Tag: interest led learning

Unschooling Revelation

I just walked in and saw my son watching Beakman’s World. Instead of getting upset that he was “just sitting there”, I had a revelation.

He was watching a movie that he wanted to watch and therefore gleaning as much as he could from it. (Unlike when someone makes you watch something and part of your brain is thinking about all the stuff it would rather be doing.) So here he was, learning, just like he usually is, whether he is playing a video game, watching a movie, playing with Legos, whatever. So essentially what he was doing was educational.

In the past I, like a lot of moms, would have gotten upset because I want to make him be useful. I’m trying to prepare the house for Sabbath, I’m hurting, and I need help.

Here is the thing. People pack their children off to school, every school day, for 7 hours (and if they have a long bus ride like I did, 8 or 9 hours.) There they sit and do many educational things all day that do not engage them. For the most part, they don’t really care about these things and ask why they have to learn them. In between those 20 minute educational lectures/lessons (I am generalizing here– when I was teaching some lessons were as short as 10 minutes, others were up to an hour long) they stand in line, get out books and put them away, get a drink, eat lunch, take electives where they have to take out and put away, wait for their classmates to finish their work, do extra busy work that is there for classroom management not for actual education, spend a few minutes talking to friends while waiting in line or during recess, get shushed, corrected, and so on. They take tests to prove that they remember what the teacher told them, wait for others to finish their tests, loose pencils/books/etc, spend time finding all of those lost items, and all sorts of other activities that are not beneficial to the adults at home and may or may not be educational. The wasted time in a school room is an issue teachers know well and which we are taught in our classroom management classes.

Start the year with review of last year. Then learn something new. Then review that thing. Then take time to study that thing. (I hope you haven’t mastered the subject, because there’s nothing else to do in the classroom right now.) Then finally take a test about the thing. Then forget about the thing and move on to a new thing. Even on rare days when new information is imparted, it’s usually teaching for the test, not teach the subject for the purposes of knowledge and understanding. We were told to expect about 20-30 minutes of actual new content being taught and the rest of the day being remedial and managing the class. Half an hour of learning. Out of eight.

Now a classically homeschooled kid has a lot more time at home (when they aren’t running to outside things like sports and dance classes– lots of time in the car for those). The parents spend much of their home time planning, organizing, teaching, and keeping the child on task (and anyone who has done classical homeschool can tell you that that takes a TON of energy, though of course it depends on the kid.) So let’s say the child spends 4 hours doing book work. (Some do much more, some do much less.) They may or may not be interested in what they are being taught and some are learning a lot more than others. For those who aren’t learning then there is repetition and practice and the parent trying to find new ways to teach the lesson. During that time the child is being taught by the parent, which means the parent is pulled away from the other things the parent could be doing. On a good day everything goes smoothly and everyone finishes their work with no tears. On a bad day…well. When we were more classical most days were bad days. The rest of the day is often taken with chores and outside activities though they certainly get more downtime to explore their own interests.

The thing is, in both of those situations the child is only expected to be doing educational activities for much of the day (including all those extracurricular activities) and that child may or may not be getting anything out of ANY of those educational opportunities. Yet here I am with a child who is actively learning regardless of what he is doing because he is full engaged in what he is doing. He’s doing it because he IS interested and wants to learn more about it, and I am going to complain because he is JUST watching TV? Meanwhile, if he were sitting in a class he’d likely be doing a time-sink worksheet that exists only to slow down the faster kids and keep them busy while the slow kids catch up. Is that really better than television?

How messed up my thinking has been. I had forgotten the point was to see him learning, to look for the learning going on instead of keeping my own personal servant. I should point out here that he had already spent quite a bit of time helping me today and he often does helpful things out of love instead of being coerced, just like I do things to serve him, out of love. It is so easy to forget all the helpful things that he does do when I notice him sitting there “doing nothing” while I am busy.

Life as We Know It

Yes, we still unschool.  Yes, it is still working.  Yes, we still both work from home though it has shifted even more from me working to Shamus working while I hang with the kids and keep the household running smooth so he can focus and be productive.  Yes, I still love our life and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Ice Skating

Shamus is working, a lot.  Things are financially stressful but that is another post (and one I have been pondering for a while but which may or may not actually get shared.  All I can say right now is that God is amazing and much more reliable than any paycheck.)  On that point I want to mention mint.com– if you are having a hard time seeing the big picture of your finances, suck at budgeting, or just like seeing everything in one place then it is well worth a look.  It is working great for this financially challenged family and being free helps.  We had recently discussed the possibility of me taking on  a part time job to fill in the current gaps, but various factors nipped that in the bud.  Mostly the fact that me being here facilitating the children’s learning is key (they would learn anyway but Shamus cannot field their constant questions AND write 3 comics a week, 3 articles a week, and do 30 hrs a week programming not to mention keep up on his blog and several side projects.)

