Thursday, September 04, 2008

A New Approach

I started feeling a need for change in our homeschool a couple of years ago. As I added students and grade levels, we had become more and more structured in our studies, in order to pack in everything: a page a day of this, 5 chapters a week in that, in order to work our way through the curriculum and books that I had selected. Once that information was covered, we could call it a year.

It was convenient and practical to do school that way, and certainly they did learn a lot. But what began to disturb me was that my students were always wanting just to "get through it." If I suggested an enrichment activity like pulling out a map to locate the setting of a book, they groaned and said I was wasting time. Some of them wouldn't come to me for help with a workbook page, because "it would take longer," but they'd take forever to get through their work because they kept stopping to do what they wanted. I was doing a lot more nagging and a lot less teaching than I enjoyed.

I wanted to do something different last year, but the timing wasn't good, with our house on the market and an imminent move. This year, however, seemed like the perfect time for a change, with my two oldest going off to public school. My two middle sons, now the oldest at home, were usually the ones more willing to go off on a tangent with me, and they also seemed to be benefiting least from the structured approach. I could almost see their interest dying, checkmark by checkmark.

But I had never met anyone who was currently unschooling. I knew of one woman whose kids are all grown who had never done a thing with them till late junior high; then she had them tutored for a year and sent to a private high school. All ten of them are amazing people, but I never knew her well enough to ask questions or seek inspiration.

Then a friend suggested that I check out the blog of a friend of hers: Jena at Yarns of the Heart. Jena was unschooling, quite successfully, as it turns out, with her oldest acing his college entrance exams and getting a full-ride scholarship into the college of his choice. And they do musical theater!

Reading some of her posts (like Interest-Led Learning) gave me the courage to seriously pray about making a big change this year. And oddly enough, investigating the educational philosophy of the charter school that Blondechick is now attending was also a significant step toward unschooling, or perhaps I should say, away from conventional approaches. Meeting a few of her teachers--who were clearly creative learning directors, adept at arousing interest and motivation--was inspiring to me personally, reminding me of my own first love of teaching, which is so much more than checking off assignment boxes and correcting papers.

So perhaps unschooling isn't the perfect word to describe our new approach, because I'm doing more teaching than I have in a long time! But it's all in a context as we explore together; I'm just explaining, as we follow our noses, and rabbit trails, and our hearts. (It was so much fun today, when they asked me to keep reading, to keep reading!--since there wasn't a long checklist of other things we HAD to get to.) I am eager to tailor our activities to their needs, as we did today in a basic math lesson that wouldn't have been in a 7th grade math book, but was exactly what B13 needed to review and build his confidence.

And today at 5:15, when I returned home from a quick errrand, I was shocked to realize that both boys were still at it, composing essays (on subjects of high interest to them) and practicing their keyboarding skills while they did so (one on the desktop and one on the laptop).

A new approach, indeed!


Crunchy Christian Mom said...

Hooray! I pray that renewed love of learning continues to grow in your house. Thanks for sharing!

Jena said...

Your post makes me smile. It's like rediscovering the joy of life and learning again. I know what you mean about not knowing what to call this type of schooling. I like to say it's interest-led, but it's also ok to call it unschooling, especially if you look at the definition at "Radical Christian unschooling is the Trust that not only will a child seek out and learn what he needs to know when he needs to know it, without coercion, without school or school type methods, in the freedom and safety of his family, but that God will direct the child’s path Himself. Our role as parents is to act as guides and mentors in the learning process, and to disciple our children in our Faith through our daily example of walking out our faith before their eyes."

I'm not sure the word "radical" is necessary except maybe that's because this method can seem radical to traditional Christian homeschoolers.

Christian unschooling isn't "hands-off" because mentoring and discipling can be intensive--they often need a lot of time to talk through things and often want your help. I love how you are reading to them. Those are some of our best memories.

Have fun this year!!

mama said...

Hi Jeanne -

I'm very excited about your new approach! I consider our family VERY relaxed homeschoolers. Not quite unschoolers, because we do math and the Greenhouse. But everything else is up for grabs. And actually for us, that 'does' mean playing (almost) "all day". Charlie and Sam spend hours, literally 4 or 5 or 6, outside almost every day, just playing.

I'd love to talk more with you about this anytime :)



At A Hen's Pace said...

Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement! I don't know where we'll end up, long-term, on the scale of relaxed vs. structured; I don't know how "trusting" I am yet! But we are loving the experiment so far...



TwoSquareMeals said...

I look forward to hearing more about it. As I look at homeschooling, it seems like Calvin is most suited for the unschooling model, but I am not sure I am. I will enjoy hearing how it goes for you as you make a change to a new model.

Jenny in Ca said...

Sounds very exciting Hen, do tell us more!

I love it when the kids take an assignment and run with it! I gave my older girls a history writing prompt and asked for a one page story- I got a 3 and 4 page story, and they worked for days on it, wow!

happy homeschooling!