A recent discussion with a home-ed friend is the reason behind my need to write this. The friend has been home-edding (i.e. home-educating) for years. She started thinking that the mainstream system does not provide enough or the right stimulation for her children. She preferred to do it herself. Her method is linked to unschooling, with the children having the choice of their hobbies, for which they have time and are encouraged, mixed with structured learning, namely imposed teachings, subjects and schedule. The children seem to be doing well as far as I know, we see them once every other month.
That day, after spending the afternoon with our group of unschoolers, she came to tell me how she believes unschooling is limiting for children. That we only have a short time for them to know what they need to know. Asking me what chances our children would have of becoming academics. I was pained by her comments. I disagree and wish to expose my reasons here. The way she told me this hurt too: she was saying her truths thinking I would agree with her, as we both have academic backgrounds. Possibly, my children being small, she might have thought that spending time with unschoolers was by circumstances rather than by choice. Unless anxious for her own children and feeling the need to reassure herself, she expressed her doubts to me.
So, why do I not agree with the thoughts behind her statements: that it is majorly important for our children to become academics; that by unschooling them I am taking away their choice of becoming ones if they wish.
I am indeed an academic, I have two masters in environmental science and a PhD in flood protection delivered by the Free University of Amsterdam. I have also suffered from teen depression, brought on by hormones combined with childhood events – not a bad childhood at all but with moves, deaths in the extended family and the consequences on my parents, diseases both for my brother and my father, car accident, and bad timing all over. As an adult I have also had two burn outs (6 years apart) and series of panic attacks, including one of each while pregnant with my first (I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, whatever that means in practice), of which I was pregnant with thanks to 3 years of fertility tests and 6 inseminations. I haven’t worked in five years, and to be honest I am not sure I could keep a permanent job.
There the difference between our approaches are. We tried school with my oldest, six months after his baby brother was born in Dublin, after we had moved from Wales less than a year before as I was 6 months pregnant. The birth didn’t go exceedingly well and the aftermath were difficult for me. My eldest went to school for a little over a week. He suffered from severe separation anxiety and started having nightmares of abandonment. We took him out and started homeschooling, at first thinking we would try again later. Instead we gradually moved to unschooling and possibly radical unschooling. We do a lot, by his choice as his brother is still small and I try to follow his interests in all our choice of activities – reptiles, horses, legos, rockets, cars, volcanoes, music and dancing, reading… – I also include him/them in the house activities and chores – the shopping, cleaning, drying, tidying, gardening, cooking – all are part of what we do. The learning happens as we go, physics, maths, history, sports, engineering, biology… Interestingly, I am learning too, including about myself, my interests and the best ways to manage my anxieties. I hope these learnings will be useful for my sons.
We cannot know what the future will look like. Will we move to more structured learning? How will I deal with more advanced maths? Reading? I guess I will propose. But I trust we will only become more structured if my sons want it and not otherwise. I will adapt to their wants and needs. I actually believe in unschooling – the joy of learning by exploring, coming across everything they will need for a fulfilled life. It is what works best by a huge margin with my eldest, so far and as long as I am available and relaxed.
The thing is – too – is that I do not value their academic success so much. If they wish it, I will help, but I won’t push. They might come to resent that choice, they might say I should have pushed them towards academia, to get a PhD like my husband (quite happy in work) and I have, to earn more (possibly), get more acknowledgement… I hope I would be strong in replying that these are never a sure thing and I preferred for them to know their selves, their true interests, their strengths and weaknesses (without judgement or measurements), their emotions, their limits. To be able to truly enjoy a walk in the forest or on a beach, helping them build a good mental health throughout their lives. But not stopping them becoming academics if they wish! That, rather than targeting academic success and crossing our fingers that mental health will follow… What if it doesn’t?
Standing at path level
under this old tree in this old forest,
I imagine them
(1) Top leaves
Full of the arrogance of youth –
brand new and above all –
joyous, soaking up the daily sun –
taking for granted the light, the wind, the sky –
looking down at the ones below
living with less wind, less light, less sky…
But still! (and less battered too)
Unaware of the alternative –
that top leaves become bottom ones when (if) the tree grows.