Ice Skating

The kids are happily occupied talking to fellow unschooling friends on Skype and text chat, interacting on FamilyRUN, playing Build-a-Bear (their favorite game to play?  School–“except we know most of the answers already, but we get to learn new things too”.)  They are also occupied playing  Plants vs. Zombies, a lot.  Talk about an educational game that  you don’t realize is educational.  Essentially you could think of it as a fun way to learn financial planning and organizing your resources— of course you could say the same thing about Star Craft and other strategy games. At the pondDue to the snow, snow, and more snow they have been avoiding going outside (especially now that there is no ice to skate on).  The kids are also very involved in a new Lego Quest weekly challenge run  by a friend on Twitter.  Lego Quest carRachel is thrilled to have made friends who can talk when she can, Essie is reading her way through multiple series of books (having read all the Gregor the Underlander books in a week and moving on to several other series I can’t remember) , Issac is building all sorts of things and intent on beating Mario Galaxy on his own.  We are spending a lot of time listening to audio books together, playing games together, talking together.

At the pond
Picnic at the pond

Me?  Aside from all the cleaning and rearranging going on (lots of re-purposing and getting rid of which I find a quick way to beat the urge to go buy something new. )  Now that the website issues have been dealt with I have been free to work on painting (trying acrylics still.  It is interesting but maybe I am getting somewhere?)  I am doing less reading and spending time on the computer  (due to eyesight issues) and more listening to audio books which means I am being more productive– I feel like I need to be doing something if I am listening to audio books.  And since the cd player is in the kitchen and we are being VERY frugal in our meals I am spending a lot of time in the kitchen cleaning, rearranging, and baking.  Yesterday it was no-bake cookies (naturally sweetened, carob, peanut butter, coconut, and oatmeal), homemade granola bars (naturally sweetened with oatmeal, cranberries, peanut butter, cocoa nibs, coconut, flax seed), and lots and lots of bread dough.  The day before I chopped all the raw veggies in the house, making a nice salad mix and freezing the rest.  Oh, and I finished a painting–a commission by my sister-in-law for her employers. Watercolor

Unschooling Life: a trip to the science center

As part of Rachel’s birthday celebration this year we took a trip to the science center, braving the crowds for free day (which, praise the Lord, fell the day after Rachel’s b-day and had a lot to do with it being MLK day.) The kids adore the science center and have ever since a few years back when we managed to scrape together enough for a membership. Since that isn’t happening again anytime soon we took advantage of the free day despite the crowds. It was interesting to see how they responded to it after multiple years of unschooling (compared to when we had the membership and had more of an eclectic learning lifestyle which included an hour of sit-down work a day.)

Instead of going for all the big flashy exhibits that all the other kids wanted to do they went for things that really interested them, most of which had no lines, and no kids or just a few. There were things that they wanted to spend much more time on and couldn’t because of the other kids but those things they were willing to wait patiently for and then used them to the fullest while they had their turn. They have also decided that they really want to save up to get a membership again (especially since a membership means being able to go to the art museum as well–though parking is NOT free even with membership. Grrrr.)

Issac focused on the things he was interested in– most of them included building but really anything that caught his eye (most of which were things that nobody else was interested in– like the exhibit showing the inside of feet and various types of arches, the joint exhibit, how blood pumps, and what’s inside a baseball bat.) Issac has also retained his love of trains. While the girls looked at the robot exhibit (their favorite) he and I went through the train exhibit. He has a knack for seeing things and noticed many details that I missed.

Esther loves anything with animals, computers, reading, or fans. She loves doing the weather report (complete with teleprompter and hurricanes), spent as much time as she could in the wind tunnel, and read every computer screen she could get close to. She was the only kid willing to pet the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (it helped that she has been reading the Gregor series). She waited an hour in line at the sports works while her siblings and I wandered around just to spend 3 minutes jumping on the circus style trampoline and she was thrilled to death that she had done it (especially when the man in charge of it gave her an extra jump so she could finally do a flip.)

Rachel loved everything, except the fish tanks. She was disappointed that we didn’t get to go on the sub (she loves history and LOVES walking through the sub and asking all sorts of questions but with the crowds it would have been too much.) She also adored doing the stop motion camera movies and lots of the exhibits in the robot room.

All three insisted I get a photo of C3PO.

In general I was amazed at how much they actually took away from the experience, reading each description instead of running from item to item like most of the kids. They were focused and interested and quickly learned how each item worked and why instead of just interacting with each exhibit and moving on.

Orienteering

An orienteering control
A "control" marker.

o-ri-en-teer-ing [awr-ee-en-teer-ing, ohr-]
–noun a competitive sport, originating in Sweden, that tests the skills of map reading and cross-country running, in which competitors race through an unknown area to find various checkpoints by using only a compass and topographical map, the winner being the finisher with the lowest elapsed time.

On Sunday an old friend from elementary school posted on Facebook regarding an orienteering meet not far from my grandmother’s. Having a natural knack for getting lost–my Girl Scout record includes multiple occasions where our entire group would be the last one in by an hour or more, having completely lost our way and my adult record for getting lost is no better–my natural reaction was just to look away. However, with 3 outdoorsy kids who LOVE being in the woods, maps, and a treasure hunt even more this looked like just the thing to do. So, not letting the whole “race” aspect get in the way, we went.

