Happy New Year! I’m back!

I hope everyone had a great month of festivities! I know we did! It’s always hard to get back into the swing of getting things done after a long break, even when you love what you do, but here I am, ready to start sharing again.

Today I have for you, an article by Sue Patterson called “My Unschooling Manifesto”. Even if you don’t consider yourself an “unschooler”, this list is a ‘must-read’. There is some wise advice here for those of us on an alternative path than public school. Maybe it will inspire you to great things as you consider the coming year!

Our Kindergarten

I’ve been going through some old paperwork and photo files and came across pictures of my kids when we were just getting started with homeschooling. I’ve been thinking a lot about what we used to do for “school” back when my boys were elementary age, so it’s strange that I found those photos. Or is it? I thought I’d post here a bit about what Kinder was like at our house!

We had come across the idea of homeschooling while searching for private preschools. I found the California Homeschool Network and started reading. It just happened to be close to their annual conference, so my Grandpa and I went to check it out. I fell in love with the idea right then! So essentially, the boys have always been homeschooled.

Since Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in California, we decided to not enroll in any school and see how it went. If it went well, we’d continue to file as a private school and keep schooling that way. I’d say that year went pretty well! Do I change things? Yes! Our school always changes according to what is working and what is not. That’s the real beauty of homeschooling in the first place. Each child’s education is tailored to their individual needs. And even though I desperately wanted to play teacher at home, my boys weren’t having it. It wasn’t for them. I had to be honest about my own personality and theirs, and change things up. “School” has evolved over the last eleven years and it still is, but the underlying current is an “unschooling” style that has worked well for the whole family.

Here are some pictures of the first months of “school” at our house so you can get the idea!

When you start homeschooling one child, you start homeschooling the younger kids, too! No one wants to be left out. And you HAVE to have a “First Day of Kindergarten” picture!

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sept-6-034We had a playgroup of kids and Mom’s that came to our house every Monday for the last couple years. It wasn’t a homeschool group, just an evolved Mommy & Me group. Most of us weren’t planning on homeschooling but we didn’t want to send our kids to preschool, so we did this instead. It was wonderful for all of us. Even though only two of us really ended up homeschooling in the later years, we are all still great friends!

sept-6-001We spent a lot of time at the Regional Park in our area. It had a small zoo, loads of trails, a pond, a train, and several playgrounds. Since we lived in the city at the time, it was also a great place to escape the noise of the neighborhood and safely ride bikes!

sept-6-011We took very long walks here, climbed trees and rocks, brought sketchbooks and drew pictures of plants and animals, talked about and explored natural science, not to mention lots of picnics!

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One thing that I’m glad we spent money on was a membership to the big Natural History Museum in LA. It was an hour (sometimes more) drive away but there was so much to do there. Some days we would spend hours in the children’s “hands-on” area. Some days we’d rush through all the mammals and dinosaurs, and then spend an hour looking at the bird exhibits. The best part about it was that the boys came to know that museum, and many others, as a place to play. It wasn’t boring for them. They knew there was a lot of very interesting stuff there and lots of great people that would answer any question they had.

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I remember walking behind them as they came into a giant domed room. My older son stopped in his tracks and was amazed by the ceiling and the sound of the room. They both dropped to the floor to get a better look and made loud and quiet sounds, listening to it echo off the walls and ceiling.

You can’t do this on a school field trip!

They spent several minutes lying there looking at the ceiling and then wanted to draw pictures like it when we got home.

Better than any toys you can purchase and have at home are ones that are available only when you’re at a certain place! The children’s section in museums is worth the cost of an annual membership every time!

sept-6-030So this is how our homeschooling journey began. There was no curriculum, no “school” time, no co-op. There was just me and the boys exploring the world around us while Dad was at work and then sharing it with him at the end of the day. Camping trips on weekends, weekly trips to the library, grocery shopping, amusement parks, stories before naps and bedtime, video games, and movies. That was it. It was a joyous time and a little nerve wracking. We were different. Everyone else was starting school. Kids were being dropped off and crying for Mom. Mom was crying to leave them behind. Kids were coming home with packets of notes and homework. Bedtimes and packed lunches. School clothes and buses. But mine weren’t. We were on, what felt like, a permanent summer vacation. We were happy. They seemed to be learning a lot every day. It was working. Why is everyone not doing this?

 

Unschooling History/Social Studies/Current Events Etc.

Even if you’re not totally on board with unschooling in the broader sense, an easy way to look into it and see how it works could be by starting with history. History, Social Studies, Government, Economics, and Current Events are covered in our home school by following trails. Those trails start everywhere you look! I’ll give you an example that came up today.

