Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Not quite 2 years

I have not posted here for almost 2 years! But I wanted to post some of the articles I have written for The VaHomeschoolers Voice, the newsletter for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (www.vahomeschoolers.org)..Here goes---From Sept 07

When an Unschooler Chooses Traditional Schooling

I began my journey as a homeschool mom, before I was a mom. I decided to homeschool before I ever met and married the father of my children. Fortunately, he shared my vision and since I was already a school teacher he trusted that I could make it work. So when my oldest, Andrew, was 5, I created a little home classroom, bought some cool curriculum and got down to this business of schooling. We zipped through all of Kindergarten and 1st grade during that first year and while it was fun “playing” school, the curriculum (I honestly don’t remember now what it was) was a little boring and I decided the second year that I wouldn’t purchase anything, I would just follow our interests and see where it led us. I hadn’t heard of unschooling, I just fell into it because it seemed more interesting for both of us. Somewhere along the line, I read about the Colfax family and their experiment raising their children without formal schooling and how their boys who went off to Ivy League colleges and I embraced unschooling further. As the years passed, all 3 of my sons were largely unschooled as I allowed their interests to direct the direction of our schooling choices.

As Andrew began his high school years, he became discontent with the path our unschooling was taking. Many of his friends were enrolled in homeschool co-ops and often talked about homework, taking exams and writing papers. He wasn’t doing any of these things but began to feel that he wanted to be doing them. Shortly before the beginning of his sophomore year, he expressed the desire to enroll in one of these academically rigorous co-ops. I was initially opposed to the idea because I had embraced the unschooling lifestyle and was comfortable with the ease and freedom it had allowed us as a family to explore what we were interested in and be free of the rigid schedules and demands of a more ‘schoolish’ approach. But because I was also committed to allowing him to choose his own path, I investigated the co-op he was interested in. Initially I was told there was a waiting list of 13 families and it was unlikely he could enroll for that year. He was disappointed, I was relieved. But, a few days later, I got a call and the head of the co-op, who offered to let my son enroll if I was willing to teach high school World History. I was not excited about enrolling him, but I love history and I love to teach, so I knew that a plan was coming together, in spite of my reservations.

He began the 2006 school year enrolled in Biology, Writing, World History and Spanish. He went to class 2 days a week and came home with piles of homework. We struggled to figure out a schedule that would allow him to complete these assignments, get good grades and keep up with his other activities and responsibilities. I began to call it the “Co-op that Ate My Life”. Many days it was overwhelming and seemed to have taken over the easy, satisfying life of unschooling we had previously enjoyed. I also struggled with idea that he was no longer unschooling and had embraced the academic style I had moved away from over the years. But he was loving his new schooling experience and really learning in all his classes. One day I finally realized that this was unschooling, because it was what he wanted to do and he was learning because he had embraced the academics and he was excited about it. I am not sure why this would be a surprise to me, because I had also loved school and became a schoolteacher because I loved it so much. Why should I be surprised then, that my child, who is like me in many ways, would enjoy it just as much as I had? As a bonus, he made a great connection with his writing teacher and discovered that he loved to write and is good at it. He is even considering making writing a career choice.

So now we have begun our second year at the co-op (that ate our lives) and his younger brothers are each taking a couple of classes and our lives feel very “schoolish” to me. It is not where I expected to be but it is where unschooling has brought us. It is just another path in the homeschooling journey we have been on for 10 years and next year will probably look a little different still, as Andrew turns 16 and enrolls in classes at community college and gets his drivers license. If unschooling means allowing my children the freedom to direct their learning, to pursue their interests and embrace their passions; how can I complain because their freedom has led us in a surprising new direction? That is what unschooling does, even if it means unschooling becomes schooling.

Monday, February 26, 2007

True Learning and the Stinkin' Co-op

Long ago (last year) I wrote a post titled "We don't do no stinkin' co-ops"...beware of such pronouncements as they may come back to bite you!! My oldest son, the lifelong unschooler, decided last September he needed to try academics and through a surprising series of events (iow it was a God-thing), got himself enrolled in a highly academic co-op. As part of the deal, I got to teach World History to high schoolers at the co-op.

