Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Natural Learning

I mentioned natural learning, interest-led learning and unschooling in a previous post. As you may recall, this year we have been experimenting with a slower pace of homeschooling.

A New Approach
Unschooling Update
Oh Yeah...Homeschooling...

If you read these posts, you may wonder how our year is ending up? Well, we have lost steam in some areas and picked up in others. But overall, our new "less is more" approach has been working really well. In fact, I think we have decided against the virtual school options I was considering for next year for B13. Little things keep reinforcing to me the beauties of natural learning--and what we'd lose if we returned to a highly structured model.

Natural learning assumes that learning is happening all the time, that informal learning is just as important as formal academics. When we are driving to a piano lesson and we talk about life, attitudes, their discoveries and questions, that is learning--perhaps the most important kind. It can't always be planned, and it is driven by the learner's own questions and motivations rather than by a curriculum. And that's why it sticks!

As a teacher, I am amazed at how much I "teach" that my kids quickly forget. I am shocked at how little my older kids remember from their early years of homeschooling! They are most likely to remember experiences we had and people we met, including memorable characters from books. And skills, of course, like handwriting or piano chords. But facts? No.

Of course I believe it's all in there somewhere. But the point is that I'm worrying less with my younger children about "getting it all in" or "covering all the bases" with curriculum. If they read a lot and are read aloud to--good books--they are exposed to history, science, grammar, vocabulary and good writing models, without a lot of extra worksheets, textbooks and projects that take time away from reading! If there is one thing I could go back and do differently with my older kids, especially Blondechick and B13, it would be giving them more time for reading.

My children are reinforcing this notion, too. The other night at dinner, B13 complained about the time he had to spend every morning listening to our read-aloud. (He was in full teenage-boy, Mr. Negativity mode.) Blondechick16 (who entered public high school this year) cut him off. "Listen, bro, that is the best thing about homeschooling! I can't believe how bad the other kids in my class are at reading aloud. Their reading is so choppy, they can't pronounce words, they don't know how to pause at the right places--and I just naturally know all that because I've been read to so much. You don't know how much you're learning, but you really are!"

Thank you, Blondechick!

Then the other day, Bantam10 laid down his book with a contented sigh. "Mom, it feels so good to finish a book. I love that feeling. I love reading. It's my favorite subject in school."

Now, B10 was the one that used to groan every day, at the beginning of the year, about my new requirement of reading for an hour a day. I didn't even require one whole hour straight! But now, he reads solidly for a whole hour with great enjoyment.

He has always been a bathroom reader, but I discounted his interest in The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield until recently. Now, I am beginning to realize that even comic books can be educational! Often, B10 will ask me about the humor or the science in a Far Side situation or about a vocabulary word he encountered there--when he's nowhere near these books. So I know they've made him think!

More tomorrow...about what we've actually been doing this year!


Heather said...

I'm so glad to hear that this method of education is working for your brood! Does WI require standardized testing for homeschool students? If so, are there any concerns about making sure that unschooling still covers the material that is likely to be on the tests?

At A Hen's Pace said...

No, neither IL (where we lived before) or WI requires standardized testing for homeschoolers--partly because the homeschool groups and lobbyists have been so successful at keeping it out, so support yours!

The feeling is that PARENTS have our kids' best interest in mind, better than any state legislation could. We want to be able to focus on our individual kids' educational needs. And as you know, the research shows that homeschooling WORKS, WELL, and so our state legislatures have agreed that it is not needed.

Does your state require it? You can always find out what the test will cover and incorporate it into what you're planning for the year.

I do believe that readers do better than non-readers on standardized tests, so this style still is preparing them!


Anonymous said...


Although I dont have the temperment to homeschool, I have read about unschooling some and think its such an interesting approach. Actually, where my mind goes is to wondering: What would "unchurching" look like...for kids?...for adults? I love the structure of liturgy (though I dont get much of it) and I know you love it too, but I think it would be an interesting experiment to try "unchurching"

Jen in Seattle

Donna said...

Jeanne ---

My stepdaughter is regular schooled, but I try to use some of your ideas in the time we spend together. Without it seeming like "learning time" we use alot of our car time to discuss ideas, thoughts, and other things without trying to "teach" too much.

JourneytoFamily said...

