Thursday, November 13, 2014

Our Switch to Unschooling

Increased student enjoyment, better developed executive function skills and my personal childhood educational experience are just three of the reasons my husband and I agreed to try the unschooling approach to education. Unfortunately the term unschooling has a negative connotation to many, giving the impression that unschooled children are given free reign to do as they please, often spending countless hours idling about watching television or playing video games. For that reason, I prefer the term interest based education. 

 Chinese Lanterns - Made during her free time

Regardless, when implemented properly, children are exposed to a variety of educational topics and pursue those which peak their interests. It is the educators responsibility to introduce and inspire children to explore. Children who are spending exorbitant amounts of time in activities which do not seem to be increasing in challenge, should be introduced to new concepts and activities which enable them to grow while supporting their interests. The educator does not need to require work, but can offer to read stories, share a link to a related video, or suggest and participate in related projects.

As I child I attended the Open Classroom. The basic principle of Open Classroom was for the public school teacher to implement a form of unschooling. In my classroom I had the same two teachers, who we called by their first names, for grades K-3 and two different teachers for grades 4-6. The students sat at desks instead of tables and were free to roam about the classroom as desired. We had a variety of materials strewn about the classroom which we were free to use (much like Montessori). We were encouraged to read, write stories and to explore.

Although the method advocates pure student chosen activities, in my case there were a few requirements to be completed each week. It was the student's responsibility to complete a certain number of math worksheets, free writing pages and read books at the appropriate level. The teachers worked with small groups of students to introduce new concepts in areas such as math and spelling  (depending on student level).

As a result of my elementary school experience, not only was I way ahead of the other students upon entering seventh grade, my executive function skills were highly developed. Executive function skills are those business managers use on a daily basis such as time management, making decisions and setting priorities; hence the name executive function. Freedom to set one's path is the primary way executive function skills are developed. These skills can certainly be developed using a variety of educational philosophies, interest based education just provides many additional opportunities. In other words, free time is the key to executive function skill development.

Before deciding to really try interest based education, this article on free play was linked on my homeschool group's page by another mom. It definitely reinforced ideas which have been playing over in my mind.

Another media story which influenced this decision was the Harding Family's Story. Seven of their ten children began taking college classes by age 12. What stands out is that the children were each following their individual interests. They were not forced to take classes or learn about a particular subject. They were not pushed to get into college. On the contrary, they each found an interest and demanded more information. Finally they reached a point way beyond standard knowledge and began with college classes.

Currently, my eighth grade daughter is way ahead in math, reading and writing and my son is about average. My second grade daughter is a little ahead in math, and average with reading and writing. Knowing they are on track gave me the courage to try this philosophy for at least six months. After all, if it doesn't work, they won't be too far behind.

Following the interest-based educational philosophy, we do not plan to abandon the basics, but rather encourage them as they relate to interests. For example, my son is very interested in science, and we are both interested in learning more about bridges in the near future. I've purchased a few bridge books which I plan to introduce. Maybe we will read the beginning together or do the first projects together. We will watch some bridge building videos together. Hopefully, it will peak his interests in a way that he will eagerly find and read the books when I'm working with the girls. If his interest in bridges increases, I will introduce him to bridge disasters and the concept of calculating forces and loads to predict whether or not structures can support weight. If his interest isn't peaked or levels off, we will explore a new topic. Maybe electronics, maybe structures in buildings, maybe cooking?

I'm really excited about this approach and have been keeping a list of educational materials and activities I think each of the children will find interesting. There are so many things I've wanted to introduce to the kids but haven't had time. Now I will be watching for when their interest begins to wain, so I can introduce something new.

Here are some exciting topics I want to explore:

Eighth Grade Daughter
Robert Greenberg Understanding the Fundamentals of Music
Mechanical Drawing
Calculus for Cats (book)
Project Origami (book for exploring high school and college level mathematics through Origami)
gIMP - Photo Post Processing Software
Zentangles - art
Quilting (instruction from an experienced neighbor)
History of India and Egypt

Sixth Grade Son
Bridges
Toothpaste Millionaire (book)
Music Ace Deluxe (software for learning music concepts)
Electronics work with Snap-Circuits and other kits
Postcrossing (exchanging postcards - writing, geography)
Algebra with Cuisenaire Rods
Real-Life Math - using formulas such as Speed=Rate x Time and Circumference= 2 x pi x Radius

Second Grade Daughter
Dance Mat Typing
Cursive Writing
Read her lots of books
Liberty's Kids (American History videos for kids)
Basket Weaving
Friendship Bracelets
Math Games like Cribbage, Lost Cities and Speed!

There are so many more, but I just jot them down as they come up, then introduce them when I see the kids in transition.

2 comments:

  1. Oh, I can't wait to see all the rich learning coming out of your house!

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  2. Please continue to blog about your experiences with following this new path with your family. We are contemplating a more natural learning approach in our homeschooling adventure and would value being able to read about more experiences switching over. We have always found your blog very valuable to our homeschooling journey. Thank you for blogging!

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