Am I going to let my kid burst with the enthusiasm of her own ideas, choose what she wants to learn for the most part, and also present her with constant sources of new ideas, experiences, opportunities and materials, oh yes!
Am I going to let her decide to play video games or watch television for a week straight, not brush her teeth, not have simple chores to help on the land and eat whatever she wants at any moment? Hell no!
In my quest discover the best way to homeschool my kid, I came across such terms as “project based homeschooling” and “unschooling” very early. I really liked what unschooling was about and realized it was, by definition, what we had already been doing since Captain was tiny. It was really a way of life from the get-go; most of what she learns is by life and by choosing things that interest and call to her, and it is very exciting. There isn’t a division of what is “school” and then “the rest of life”. We could be called “project-based” on any given day since becoming interested in something and pursuing it always involves layers of individual projects that often become parts of larger projects in the end.
I used to say that I felt like I was just “running behind her” trying to find and get the information, materials and resources she asked for since she was three years old. Sometimes those questions and materials were very surprising. Like the time she wanted to know all about wolves when she was three and wasn’t satisfied with coloring books and short explanations. Or when she asked to learn more about specific surgeries that a dog might need and I was able to satisfy her with examples from books and a three dimensional plastic dog anatomy book that, after stuffing the ribs and stomach cavity with tiny tools and furniture from a doll house set, she could then “surgically” remove them with tweezers.
Finding the difference between the terms “unschooling” and “radical unschooling” can be a bit tricky. Many people share a lot of different ideas about what is considered radical. There are indeed people who unschool, letting their kids pick and choose every project and interest, let them learn naturally and by their own curiosity and hearts, and also allow them to make just about every decision for themselves, with complete freedom, such as when and what to eat, bedtimes, play, personal hygiene, television and games etc. They would never impose a math book or a language arts program or, well, anything that the child didn’t choose for themselves on any given day. I would say that is probably on the more radical end of things. I don’t have a problem with other families doing this and I find it pretty interesting in fact, but the really radical side of things isn’t for us.
Due to where we live, in a very remote location in the mountains, we have had a lot of trouble with finding opportunities for enriching social interaction for Captain, that is, without having to drive hours to get her somewhere. When she was smaller, it wasn’t as much of an issue, but now that she is 5, it is something I am constantly planning for. Back in September we were unable to afford to drive the 1 1/2 hours to get to town regularly enough to take classes and I was having trouble finding activities with other children in the areas closest to us that met her needs. After deliberation, and a lot of other considerations, we enrolled her in the only secular charter school with the home study option. She would go to school for enrichment classes one day per week and follow the California core curriculum as she studied at her own pace at home. We now know what the positive benefits of charter schools can be, and also why the one we chose ultimately doesn’t work for us (more on our charter choices to come!). I was feeling quite rebellious against the core curriculum, and school in general recently, when I decided to revisit the ideas of radical homeschooling. I almost wanted to drop everything and go the completely radical route. I would simply tell Captain that she could choose whatever she wanted to learn each day, do nothing all day if she wanted, never put clothes on, watch endless movies on the television if it suited her, and that I would allow her teeth to wear fuzzy sweaters and that she would look adorable with long blond dread-locks (she pretty much hates to have her hair brushed). I would also become a radical homeschooler. I would cook dinner whenever I wanted, or not at all, I would let my hair dread too and, although I would still brush my teeth, I would spend an entire week watching “The Sopranos” and “Lonesome Dove”. I would create a giant, recycled paper canvas outside and, at odd hours, would splash my nude body with primary paints and roll around on it. I will learn about a new species of legless lizard found in the Cardamom Hills in Cambodia with Captain and eat 3,000 chocolate peanut butter cups. Dang, I WANT to be radical!
Now, I am not meaning to make too much fun here. I know that the principles of radical unschooling indeed could be very cool for the right families. A part of me wishes that we WERE that family, but it just wouldn’t work for us. Our rhythm as a family has been interrupted for 4 months by the charter and it’s use of core curriculum, but we have a plan in the works so that Captain’s (and ours too!) soul isn’t crushed. Give it any label you want, in the end it is about love of learning! The rest of it will fill itself in.
Each day we work on things that are entirely Captain’s needs and desires for learning and life. We are doing her projects again and I am back in the swing of introducing new things constantly. She grabs hold of what interests her and I work with her to gather all the necessary equipment, plans, information, supplies etc. The fun, and REAL learning, are back in our lives because it is all a part of our lives. I appreciate aspects of practically every learning style out there including my radical brothers and sisters. It just isn’t for us.
It turns out that I will be learning about the blind, legless lizard of Cambodia with Captain, who is lizard-obsessed these days, and as for that giant canvas with my rump and other unmentionable prints on it…..
I like it! I might just have to work that one in to my art plans and perhaps I’m more radical than I thought. I’ll keep you posted!
Good Thoughts, Karen
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, and facilitated by adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each unique child.
The term “unschooling” was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the “father” of unschooling. While often considered a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically separate from other homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Popular critics of unschooling tend to view it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their peers, especially in the job market, while proponents of unschooling say exactly the opposite is true: self-directed education in a natural environment makes a child more equipped to handle the “real world.”