My oldest son has been fascinated by the 90’s show “X Files” for the last several months. He found out that they are on Netflix now, so he’s been watching them in order while he eats his breakfast. This morning there was an episode with a character that had spent time at a camp for Haitian Refugees. The camp looked a lot like a prison and there was some discussion about it. I wasn’t watching so I’m not sure about what was going on in the show, but my son came and asked me if I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t remember anything about it so he went to the internet and searched. At first, he searched “1992” because that is when the show was released. I told him to broaden it a bit and search for “1990’s” and “Haitian Refugees”. There was a Wikipedia article about a camp in Guantanamo that shed some light on the subject and one about a coup d’etat at the time. I won’t get into all the details. He came back and told me a bit about it. The article reminded me that I had heard about “boat people” from Haiti when I was in high school. We talked about why people would leave, why the government wouldn’t want them here, how they could be held against their will, court cases about it, what’s going on now in Europe, Syrian Refugees, etc. The conversation went on for about 45 minutes before he went back and watched the rest of the show.

Another piece of the history puzzle has been added. Our history lessons don’t come on a packaged and nice looking timeline. They come as we need them and when we are interested in learning more, little bites at a time. Some day we’ll find out more about that time period and what was going on in Haiti, how it was related to something else at the time, and other people that were affected. It will probably come from another tv show, a movie, a game, an article, a book, or a conversation. And it will tie in with the world around us. It will be relevant to our own time and it will be remembered in a deeper way than any pre-written history course.

“World” Schooling?

I ran across this article over the weekend and saved it to read this morning. Have you ever come across someone’s words and been inspired, not because the concept was so novel but because they spoke words you wish you would have thought of? This was an article like that for me. This young girl is amazing! And we aren’t actually “world” schoolers in the sense that her family is. In my opinion, you don’t need to be. You can live and learn locally in a way that gives you a connection with the wider world. Setting our children aside in schools cuts them off from the bigger world and limits their view.  Having them at our side in our daily lives brings them closer. Spending our days experiencing the world around us brings them out into the world to learn more about it on their own terms.

Check it out and see if this lifestyle can enhance your family life, even if you can’t travel extensively.

“I go to school but it doesn’t have four walls. My school is the world!” by Reka Kaponay

 

“Alternatives to School” Website

Alternatives to School has some wonderful articles to help you out of our current model of education in America and wrap your mind around this joyful concept of natural learning and where it can take you. It’s a good place to start looking into the ideas behind why people may want to leave the “school” model behind.

Today’s post, “Learning. It’s Not About Education.” by Laura Grace Weldon is one of those great pieces that can start people down this path of self-education. It’s also a good one to share with family members who may be very curious about why you’re not sending your kids to school. Here’s a quote from it to pique your interest!

“Children often ignore what they aren’t ready to learn only to return to the same concept later, comprehending it with ease and pleasure.  What they do is intrinsically tied to why they do it, because they know learning is purposeful. They are curious, motivated, and always pushing in the direction of mastery.”

 

The Game

Recently, a friend agreed to help my sons get better at motocross. He raced a lot when he was a kid and thought he could help them a bit on the track. Little did he know that he would be helping me as well.

It’s all a mind game.” Racing really is one of those mind game things. One of the biggest things holding you back may not be your skill, but you mindset, your fear; fear of failing, fear of the riders around you or that they are better than you are. Those riders probably think the same thing about you. If you think they are the best, you are probably closer to winning. It sounds so corny, doesn’t it? But it works. Confidence is the key to winning. You can’t go out there thinking you’re just going to finish and not fall and then end up winning no matter how great your skills are. Leave the gate feeling on top of the world and you’re more likely to get to the finish line first. It’s crazy.

As I was sitting under the awning of our RV in the pits, I started thinking to myself that this advice probably applies to me somehow. The thing that puts the most anxiety into our race weekend for me is not whether or not my boys will get hurt. It’s whether or not we should be there at all. Do we belong? Are we in the right place? What do these people think of us? Who’s the authority here? What are my qualifications for being here? What are the rules? This is me, but my sons don’t do this and they are so much happier. They read the website, they get what they need, and they jump in and do what everyone else is doing. This is what home education is all about, putting the “authority” in yourself, not others.

So I decided that day that I would play the “mind game” too. This is where we want to be and if someone has a problem with it they are welcome to say something, until then we will just keep doing what we’re doing. We belong there because we have the desire to race and that’s all the authority and qualification we need.

Once again on the home education journey, I’m taking a page from my sons’ book, I’m following their lead and seeing where it takes us. So far it’s been an amazing journey!

Exploring Unschooling Podcast

Do you listen to podcasts? I’ve only recently discovered them and love them! In the car, while washing dishes, taking a tea and knitting break, I get out my phone and pick a podcast to listen to. Are there times you find that it might be convenient to have something interesting to listen to?