I've homeschooled for a few years now and while I started out making my son do every lesson and quiz included in every book (cringe!) now I've found myself leaning toward reading. I'm so glad to hear another homeschooler with this mindset.
(I found your blog through my sister Beth)

At A Hen's Pace said...


That's a great question! Papa Rooster and I just had a great conversation discussing it.

First of all, I don't like the term unschooling because it has the connotation of giving children no lessons at all. I like "natural learning" because in the kind of education I'm talking about, there is some instruction and some bare minimum requirements. (I have a post to come on what that has looked like for us this year.) But with natural learning, there is a rhythm of education and response, or processing time. I think too often the response time is lacking when you try to pack too much in.

With liturgy, I think you find this same rhythm. Just as I encourage my kids to read good books--books that will challenge their thinking or inspire them to higher things--so liturgy is like giving the mind and soul higher and better things to chew on during the rest of the day or week.

One of the things I've always loved about the liturgical prayers is that they teach you how to pray! They have shaped my prayer life so much that in my moments of "freestyle prayer" or response to what God is doing, I often find myself appropriating a phrase from the prayer book, because it so perfectly says what I mean.

So I would say that using liturgy is like "natural churching." Going without it--or "unchurching" seems more like giving a child no lessons at all. He may stumble into some good things on his own, but I'd still like to give him tastes of really good food and shape his palate!

I think the "church equivalent" of too much structure would be too great of an emphasis on rules and right behavior, and holding ourselves too rigidly away from the world. Like busywork, those concerns can be a distraction from the essential elements of faith, and like dry textbooks, they can kill our joy in the Lord and in the world He placed us in.

I'll just add that liturgy is so Scripture-based that you CAN do church without it--but not without the Word and prayer as the "bare minimum" educational elements in "natural churching." Beyond that, it's beautiful to see the creativity that comes out in the ways we worship and fellowship--just as our kids take the things they learn and run with them!

So, what were you thinking, when you asked? It is such an interesting question!


At A Hen's Pace said...

Donna and Journey--

Thanks for the nice comments!

Nice to meet you, Journey! Does Beth have a blog?


Anonymous said...


I bet that was a great conversation!

I think you're right about the liturgy, and about churches who put too much emphasis on rules.

When I asked the question I was actually thinking of the children's Sunday School curriculum called "Godly Play" Do you know of it? I've heard some people describe it as litury-as-child's-play. I've been turning that idea over in my head...wondering what it would look like for adults to have that kind of space for creativity and spontanious play within the structure of liturgy. I dont even know what that means, just the questions I think about. I wonder what adults really need from the church - and why they so often dont feel like they get it. And then they just become passive and kind of give up. Too deep for 10:45 at night...

Jen in Seattle

At A Hen's Pace said...


We use Godly Play in our Sunday School! I'm not super-familiar with it, but yes, it is kind of a hands-on Montessori type curriculum.

The closest thing I can imagine for adults is: planning an Easter Vigil! We take all the Christian symbols and "play with them"--visually, musically, theatrically, artistically--looking for creative ways to express the theological realities. I suppose it is in the arts that we come closest to what you're describing--to a childlike expression of our faith.

That is why at Rez and now at LOC, we pray for the release of the arts in worship!

I think too that anything that gets the heart involved, as well as the head, helps folks to experience meaningful worship. I think "story" is so important--yours, mine, ours. One of the most powerful things about our years in healing ministry was the many testimonies we heard and witnessed.

Gotta run, but what a lot to think about! Thanks, Jen!

Heather said...

Georgia requires standardized testing every other year, beginning in 3rd grade for homeschooled students. Public school students have standardized testing every year beginning in kindergarten. Mandatory school attendance starts at 6, and a monthly report has to be completed and send to the state dept. of education. We have to have 180 days of school a year. BB has a July birthday, so I'll be able to start official school with him a bit later than his peers. Although the teacher in me wants to start teaching him now, I know that he is definitely all boy and sitting still would be tortuous for him. I've seen too many boys in my classroom that needed nothing more than play, but were given meds instead.

Anonymous said...


One of the things I'd like to do sometime during my seminary classes is do some more reading about Godly Play, and think through these issues more as they might cross-over to adults.

I love the connection with the arts, and Easter Vigil in particular. Seeing those symbols "played with" has been very impactful for me.

Thanks for much to think about!

Jen in Seattle