(2) Bottom leaves
Looking up, indulgent and wise, glad
to enjoy the rays and the air getting through, feeding.
Layers upon layers, they create a vision,
of greens and browns, of light and shade,
branches and foliage swaying,
rocked by the wind – it is dark – it is bright.
It’s been a while since I last wrote on this blog, to the point that I thought it was most probably over. I’m not sure about its status yet, but I’ve started writing an article in my head this morning and what better place than here to post it?
We’ve been homeschooling for a little over a year. It started after we decided to pull our then 3.5 years old son out of preschool, thinking we’d try again later. I met with parents, starting reading on homeschooling, unschooling and the like. We took the official decision sometime in February (when proposed school places) and I started to write a diary of our activities. It’s been great! It’s been hard… It’s been evolving again and again and again. We are now what we call unschoolers, in the sense that we do not do formal school work, no curriculum, no formal sitting down unless they ask for it. I follow the children’s interests as much as financially and physically possible, explain things, guide them when they need it. Horses, reptiles, boats, dinosaurs, colouring, cars, swimming… We go, find ways to have fun with their interests. We use museums, activity centres, google and youtube, a bit of crafts at home, cooking or chores, grocery shopping… All are parts of our days, of what they learn about. Trusting that they will come across what they need in life by following their interests, learning about themselves, how they best work, what fascinates them, and also while spending time outdoors, forest, beaches. We live in a great place for nature 😉 All this helps build their confidence and, I strongly believe, paths for the development of a good mental health.
The remainder of today’s post is going to be about the first hour of our day. I trust it illustrates how homeschooling and unschooling can be joyful and full of learning. The learning happens almost unaware and so fast, no time wasted, fun and so much time to play.
8am up, my 4.5 years old son watched music videos – fatboy slim type, he loves “Right here right now” – with his dad on the laptop. Discussion on music, rhythm, images. Dad shows him the theme song of Denver the dinosaur (a show we watched as kids) and our son asks to watch on episode. Chat on dinosaurs and extinction…
He then moves to the living room, where he looks bored for a good 5 min before asking for our Stonehenge game with a puzzle and 3D stones to put on it. We build the puzzle together. I explain the matching numbers on the puzzle, up to 16, and under the stones. I leave him to it while I listen to some podcasts on homeschooling (recent Irish ones: Emily from HEN, Cora and Irene also from HEN). In a few minutes, it’s all done, all alone, perfectly aligned too ! I take a picture of it, he gets his own kid camera out to take a picture of it too (see below, I put the box next to it and explain why as I did it), then continues by taking photos of the house… They’re very well framed. He corrects himself if they’re not and takes another picture…
Then he goes to play with his legos 🙂
Music, French and English, natural history, history, maths, geometry, engineering, IT, photography… In about an hour! Lots of time for more legos, a bit of TV, food, colouring or playing with his cars or train set. His brother (20 months old) is currently fascinated with horses and ponys so we spend a bit of time on a couple of ponys and horses books and sticker books too. Yesterday we met with friends and they played for 4 hours with others, then ran about in a forest in county Wicklow… 😀
A lovely day
The sound of a bins’ truck down our street.
The warmth and whiff of the mug of tea – or coffee.
The damp smell of humidity from the shower.
The normalcy of brushing one’s teeth.
An areugh and a laugh downstairs.
The smell of toast, the pang, the crunch – spreading butter…
The scent of fresh air and grass when I open the door.
Quacking pigeons and seagulls.
The wind in the leaves.
A kiss under the blue sky.
A cat miawing, a car roaring.
The sound of the truck driving away.
What a lovely day!
We watched Fantasia with my almost four year old today. His choice, because of the Mickey on the cover I think. He didn’t know what he was listening to but he was fascinated by the music and the images! Loving being at home and having the time!
A small recipe and a drawing, done about three months ago 🙂