Here’s a new one to feast your ears on. It’s the Exploring Unschooling Podcast by Living Joyfully! From the website:

“Explore unschooling with Pam Laricchia, unschooling mom and author. Enjoy in-depth interviews with veteran unschooling parents sharing their family’s experience, dig into a wide range of unschooling topics with experienced guests, and get answers to listener questions in the Q&A episodes. Choosing to live and learn without school isn’t as intimidating as you might imagine. Children really do love learning when it’s driven by curiosity rather than curriculum, and the strong and trusting relationships that develop in unschooling families are priceless.”

Sentence Structure?

I don’t think anyone invented language. I pretty sure that it naturally evolved. No one had an “ah-ha” moment about putting the noun before the predicate. “Mr. Norton walks.” So why do we torture children with diagramming sentences and picking out verbs, nouns, and adjectives? Someone at sometime (probably a word-nerd, someone fascinated with semantics or linguistics) heard all these words and sentences we naturally use, noticed a pattern of some kind, that most people used them in certain way, and decided to write down all these “rules”. Anyone that hears people speak regularly can pick this kind of stuff up naturally without ever knowing what a interjection is. But now we feel we need to sit young children down and explain these rules whether they are interested or not, as if they wouldn’t know how to speak or write if they didn’t know them in an academic form.

If you are fascinated by the rules of language, by all means study them! But you really don’t need to harass people of any age about it. If your children hear people speak in the dialect and form you desire, they will learn that language naturally. You can hear language in multiple ways. You can listen to conversation, watch TV or movies, play online role playing games, or read books. Just like learning to walk, your children learned to talk. They don’t speak like Native Americans in a old Western movie, do they? So why would they write that way?

Here are a couple links to get the juices flowing in your mind!

Sandra Dodd’s page about “Language Arts”

Unschool Rules!

 

John Locke had Thoughts on Education?

Last year I made a contract with myself to read through the Harvard Classic reading list for young people. I find it disturbing that it was written for “young people ages 12 to 17” and it’s a bit difficult for me at times. I don’t read everything, but I do “taste it” each morning. Some books I just don’t find interesting at all and don’t finish the selection of the day. Some I find fascinating and end up reading a lot more. That’s what real self-education is!

My reading today was from John Locke’s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”. I didn’t read the whole book, just the excerpt that the reading list suggests, but I’m definitely putting this on my “to-read” list!

The part I did read was about teaching children to read. I’m always amazed when I find bits of the ideas behind “unschooing” or “life learning” in old books. Here are a few quotes.

“When he can talk, ’tis time he should begin to learn to read. But as to this, give me leave here to inculcate again, what is very apt to be forgotten, viz. That great care is to be taken, that it be never made as a business to him, nor he look on it as a task.”

He goes on to talk of games to be be played, setting an example of how important and fun reading is, and how good it is for mothers to read to their children. All things we’ve done as our children have grown. There were never “lessons” or coercion. Some of his ideas are a bit contrived but I think it’s because there wasn’t as much print in his day as there is now. There are so many natural instances to point out letters and sounds today that you really can’t avoid learning to read.

“Children are much less apt to be idle than men;” Now there is something you don’t see much outside the radical unschooler message boards. They really are. You always hear about kids and their abounding energy. They really want to be busy doing a million things. Keep finding things for them to interest their minds and bodies about!

“’Tis better it be a year later before he can read, than that he should this way get an aversion to learning. If you have any contest with him, let it be in matters of moment, of truth, and good nature; but lay no task on him about ABC.” That’s something I’ve been telling people as long as I’ve had kids. It’s something people can’t get their brains around. I always hear, “But he’ll be behind!” We’re homeschooling. Who will he be behind? No one is behind. You are exactly where you need to be. Harassing a child to learn something faster than he is willing or able to learn, only creates tension and aversion to learning anything.

“And if those about him will talk to him often about the stories he has read, and hear him tell them, it will, besides other advantages, add encouragement and delight to his reading, when he finds there is some use and pleasure in it.” We learn so much from conversation. Young people love to talk and so few adults will take the time to listen to what they have to say. You may not really be interested in the book, movie, or game they love, but take the time to really listen. Ask questions about it. Find out what it is that they love about it. It’s so important to their education, more than any lesson.

And one more. Seriously, I could just quote the whole book! “the right way of teaching that language (French), which is by talking it into children in constant conversation, and not by grammatical rules.” Isn’t that the way we learn our own language? We don’t need grammatical rules for our own language, yet we speak fluently and correctly. Why would we not to that in a classroom? Can you imagine a class that you went to for an hour or so a day, where everyone spoke the language you were learning? Instead of meeting in a classroom you met at the park, the grocery store, the post office, and the museum each day and just walked and talked, over lunch or tea. Wow. I want that!

I love finding treasures like this! I can’t wait to read more.