In my mind, it became the "the co-op that ate my life". It has been a major adjustment to arrange our lives around a school and homework schedule after 10 years of unschooling. He had to figure out how to organize his formerly laid back ways, where the biggest demand had been an hour of piano practice everyday. Now he had to fit in homework from 4 classes, algebra at home and, oh yeah, that hour of piano practice; plus, playing music in 2 bands, working on Saturdays and teaching piano lessons to a friend. On top of his schedule, I needed to prepare lessons for World History every week which led to competition for Word Processing time! It has taken us 6 months to finally get the hang of it all. Which is why I have not posted here for many a moon--the stinkin' co-op was kicking my butt!

So now I look back at that six months and see what has come of it.
One of my all time favorite quotes is from John Holt:
"True learning--learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning--can arise only out of the experience, interests, and concerns of the learner."
So the interesting thing about it is, he is experiencing that true learning that I value so highly in a new setting that is the opposite of unschooling. His Writing and Literature class is his favorite! He is loving it, soaking up so much knowledge and learning to love writing. And because he chose the co-op and he wants to succeed at it, he is truly learning some valuable skills for organizing his life and making good choices with his time. The fact that this is his chosen path and so it is addressing his interests and concerns, makes all the difference for me.

It makes the whole stinkin' co-op that ate my life morethanfine after all!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bridge Week

Okay my blog got mentioned in the VaHomeschoolers latest e-newsletter (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/VaHomeschoolersAnnounce

Or join via email: VaHomeschoolersAnnounce-subscribe@yahoogroups.com)

so I guess I better get a new post or two up!

I am writing quickly as I am on my way to the dentist in a few minutes (gotta get that out of the way!). And I am trying to focus on wrapping up all the loose ends from the amazing, way morethanfine VaHomeschoolers Conference in Richmond last week (fun, fun, fun) and preparing for school to get really underway next week. So I guess this is our bridge week! I am looking at the schedule for next week which includes co-op classes (for the family that once was the "we don't do no stinkin' co-ops" family...ahh the irony), music lessons and tumbling class; and I wistfully see the long lazy summer ending and an energizing new school year beginning! One last long weekend and the checkered flag will be waving and we're off!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Fringe of the Fringe

I forget sometimes when I use the term 'unschooling' that it is a weird, unknown term to many people outside the homeschooling circles I run in most of the time. Of course, it is weird and unknown to some of the people *inside* the homeschool circles I run in too! At a recent board meeting of VaHomeschoolers--the statewide homeschool group I work with--we were discussing how homeschoolers are on the fringe and since most (all?) of us on the board are unschoolers, I pointed out that we are the on the fringe of most homeschoolers--we are the fringe of the fringe. Academic rebels who have purposely placed ourselves outside the mainstream. It's funny because I was never outside the mainstream growing up. And even though I went to a radical college (Berkeley) I stayed pretty much in the mainstream (except for becoming a born again Christian :o) until I had kids. But as a mom, I began to slip out of the mainstream! I didn't have any interest in working anymore, I wanted to stay at home, breast feed, eventually homeschool and finally, I fell completely out of the mainstream altogether and began to unschool. lol So here I am in my own little eddy on the side of the river surrounding myself with morethanfine fringe-fringers like myself. Come on in the water's fine!

Unschooling continues

While my oldest DS may be gearing up to go academic (he is now wondering what he's gotten himself into lol) , my youngest continues innocently and obliviously unschooling, which is morethanfine with me! His most recent project is using a spiral notebook to copy 3 words or phrases from the morning paper and then reading them back. He is still a beginning reader and is using this activity (although he doesn't realize it) to expand his vocabulary. It is so gratifying to watch kids teach themselves the stuff they want and need to know! Middle DS has started voluntarily reading the comics, in response to his little brother messing with the newspaper I think. As a very reluctant, not very fluid reader, this is a big step for him. So while the biggest brother will be off exploring new educational philosophies, the unschooling continues (but please don't tell them that is what they are doing! ;o)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

