Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rejuvenate: Planting Seedlings and Thoughts on Unschooling

A quick pic on the iphone that I took yesterday while planting seeds with my little loves.  This past month we have had two snow storms blow through, which is very rare for our area.  Having my husband home from work and playing in the snow with the kids was a blast, but now I am ready for spring!  Suddenly this week the sun came out, it warmed right up to 75 degrees, the chickens started laying, and the peach trees bloomed! The goats' udders are filling with milk and babies will be here soon.  I can feel spring coming and my soul feels reinvigorated!  We started planting seedlings yesterday in peat pots so we can nurture them until we are sure the danger of spring frost has passed.  My two-year-old loved filling the peat pots, he's at that wonder-filled age where he loves helping with household chores and tasks.  It warms my heart when I see how proud he is that he helped with something important on our homestead.  My 7-year-old decided while we were planting that he wants to take photos of the seeds sprouting every day and put together a flip-book that looks like a time lapse photo. What a great idea!  

One of the things I love most about homeschooling and "unschooling" is that my children often come up with their own, independent projects and I can use those as a springboard to teach them something or just watch them learn, grow, and create on their own and be there if they have questions or need me to help them find materials.  It is tremendously humbling to watch other human beings learn and explore, especially young children.  I feel that most of the time, especially in a traditional school setting, children's explorations and learning experiences are channeled and directed, even down to the minute details, by the overseeing adults.  To the point of stifling curiosity, creativity, and imagination altogether.  Homeschooling has taught me to be open to everything and not to push my wants, opinions, and priorities on my children.  I am an observer, watching the learning unfold.  I have certainly learned as much from them and from this experience as they have from me.  It's funny, I look at my two younger ones who are 5 months and 2 years and I think about the massive amount of learning that occurs in those early years.  It happens with encouragement and support from parents, certainly, but no set curriculum.  Then suddenly children reach school age and it's this mad dash to find the "right way" of teaching them and there are hundreds of methods for approaching every activity and subject and thousands of professionals with opinions on one method or the other.  What I have learned from my children is there is no "right method" for anything.  Some things will be right for one child and all wrong for the other.  They are unique beings with different ways of learning, seeing, and thinking.  They have different interests and goals.  While it may not be convenient for parents or educators or even possible in certain settings, flexibility and independence is the only way to support true learning.  Being fluid and noticing the learning styles and the needs of each child.  Knowing when to step back and just let it happen.  Think about how we learn as adults, once we're out of the school system, if we want to know about something or we have an interest we look it up, we read about it, we pursue it.  Maybe we even enroll in a class, I'm not saying there isn't value to that.  Because when you WANT to know about something and you are passionate about it that is different than being forced to learn about it.  I don't take credit for my children's learning or even like the label "teacher."  They are the ones doing the work.  Just a few weeks ago I watched my son put together a compass by himself.  I'll admit, I wanted to be part of what he was doing and I asked if I could help but he said "no, I've got this mom."  He chose this activity himself, read about compasses, followed the directions for making one, busily working and stopping to ask me for "a glass of water" and a "piece of tape" and then going right back to his project.  When he was done he proudly showed me the working compass he had created and gave a mini-lecture to his siblings and me about how compasses work, the four directions, magnetic north, etc.  All of this he did on his own, with vigor and passion, because he wasn't being forced and his process wasn't being intruded upon. So, even though I do have to step in and direct some of our activities in small ways, this is the type of learning that I want to take up the bulk of our time.  Self-directed life learning.  It was such a foreign concept to me in the beginning because I needed to shift my perspective.  The more I have started to view everything we do every day as learning or "school" the easier it has become for me.  I've been asked how many hours a day we "do school" for.  That has become an impossible question to answer.  While we are awake we are learning, everything we do during the day is an opportunity for learning.  Lessons are not lectures but discussions with mom and dad about the world and topics that the kids want to know about, usually a question from one of the children is a catalyst for these discussions and the kids ask us very insightful questions.  The Olympics are happening right now and we have started learning in both conventional and unconventional ways about the countries of the world.  What we've been watching on TV, seeing different athletes, flags, etc. mingles with discussions about world cultures and governments, print outs of maps, and games where the children race to label the countries.  It's a beautiful mess but we are learning!

One of the things I am most excited about this year is that both our school-age children are starting their own businesses.  Through this endeavor they will use math, they will write things, they will read things, they will learn basic business skills and practice decision-making, critical thinking, and creative thinking.  They will interact face to face with people (both children and adults) and see the real life results of their work.  They have both decided they want to save for their own computers, so they have a lot of work ahead of them!  They have already created their business plans, worked on their branding and marketing strategies, put the framework of their businesses into place, decided on pricing, set goals for themselves, and thought about their company ethos and ways that they can give back to the community and the world when their businesses are successful. Within the framework of their businesses they are learning many other things about the natural world as well as many practical life skills.  I do plan on sharing more about this in depth in another blog post as I am very excited about what the kids are learning on this adventure!

Well, I really just meant to post a picture of us planting seeds and express my excitement about spring, but started thinking about homeschooling.  So there you have it, a little insight into our way of learning and "schooling" around here.  And like I said, there's no one way for everyone (every child or every family) so this is not meant to judge the way other families are homeschooling or the choice made by other families to send their children to public or private school.  Just my musings about our family and our lifestyle. ;)

*Note: I generally dislike labels, but sometimes they are useful and while searching for like-minded parents and professionals at the beginning of our homeschool journey I came across the term "unschooling."  It is the label that most closely reflects our educational philosophy and what we are doing with our children.  If you've never heard the term and are curious about it, here are some resources:

Life Learning Magazine

Wikipedia: Unschooling

John Holt: What is Unschooling?

The Beginner's Guide to Unschooling:


Teach Your Own

The Unschooling Handbook

Unschooling Rules

Radical Unschooling

A pretty comprehensive list of unschooling books on Amazon: