Sunday, September 14, 2014

Homeschooling or Unschooling

Lately I've been coming across lots of mentions of unschooling. I've known about this idea for some time now, since my very good friend, mentor and co-author unschooled her child all the way to graduation. It it always sounded so radical and enticing and scary. I tried it a few times in the last couple of years and it always went something like this:

Day 1: Yeah, freedom! Asking M what he wants to do. Helping him do it. Totally enjoying the way it feels to unschool, the way M feels when he's not made to do things he doesn't want to do.

Day 2: Still going strong...

Day 3: Talk to a friend (or see a Facebook post) about that friend's child and how he reads this and does this in math. Freak out over my child (same age) not doing these things yet. Make a secret promise to myself to trick my child into wanting to do these things the next day.

Day 4: M sees right through my attempts at tricking him into doing "regular school". He resists. I get scared and angry. We fight (sometimes both end up in tears). We stop unschooling. The end.

So here's where seeing so many examples of successful unschooling, from the ones in Peter Gray's book to the various articles, including the latest one in, of all places, the Outside magazine, to blog posts like this one, to just seeing kids who unschool, all this helps. It leaves very little time to "compare and contrast" my child and my friends' children. And it makes not freaking out a bit easier.

Now that M is technically in the second grade, we are once again trying unschooling. Which doesn't mean we do no learning. Instead, it means M's learning is driven by his interests (instead of by someone's curriculum or my own anxiety). His current interests are chess, LEGO robotics, programming, and fencing. And, as usual, he just loves listening to the stories we read to him.

For now his English reading consists of exercises in his chess book. And his writing is, for now, very minimal, and again tied to chess (learning to record games). But I also ask him to read book titles and chapter names in the English and Russian books he wants me to read to him. There are some other times when he reads, like when he wanted to get hummus at a grocery story and had to make sure it had no jalapenos, olives, red peppers, garlic or horseradish. But again, this is a very purposeful reading that he's been doing and it's driven by what he wants to learn and do. Maybe because he is more focused, more in control of what he reads, or doesn't feel stressed out, his reading actually got more fluent, especially in Russian.

Math is a lot easier for us. We play lots of card games and board games. And he plays some apps on iPad. We read living math books. I play-test all the books that come my way for editing and feedback (and there've been some really exciting ones lately). And, of course, we play Moebius Noodles games.

Programming - we talked a bit about flow charts and M created some funny ones based on our joint "how to grow a beard" flow chart. We also play Silly Robot (another of Moebius Noodles games), paper programming, and a bit of I found some good programming lessons on Khan Academy, but not sure if M will like the format.

LEGO robotics - that's our Jr First Lego League team (I'm coaching it this year) plus whatever he builds at home using WeDo and EV3 kits. He also loves spending time with other Wake Robotics kids, playing with MaKeyMaKey, littleBits, and 3D printers (ok, these he just observes and asks questions for now).

We also try to get outside whenever possible. We have some really great parks nearby where M explores little streams, looks for interesting rocks and plants, digs, builds and gets to have "wild and crazy time".

I'm not saying this is how it's going to stay. But I'll try to be patient, believe in my child a bit more, and KEEP CALM and UNSCHOOL for a bit longer.