3 Months Neglected!

How could 3 months have gone by! I can't believe it. I guess that's what a morethanfine summer will do to you! It has been a new kind of summer for us with oldest buy, 14yo, away from home for 4 weeks altogether. A week of Mountain Expedition camp, a week of Surf Camp and 2 weeks of his first real job working in the kitchen at Triple R Ranch. 4 weeks out from under his parents thumb, a 14 year old's dream come true! lol

The other change has been his desire to try a tough, academically rigorous class schedule twice a week in a local homeschool co-op. Haha, after my reckless declaration "we don't do no stinkin' co-ops", now we are doing the very stinkin' co-op that riled me in the first place. I am learning the #1 law of teenager hood, what mom and dad provide, the teenager will want the opposite. In addition, I am teaching teh high school World History class at same said co-op. I know it will be fun, even though it will take a little effort to get into a 'real school' mindset---assigning homework and papers and projects and giving quizzes, midterms and finals! But I have refused to use the textbook (lol) that has been used in previous years! I may have climbed back into the box but I've got my toe hanging out the edge!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Unschooling Lightly Defined

Now that we have been outed on TV as unschoolers, I have wanted to be able to put into words what unschooling is and on one of my favorite e-mail lists, a friend (Susan M--the radical Christian unschooler) took a stab at defining it for her family. I have taken that and modified to describe our version. So here it is, I hope you find it morethanfine.

Unschooling Lightly Defined:

There is no exact definition of unschooling, because it is so individual.

John Holt, who was one of the first to write about unschooling said: "True learning--learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning-can arise only out of the experience, interests, and concerns of the learner."

Based on that here's one definition:
Basically, unschooling is "not school". It is believing that what a person needs or wants to know can be learned through their everyday activities, pursuing their interests and just living life. So the emphasis isn’t on assigned textbooks, workbooks, on line courses, etc…

It is personal learning, led and focused by the learner. There are times when a person might choose to take an on-line course or use a textbook or workbook, or even take a class somewhere, but it is their choice and in their control, not their parents or someone else's.

For a parent, unschooling requires a measure of trust. Trusting that kids will learn what they need to know when they need or want to know it. In return, parents give them guidance and information so that they can make right and good decisions, always talking a lot about what they are doing or want to do, and doing most things together. Parents are the facilitators, helping them by providing information and counsel, also making it financially and logistically possible for them to have that freedom needed to explore their interests.

So imagine, if you had total freedom from any and all school obligations, what would you want to do? Travel? Learn Spanish? Learn how to bake? Horse back ride? Raise guinea pigs? Work on writing a short story or novel to get published? Get a job? Play video games? Build your own website? It is all unschooling, all learning, all worthy and good.

Mark Twain said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” And I think many unschoolers would concur. A final quote to reflect the heart of unschooling: "Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he's not interested it's like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating." -Anonymous

Monday, May 15, 2006

TV Stars--the follow up

Well, our TV debut was Friday night on the 11 o'clock news. I think they overall did an okay job. As long as it remains on-line you can see the video at:
(click on Site Features: Leaving Normal School Behind? to play the video)

It was funny that it was supposed to be a report on unschooling and the main video they chose
was us sitting around the kitchen table doing math. The reporter asked us to sit at the table and
do something, so (what you didn't see) I asked the boys what they wanted to do and
they chose math, because that is one of the few things we do at the kitchen table LOL!

My 14yo was a little humiliated because he thought they took him out of context and made him
sound lazy. An early lesson on media spin I guess! And he has received encouragement from
other unschoolers, who totally understood what he was saying.

Priscilla Monti, the reporter was very nice and seem to pretty much 'get' unschooling. I think it was
the editors that made it seem rather 'schoolish'. You really can't expect much from a 3 minute
report, so overall, we are pretty pleased. It was generally a morethanfine experience. I have an
inquiry from a magazine reporter for an interview---we'll see how that goes :o)
My kids are wondering how they got into this!?