Monday, September 10, 2007

What is unschooling again?

I find it very difficult to explain unschooling in a short sentence or brief conversation in a way that people can really get a good grasp of what it is. Between family questions last weekend and Hubby's high school reunion, I found myself trying to explain it well...and failing, again.

The question that is **always** posed to me is this...
"What if they don't want to learn something?"

First, I have to say you've never been around my kids if you ask that question. Do I think unschooling would work for every kid? No. I think it would be difficult to take someone who began traditional learning styles and move them to unschooling...though I have seen it done successfully. Secondly, it takes a lot of work. It might seem to many that it's a hands-off approach but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's probably more hands-on than any other approach out there. A huge part of unschooling is learning to be highly opportunistic. When that three year old has asked you, "Why" for the 37th time in a row, you have to be willing to answer the question. Am I a know-it-all? Absolutely not. So if I don't know the answer, we look it up in books or online or find someone who does know the soon as possible.

Kids are naturally inquisitive. They want to know everything. From about 3-5 years old, kids are known to drive adults crazy with incessant questions. I've seen many many many kids put off or worse, put down for not knowing the answers. How many times are we too busy or in such a rush or too tired and say, "I'll explain it later"...and later never comes? The question hangs out there, probably forgotten by the parent and possibly the child as well. Maybe the child figures it out on his own or maybe he decides he didn't really want to know anyway. Unschooling is all about answering those questions as soon as they arrive, digging for answers as needed, discussing follow-ups and showing pictures/places/visuals to explain all that's needed until the child is satisfied and the questions stop. This requires a lot of patience on the part of the answerer, trust me. ;)

For the first year in a long time, we're having a very cool early September. Matthew's birthday is coming up and I gave him the option of having his party at home or having it at a local park. He was very excited about the park idea. So I called the Parks Dept and found out there was only one pavilion open for rental at one of our parks. We drove by to see if it was suitable for what we wanted. He wanted to know which park it was...then he asked which pavilion number it was. He wanted to find it himself. Then I asked him if it was a good location. He liked it and we headed to the local Rec center to reserve it. They were actually closed that week for cleaning so I told Matthew that we'd have to go up to City Hall. On our way there...
"What's City Hall?"
"It's where the local government offices are."
"Local government...hmmm...who is the leader of our country? What's his title?"
"Right. Well, just as we have a leader for the country, we also have state leaders, called Representatives, and we have county leaders and we have city leaders. The leader of our city is called the mayor."
"Oh, yeah. I knew that, I just forgot."
"The mayor, and many other city officials have their offices at City Hall."
"What kinds of other officials?"
"Well, for example, the people in charge of the Parks Department."
"What do they do?"
"They take care of our city parks. They make sure the grass is mowed, that mulch is brought in for the plants and trees, they keep the buildings in good shape and repair them as needed, they clean the bathrooms, maintain the playground equipment and they are in charge of renting out the pavilions at the park, which is what we're going to do."
"Hm. What other officials are at city hall?"
"I can't think of any off-hand. Let's see when we get there."
[a few minutes later, we enter City Hall]
Matthew sees the receptionist and says, "Where is the Parks Department?"
She informs us that it's actually down the road in another building. We took a bit of time before leaving to look at the directory to see who else worked there.

Down the road at the Parks Dept building, she informed us that it's $25 to rent and they don't reimburse you for rain. We decided to think about it a bit. When we stepped outside, it was lightly sprinkling on us but the temperature was so very cool from what I experienced last weekend that we decided to take a walk in the rain. So we went through the park across the street, playing in rain puddles and even flipped the swings over to the dry side so we could swing for a while. Matthew decided that the pavilion wasn't a very good one because it was small and there is a line of trees and bushes between it and the playground and the parents probably wouldn't like that too much. The Parks Dept also told us that if the ground is dry that day, we are welcome to take our own tables to set around the playground area for no charge. Matthew decided he wanted to chance it as the forecast looks really good at this point. This was the end of the city government questions for a while. Today he and Rose are doing "experiments" with the goo they made at the last birthday party they attended (Mad Science). He heard me talk about the La Brea Tar Pits and started to compare/contrast the goo and tar on his own. I found myself looking up information about tar for him. It's actually quite interesting stuff...and the tar pits? Actually asphalt. La Brea Asphalt Pits. Hmph.

Now, could he learn this information from textbooks? Absolutely. Could he retain it long enough to be tested. Sure. So why not do traditional teaching? Because of this...he asked, I answered right away...he remembers it. It means something because he wanted to know at that moment. He will remember it. It's not a bunch of facts that he is forced to learn because some official said somewhere that he needs to study local government in 7th grade. At some point, he'll want to know more about what they do and what I told him already is about the extent of what I know about them so we'll probably have to do some digging...maybe check out the city website, perhaps attend a city council meeting, maybe when he gets interested in the how's of police work or his drivers license, it will be a segue way into city government, much like planning a birthday party led to city government.

Still, to the skeptics who are still asking, "But what if those never happen and your kids never want to know? They never ask?" There is a secondary measure. If they want to go to college, there will be certain things they *have* to learn and study. Local government will be part of that, I'm sure. But when they learn it, it will be a means to an end - they will want to go to college and so they will understand that this is what they have to do to get there. And I know some of you skeptics are still sitting there thinking, "Yeah, what if they don't want to go to college?" Well, that's their choice...and every choice has a consequence...they will quickly find that obtaining a job so they can have money to reach other goals (family, hobby pursuits, etc.) will be much more difficult without a degree. Doable but difficult.

This is probably the best explanation I've had for "What is unschooling" in a long time. I hope it helps you further understand it too. :)


Jean 2 said...

Your approach is of course positive about *unschooling*-I am not necessarily against it. I would be considered a skeptic. What you are doing,your patience especially, deserves to be commended. You take mothering to a whole new level which is great. You are truly EVERYTHING to them. My personal thoughts on the matter, and I see you are open to them, is that it would be wonderful to send kids to public school AND have parents willing to go the extra mile like you are at home to teach them things they want to learn at that teachable moment, like grabbing the opportunity! Of course, I am a public school teacher! ;) But I am enjoying learning what is going on in your home. I find it fascinating!

Mrs. Pivec said...

Wonderful, Laurie. Just wonderful. :) I love the conversation you site with your son.

I imagine it must be exhausting having to explain yourself and what you do over and over - and over again. I know it is for me sometimes too - and we don't unschool as much as you do. Sometimes I really don't *feel* like explaining it or talking about it. A lot of times I do, because it's my passion, but some days I just don't . Plus, there are those who are sincerely interested and there are those who hardly know you and are asking more out of mild curiosity or who may be prepared to be a wee bit judgemental. ;)(Did I spell judgemental wrong? It's underlining it here like I did! How do you spell it?! LOL!)

Well, it's that time of year and people are asking school questions. I just posted about the whole "socialization" question at my blog and the new answer I think I'll give the next time it comes up!