Unconventional Education

Almost every town has a Parks & Recreation department, right? And there are city and community events planned as well, like summer concerts and holiday celebrations. This stuff is a gold mine for private homeschoolers!

I recently picked up Yucca Valley’s Activity and Events Guide while I was at the library. It made me wish my kids were little again! You can find it online by clicking HERE or drop by the Library or Community Center to pick up a printed one.

When I opened it up I thought of all the subjects the events listed inside would cover, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Private homeschooling in California can be cheap if you don’t buy a pre-made curriculum. Classes and events like these are a great way to offer the same subjects the public school’s offer but in a different way.

The Summer Music Festival is the first event I saw. Free live music all summer. Can you think of a better way to introduce your kids to some performing arts? Different styles of music. Live performance etiquette. They may find an instrument they’d like to learn to play or a new genre they love. When we’d go to concerts like this, I’d be looking up the music, where and when it came from, who was playing, etc. If they liked it, we’d usually find a CD for our collection. And there’s more music at “Chamber Music at the Museum” in June! This event does cost some money to attend, but you don’t hear classical music live much anymore. Pay up and support these folks! This could cover the subjects of music, performing arts, history, social studies, and math (music is totally math).

Earth Day celebration? Not much needs to be said about that! Science, social studies, a little history, all rolled into one day.

The Hi-Desert Nature Museum has an exhibit all about toys all summer. Yes, toys are education too! There’s some serious exploring to be done there! That’d be science, history, and even some language arts if you decide to write about it or read many of the signs and displays.

Dance classes, karate, yoga, there’s a ton of stuff to do that would cover P.E.

Did you know Yucca Valley has a Youth Commission? That sounds like a great way for a homeschooled kid to get involved in the town they live in. You may be raising the next mayor! Civics, economics, language arts…and social skills!

If you’re a little new to this homeschool idea you’re probably wondering how in the world do you document this type of learning, right? In the elementary years especially, tracking can be as easy as keeping a student calendar or a journal. At the end of the day, write about what you did that day. Take pictures and make a scrap book, blog, or just post it to Facebook. I urge you to write about daily activities even if you think you could never forget that glorious day. I’m looking back at my blog posts about my son’s activities from ten years ago wishing I had written more details! And many times I’ve looked back on the last weeks activities and thought it felt like we were laying around in the yard more than we really were. A look at my student calendar (the big notebook ones you find at Walmart or Target in September) showed that we were incredibly active after all!

One more thing, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or what time of year. And it doesn’t matter what grade your child is in. Like I’ve said before, institutions need grade levels, homeschoolers don’t. If a California history event comes up when your child is 6 or 12, go experience it and then maybe experience it again in a couple years! If it’s Saturday morning when you head to the science center or go hiking in the national park, it’s still education for a homeschooler! That’s what makes it so great. That’s what makes it ok if you spent a week vegging in front of movies with a bucket of popcorn. We are educating our kids year-round, 24/7…but that’s another post!

Grade Level?

Whether you use a pre-written, all-in-one curriculum, a pieced together “eclectic” style, or you’re a full-fledged unschooler, you don’t need to think about the dreaded “grade level”. My opinion? Abandon the idea all together. Grade levels were created for institutional schooling. Your child must be able to read by the time they are five years old at school because teaching to so many kids at once requires independent study. Kids need to read to keep up and to test. in the same vein, we don’t want a classroom of thirty kids all studying a different part of history at the same time, so we teach World History one year, American History the next, California History, and so on. So far, it looks like the best way to be sure everyone gets a similar education at the same time. But isn’t that why we are going against the grain and homeschooling? To give our kids a unique personalized education?

We watch kids get left behind at schools, told they are not at grade level and pushed to achieve in all subjects instead of master one. We’ve all seen the school of fish cartoon or the one about judging a fish by it’s ability to climb. Let’s try another approach!

Homeschooled kids learn throughout their lives. And just because they can’t read fluently yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. If they can’t read for themselves, read to them. They’ll catch on in time, especially if they don’t see you hovering over them and giving them the idea that something is wrong with them because they are “late.” Everyone is born with the innate drive to become independent. I’ve personally seen kids that do not know how to write at all, decide they need to or want to, practice for a week, and be right up with their peers. As to science and history, it’s all around us every day and it doesn’t need to be taught in any chronological order. Just dive in where they are interested! You’ll find elementary math and basic algebra all around you too. Counting, roman numerals, addition and subtraction are in all kinds of games. Basic algebra and the dreaded word questions? Go to the toy store and they’ll be working those problems with you pretty quickly. “If I have $5 and each toy is $1, how many can I get?”

Instead of grade level, let’s keep up with interest level. Watch your kid specifically. Do they love to explore? Do they seem interested and excited about the world around them? When they are younger, watch for what lights them up and offer ways to explore that more. Books, movies, websites, museums, parks, etc. When they lose interest and wander off to look at something else, go with them instead of redirecting them to what you brought them there for. Have you ever gone to store for one thing and been distracted by something more intriguing? Kids are the same way! That’s a good thing. It’s how we find our passions!

Are they asking questions and having them answered? When they ask a question about how something works or how to spell something, it’s better to help them to find the answers than to tell them to google it themselves. After a while, you will be too slow for them and they’ll be zipping around the internet themselves!

If you’re using a curriculum, skip around in it and look for what peaks their interest. Or you could go through it chapter by chapter and skip over and come back to things that seem to bore your child or cause them to become antsy, angry, or distracted (those are signs of boredom or a lack of interest). The great thing about pre-written curriculum is that the same things come up over and over again, year after year. The subject will come up again. Don’t worry. Or it won’t and, if your child doesn’t miss it, he doesn’t feel the need or interest to know it, he probably doesn’t need it right now. When she needs it, she’ll learn it! There is no statute of limitations on real learning.

