Sunday, June 24, 2007

Letters on Unschooling

This is a transcript from an email exchange I had recently with a dear friend of mine from Charleston. I was happily surprised by how it came out, as it provided a nice cap to the "academic" year. I was very flattered-- overwhelmed, really-- by how she finally responded.

A business owner whose sons work with her, with grandchildren of her own, she asked me the following in response to my recent post on thank-you notes:

Good job. Now, isnt an unschooler different from a home schooled? Isn’t that people that don’t hold any classes at all, even at home?

You are correct about unschooling. We don't teach AT our kids, and I certainly have never held classes at home. Montessori at home (which centers around a prepared environment and children doing the activities they will) merged very well into the older aged unschooling which is also about a prepared environment and children learning whatever is on topic. The kids continue to take classes outside the home, depending on their interests, and I do work with them at home when they're learning new things.

All it means is flying without a curriculum. I am happy with that, because I still keep my anal little notebooks which house three different sets of scope and sequences for her age group. As long as she (now, they) meets and exceeds, I am fine! (We are not radical unschoolers, who object even to that much parental interference.)

“learning whatever is on topic” Whose topic and where do they come from. Are you doing trips to museums and places of interest, or are you leaving letters around and just hoping they learn to read and write? ( that was sarcastic as I know you are far more into them learning those things than that implies) but it is confusing. Cause most kids, left to their own devices, will run and jump and play and don’t really know wht they don’t know so have no idea what to hone in on. ???? help me understand.

I think that the running and playing serves a purpose-- think about your granddaughter, before she went to preschool. Remember how sponge like she was? Always interested, always keen to learn something? It's no different when they get older. There are reasons school-age children appear to not be interested in learning when you see them. They've been schooled to only "learn" when they are at as school. Home educated children do not approach life that way.

They think they *are* playing. Their love of learning is never stamped out by the rank and file of raising their hands or waiting in line to go to the lunchroom or having to ask to go relieve themselves. Further, they're not held back while waiting for the rest of the grade to catch up to them. Remember what happened with your own son?* And then again with your granddaughter, as she entered [extremely expensive private school]? It was the same with me in elementary school, and I would love to see what my kids can accomplish left to their own pace.

We do a lot of unit studies to cover multi-disciplinary areas including art, science, culture, math and literature.

This past year they've studied (this is so very abbreviated):

The Pacific Northwest Native Americans, which included books, crafts and field trips to Chief Seattle's grave and the Old Man House, and to the current Snohomish tribal center and its museum.

Frontier History. This in part stemmed from our power outage in December. Amazed that without electricity we could continue to do much of what we normally did, ~G~ launched into a huge excavation of what it was like to live in "olden times." We rented and studied the Frontier house series by PBS, spent much time at history museums and read books geared towards her age group. Those books included crafts and things.

Those two unit studies led into a unit study on Lewis and Clark (see how this works?) and she studied how the Frontier pioneers collided with Native Americans, etc etc etc. She studied the Louisiana purchase, and how the land looked before Western civilization, and which animals became known to the white man. We have not completed this one, as we plan a trip down to the mouth of the Columbia River to cap it.

We regularly attend the PDZA zoo, the Washington State History Museum, the Glass Museum of Tacoma and we try to get up to the Seattle museums at least once a quarter. ~G~ has taken music and PE classes outside the home, and they both took art for a while. Next session, he wants to take Soccer and she wants to take martial arts.

As it pertains to the nuts and bolts of math and reading, we still use the Montessori approach to that. We've also read big books this year (me to them) like Harry Potter and Gulliver's Travels. Everything else we do also plays into reading and math so neither is held out as a "thing to do." Art and music are an intrinsic part of daily life.

For Science, they both maintain a year-round garden and they do models of earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. They study physics (without calling it that) through games and specially purchased toys. They build forts in the woods and help with things around the house. We visit farms on a regular basis so they learn about animals and their life cycles that way. The beehive, for instance, sparks a week long frenzy into every aspect of the bee's life and home, and how it helps our food chain. The same with the butterfly. I will shortly send you some entires on neat little units we have done.

Socially they're amazing. They can talk respectfully to anyone, young or old, and they are inquisitive in a (largely) non-annoying way. They have a large circle of also-homeschooled friends who are being brought up in much the same way, so it's been very pleasant with regards to peer pressure.

For my part, I continue to read on educational theory and stay abreast of current trends in education, some of which are awesome and some of which are disturbing. I admit to comparing my kids to grade level, but I have no reason to be concerned to date. I network with other homeschooling mothers who also keep their kids home for non-religious reasons, and I make sure I always have a hobby or three of my own.

This has been pretty cool, answering your question. I don't know if you read it all, but it was fun to write. I haven't yet written an end-of year wrap up so this was nice for me to see as well. I KNOW I have left off unit studies, so I am going to go look them up now.

Thanks for being interested!

I wish I were a child again and could go through your non school. It sounds wonderful and you are right. Both my son and my granddaughter were far more challenged before they got to school. You are right on girl…and I support what you are doing. Your children will not get jaded about what they “should ‘ know and do…. You go girl.

*Her son and granddaughter both entered school ahead of the other children academically. While they matriculated in different states and at different ages, both mothers were told that their child would not be taught anything new, but would have a great time helping to teach the other children.


  1. I am so happy you wrote this out - I have been meaning to pick your brain on this before.

    I also have to say I am glad you do keep a little bit of thought into where they are in the scope of what a child their age could do. If you were to run into any problems, like I did with H1 - you can catch it early enough, so protect their love of learning and not make it an issue.

    I feel so strongly about H1's reading struggles and not wanting to take away the joy of reading. It is such a delicate balance.

    She told her OG teacher the other day - she could read the book in French - not English. LOL

  2. this is great. I been thinking of an unschooled stile here as well, but didn't know how to word this to DH. I'll have him read. Probably still will not get it, but it will be a good start. U go Girl.