to teach me how to purl ... and make ribbing ;).

Now, my big dilemma is which subject to file "knitting" under ....


  1. Math, art, design, homemaking (or do they call that life skills now). Have her read Folk Socks by Nancy Bush or some of her other knitting books and you'll have a history lesson too.

  2. It's reassuring to know that you have to play "catch up" on record-keeping, too. :)

    I love how many areas kids delve into when their learning is led by their own interests. And I would agree that knitting definitely includes math as well as art...


  3. After growing up in an educationally competitive area, and then raising my sons in a rural area without the funding for school "extras", I have seen that it's not about having all the bells and whistles. It's about getting children interested in learning. I applaud anyone who can take a break from working to teach their own children. It's an important job.

  4. Sometimes it surprises me to find they are interested in certain things ... I pointed out the knitting books, got a luke warm response, and started to put them back ... then ... WHAM ... "hey, I wanted those!"

  5. We're trying to reintroduce unschooling to the boy and one of the books he's shown interest in is the Fred math books
    He is very interested in designing his own toys, so math is important to him - he looked through the sample pages and was pretty receptive. This next year should be interesting ;}

  6. At a PTA meeting years ago we had a guest speaker, a teacher of low income children, show us how to teach EVERY subject to a K-6th grader using just the daily newspaper. Point of demonstration was to help your child learn at home. Several mothers loudly berated the idea stating emphatically you MUST HAVE PROPER equipment or the children cannot learn!! I thought how very sad for their children for they would never benefit from learning to think. Your children are very lucky to have such wonderful parents who help them think and therefore learn from all situations.

  7. I just put that math book on hold at the library. Thanks so much for the suggestion!