Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unschooling: Learning btwn the Lines

I've blogged about Charlotte Mason home education a little and shown photos of activities our children and family have done, but I thought today I'd share a little about our basic learning philosophy with you.

Our own particular variety of learning that is applied in our family, since our children legally do not attend school, is quite a bit different from what you might see in any typical classroom. When asked about school, I normally reply "we homeschool", but the truth is that it is home-based education we pursue.

Why does the distinction matter? Well, frankly, we do not re-create school at home in any way. This affects what we do and how we do it in every way and is quite "on purpose". It's also very different from the idea most people have of homeschoolers, sitting at the kitchen table, workbooks and textbooks front and center, taking a break for "recess" or going on occasional "field trips", and especially trying to make sure there are no "gaps" in their children's education. Some families do homeschool that way but we don't.

So, what does "unschooling" (or life learning, as we like to call it) look like? If you are really interested, visit the "Instead of School" page here on this blog to find my collection of links to websites, articles and authors on the topic to better inform yourself.

Because we do not follow the school's way of teaching, we do not worry about whether they are keeping up with their peers or not.  Our children may be behind "grade level" in some areas, but they are also ahead of their schooled peers in others. Either way, since we are unschooling for the long haul and not planning on relying on public school for academics, this is a moot point for us. We are not raising children to compete with their peers but to become the best they can be, independent of comparisons to others. We see our children learning and growing in lots of ways because we are around them a lot and that is how we know they are picking things up that they need. The laws of our state that we live in support our decision to choose this course of education for our family.

This is not a lifestyle for everyone, and many do not approve of it, but that's okay with us. We are comfortable with our decision and it works for us in our family. We trust and believe that the effects of this educational choice can already be seen for it's worth, which is mostly positive, and that it will continue to evidence that it can and does work as our children grow, especially for our family. I realize that my explanation here is brief and leaves holes to be filled--it is meant to be a quick glimpse and not a complete explanation, and I know that some of what I say may sound naive to the reader at times. My husband and I are always happy to answer anyone's sincere questions about educating kids this way, and really it is a family lifestyle, so ask away if you are so inclined.

For today, I'll explain some of the things our children have been busily engaged in. As my husband and I see it, everything counts and every experience is a learning experience. Why don't you see if you can "read between the lines" here and notice the education going on!

Ready? Here goes!

Yesterday afternoon, our 9 year old son asked me to help him make waffles. A neighborhood friend was over and as I got out measuring cups and spoons, they busily set out the waffle iron, the mixing bowl and a whisk, and the waffle mix. There was a few questions about what was in the mix. They broke two eggs in the bowl, asked about how much of which ingredient was to be added next. Reading the ingredients aloud, they decided who would pour the oil in and who would add the water. The friend piped up, "now let's go outside to play!" But our son replied, "no, I've got to stay here and watch them to make sure they don't burn." It was, after all, his project. I stayed around in case he had questions, but stepped out when it became apparent he was doing just fine. He figured out how much batter to pour in and when to take the waffles out. They were a little flat, and we talked about why that happened (maybe too much water). He didn't mind and set the table, inviting everyone to come and try the waffles. He served himself up and ate a few, proclaiming, "I think I could eat 6!" Then, he ran outside to play with his friend until dark.

Our 6 1/2 year old son has been working on a computer game today, Torchlight. Earlier this morning, he called out to me in the other room: "Mom! There's a cicada (bug) by the computer!" I told him to catch it to show me, and I heard him and his older brother scrambling around. A few minutes later, he came into the room and showed me the bug, which turned out to be a moth. He was concerned it might be dangerous. I said, "Don't worry, it won't bite." He then turned around and addressed our 4 year old son, "Don't worry, it's harmless." (Nice word choice, right?) Satisfied, he returned to playing his game. His big brother took over for a little while, helping him out with a tricky section, until he handed the keyboard back to his younger brother. This exchange was worked out entirely of their own accord. While he was waiting for his turn again, younger bro watched some PBS kids shows, simultaneously working on another game on the iPad. This has been his morning so far.

Our 4 year old son and almost-2 year old daughter have been watching Bob the Builder shows on my laptop lately. Our littlest son has learned the theme song and sings along joyfully..."Can we build it, YES WE CAN!" At times this morning, he abandons the show in favor of something more interesting his older brothers are doing, and then little sis plops the computer on her lap, engrossed in the episode. When neither child is interested in watching it, it is paused. Daddy came through the room we were in, and I talked to him briefly.

Little Girl wandered over to the baskets of clean laundry and started handing me items of clothing, saying, "Dressed!" (Her word for getting dressed, being dressed, and clothing) I folded and stacked clean clothing while she handed me items piece by piece, with her high pitched voice chattering to me. She would hand me pants, and I would say "pants!" and she would say her own word for it. Next, a shirt, a dress, and so on. She was excited to recognize her own clothing as each item was pulled out.

When she came to the socks, she pulled one on her hand, and giggled gleefully. She tried to put another one on the other hand, but couldn't. She offered her hand to me with an imploring look and I slid a clean sock over her hand. She grinned and clapped her sock-hands together, then resumed her task. The basket empty, she climbed inside, making "car" sounds and grinning at me. She was so happy we were sharing this moment together! Having had that boost to get going, I finished up another basket of clean laundry folding and put them away, with Little Girl touching my shirts and skirts and PJs and talking to me about them. All done and dusted, we went to the kitchen to talk to the big brothers and get a snack.

Each event by itself is not impressive, right? But when you understand that these experiences are compounded over time, not imposed on them by an adult, but created from each child, you start to see the value of the experiences over the long term. One experience leads on to another, and they are constantly building on learning they began previously.

John Holt, considered to be the 'father' of the modern unschooling movement (the term he intended to mean 'life without school'), explained learning this way:

"The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners."

Our children are not left to themselves on this endeavor. We, their parents, are their friends, supporters, and find ways to facilitate their interests. Their grandparents and aunts and uncles also play an important role in their learning and growth, as well as church teachers, sports coaches and scout leaders. There are times when I initiate activities, like reading aloud/reading instruction or scripture reading or taking walks, mostly around our mealtimes. Sometimes science experiments make it into the mix! Dad has his own unique ways of engaging and interacting with the kids, whether that's hiking in the outdoors, driving backroads in his Jeep with them, playing video games together, or tickling and wrestling (popular option around here!). But the bulk of their learning experiences are based on choices made by the children, and supported by us, the parents.

I hope you enjoyed this quick peek into a window of time in our day and some of our why's and how's of home education.
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy another with photos of some of the things the kids enjoy exploring. I'm off to enjoy some fresh air.....Take a look around and notice the joy of experience and learning today in your own life. It is a gift.  :-)

Learning is fun!


  1. You articulated life learning so well!
    I am also thinking of changing my terminology yo home educating instead of homeschooling as I have just realized from some conversations I've had with friends that I've been giving them the wrong impression of what we do at home! Small change of words but big difference in what it means!

  2. Glad it came across well! One reason why I think it's good for people to understand the different ways of learning at home is that you never know when someone will be interested in giving it a try themselves--the more known, the more options available.


Thanks for your comment today! I love reading your thoughts, too. :-)