Instead of asking, “Is my child at grade level?” a homeschooling parent needs to ask, “Is my child excited about learning? Is my child exploring his world? Is she asking questions and finding answers?” The only way to know that is to watch and interact with them. A young person’s enthusiasm for learning is contagious. Soon you’ll be the one on the hunt for new and interesting information!

I’ve found a couple other articles about ditching the idea of grade levels on the web. Check them out!

https://www.thehomeschoolmom.com/homeschooling-grade-levels-relax/

http://simplehomeschool.net/stepping-outside-the-grade-level-box/

https://www.theunlikelyhomeschool.com/2017/03/without-grade-levels.html

Backyard Science!

I just received a reminder in my newsfeed about an awesome annual event. The Great Backyard Bird Count from the National Audubon Society! This is a great way to do real science at home with your kids and another great thing about technology in our age. We are all contributing to large-scale data collection that is helping real scientists. In fact, we ARE scientists! And best of all, it’s completely free!

My sons and I participated in this event several years in a row, both in the city and at our new desert home. Oh, who am I kidding? I did this several years in a row and told the boys all about it! They weren’t interested in sitting in the yard with a cup of tea for an hour, noting which birds and how many came by. I was very interested though! I printed off the data collection sheet from the website, grabbed a cup of hot tea and parked myself on the back porch for an hour, several days in a row. The boys would come out and ask me what I was doing, and I proudly told them, showing them the list of birds I had already seen. Sometimes they would sit for a minute and watch with me. They’d point out a bird or two, grow weary and head into the house for video games. Sometimes, I’d have to cut my session short over a battle between them or a request for lunch. If they were interested, I’m sure they would have been right there with me, asking me what bird it was or helping me look them up online. This kind of stuff just wasn’t their thing at the time. Fast forward years into the future, they now take pictures of birds they find where they are and message them to me, so they did get something out of it!

What did they get? Lot’s of things! They saw a small way an individual can participate in a large science endeavor. They learned that bird watching was a sport AND science and that there are people all over the world who are passionate about it. Best of all, they were witness to my real, honest love of learning in action every day.

That’s the best part about home education! It isn’t about following a set curriculum, having a long reading list, perfect penmanship, or great SAT scores. It’s not about keeping “at grade level” in school subjects. It’s about kids living and learning right alongside adults in ways that encourage them to explore the world around them and stay excited about learning new things their whole lives.

Before my sons were around twelve years old, most of the homeschooling at our house was me finding awesome stuff to do around our area and signing up for tours, field trips, and excursions of all kinds. I read up about each event before we went, sharing what I learned and how. I was the one asking questions. My boys were along for the ride. We kept it down to one organized event per week when they were little because it was generally something they weren’t interested in, but I thought they might be. If we got there and they just couldn’t sit still or hang through the whole thing, we’d leave early. That was hard for me sometimes, especially when it was something I really wanted to see or with friends I really liked. I had to remember that we were there for their sake, not mine. As they got older, they were more apt to sit through an art museum tour because I really wanted to see it with the offer of a kind reward for their efforts. As teens, they don’t need that reward anymore.

We also visited a lot of museums, parks, and zoos on our own schedule. We didn’t get the group discount or docent-led tour, but it was usually better for them because they could take their time exploring what they wanted and skip past things that didn’t excite them. It wasn’t the last time we’d be at any of these places, so I didn’t mind if they spent all their time at the playground at the local zoo instead of seeing all the animals. We bought annual passes and memberships to places they expressed real interest in.

Education in the elementary years was always fun, short and sweet. Sometimes it was directed by me and my interests and hopes of expanding their horizons. And sometimes it was directed by them and what they were interested in pursuing. It always focused on them and how they were responding. Getting antsy and a bit loud? They weren’t interested, we needed to leave. Quietly watching, having a great time? We’d stay. One interested, the other distracting people? I’d ask a friend to keep an eye on one, while I let the other find something else to do. It was all about watching them and knowing their limits.

Now that they are in their late teens, I can see the reflection of those early days in the way they pursue their passions and share them with me through texts and social media posts.

“Deschooling Society”

I’m currently reading Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” and finding it a wonderful read. It was written in 1971 and so many of the things he wrote about are the same things people are complaining about today only now they are amplified by time. I wonder what he would think about the world today. He died in 2002, so I wonder if he knew about the small but steady growth of the unschooling movement? I’d like to read more about him and his later years after I’m done with this book. For now, I’ll leave you with a quote from the pages I read this morning.

“We permit the state to ascertain the universal educational deficiencies of its citizens and establish one specialized agency to treat them. We thus share in the delusion that we can distinguish between what is necessary education for others and what is not,…”

Self-Directed Education

There’s a new movement out there and my hope is that it grows!

Check out Peter Gray in this video introducing a movement that hopes to liberate children and empower them to take charge of their own education — the way nature intended.

 

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.

The Teenage Liberation Handbook

I love this book! It’s one that I wish I had found when I was a teenager. If you have an older child and you’re thinking about homeschooling or have been for years, I highly recommend you read this book and give it to your teens. It can help light a fire in them to pursue their own education and find their way in the world outside the classroom. Beware of the results, though! Their path may not look like the one you would have chosen for them. Embrace that! Be the support they need to be who they choose to be.

From Sue Patterson’s Newsletter (which I highly recommend you sign up for)!

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education was originally published in 1991 by Grace Llwellyn. Now it’s available to you for free! It’s designed partly for the parents, but mainly for the teen who is thinking that the regular brick-and-mortar school isn’t working out for them. Even though it was written 25 years ago, the points are all still valid. It’s full of practical advice, ideas, and encouragement. ”

 

 

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.