The kids started with the string course while I go us checked in and got a briefing on how to go about things. Esther quickly joined me, proclaiming the string course “boring” and deciding she preferred to swing.

Issac on the run--he just found the next control.

The other two quickly returned with their rewards for finishing the string course and we got ready for the white course. The girls borrowed a compass (Issac had along his trusty whistle with built in magnifying glass and compass–this always hangs on his jeans.) The whole cost of the event was the $4 for the map (which came with a bag to keep it safe, a paper with spots for each control on which to use the punches that hang at each control, a list of clues to where the controls were (they were also marked on the map.) We got a start time and we were off.

Taking a break.

We did NOT attempt to treat this as a race and try to get the best time. We just wanted to make it through WITHOUT getting lost. As far as the kids were concerned this was the best thing ever–real in the woods trails, some of which were steep and needed to be climbed, a detailed topographical ap, a compass, and a treasure hunt of sorts.

Esther is heading to the next control, Issac is close behind.

They loved seeing who would be the first to spot the control marker and then getting a chance to punch our sheet with the punch hanging at each control. Happiness is.

Out of the woods and on to one of the last controls--Esthjer found it.

It took us about an hour to get through and though tired and starved the kids begged to do another, harder course. On the way home they discussed how other people they know would enjoy the sport listing off who to invite to the next one we go to–so I am guessing there will be another one. 🙂

Esther is the dot at the back of the photo, stamping our paper with the next control punch.

*Note: There are no photos of the trail in the woods because I not only forgot I had my camera but we were too focused on not getting lost and taking the wrong trail to care. We did finish and didn’t get lost once–boy do I adore topographical maps! Just think–a map that has LANDMARKS on it, all of them!

Esther punches her card while Rachel and I look on.--Photo by a member of the Western PA Orienteering club.
Esther punches her card while Rachel and I look on.--Photo by a member of the Western PA Orienteering club.
DeerLakesOrienteering 001
Photo of us during training b a member of the Western PA Orienteering Club.

*Also: I did not get a photo of the rather large beaver that was hanging about scaring people at the beginning of the path. My friend said he had been there all day and rather growled at people who got to close but otherwise didn’t move. The girls climbed up the hill a bit to keep away while Issac and I just sidled by him.

The beaver--thanks Jen for sending me this.
The beaver--thanks Jen for sending me this.

Jen's daughter and best friend on the trail by the beaver.--as taken by Jen.
Jen's daughter and best friend on the trail by the beaver.--as taken by Jen.

Unschooling Notes

I thought I would share some of the projects Issac has involved himself in lately. He has been working on reading and  asks several times a session if he can read a sentence of our Bible reading each night–last night he read 2 sentences aloud to the family from the NASB Bible, Numbers 11-13.  This meant he had to sound out and read “congregation”, “people”, and several other words he had never seen before.  He managed them very well with very little help.  I love how he tries to figure it out, looks to me when he is not sure, and goes straight back to it as soon as he has affirmation or correction, then asks the meaning of the ones he doesn’t recognize, he also asks me to go back and reread the whole thing together so he can get a better feel for the meaning of the whole, he also looks for the spelling and pronunciation rules and tries to apply them (often successfully) to other words that rhyme.  These are all things that educators are taught to teach kids to do but Issac has naturally developed this on his own because he WANTS to read and WANTS to know what his sentences mean. It is very exciting to see since I deliberately sat back and watched with Issac whereas with Esther, she taught herself before I could get to her because I was struggling so much with Rachel and her health issues.   (Also want to note that Esther, who also self taught reading does these same things and is able to easily read the NASB or KJV without stumbling over words and is teaching herself to spell while Rach, who struggled to learn and HATED it because I was making her still struggles, though some of that is due to her dyslexia.)

Recently Issac has been my little shadow.  The girls are getting more caught up in their own interests which often mean he is getting left out.  When I was working on the Joy painting he sat beside me and watched, imitating every move I made.  If I picked up the paint brush he copied how I did it, if I move the brush on the paper he imitated it with a dry brush.  Finally he asked if he could do a painting.

I had a page of an old watercolor tablet marked out in a 3 by 3 grid for a project that I decided to do differently so I said he could use it.  He asked if I would draw pictures for him to paint which I did as he dictated.  He then settled in to paint using my good brushes and my good paints.  He was very careful to follow my instructions not to mix in the tubs and how to pull the brush instead of scrubbing it.

I was also amazed at how it was obviously helping him with his eye hand coordination and using a light brush.  I would heartily recomend this project for anyone with a young writer (for fun and only if they are interested) as it really helped him with his writing and drawing.


Issac also spent quite a bit of time building a similar book tower to the one I drew in Rachel’s header.


He is very proud of this and insisted I take a picture. 🙂 I was impressed because he had to figure out how to make the books stand up and after much practice did.

Unschooling at the pond–again

We ended up spending another week at the pond, then staying over a night at Grandma’s due to car troubles.  We have not slept at home since last Monday. Long story short I ended up doing some more painting because I had more to do and Rach asked to stay at her grandma’s over night.  We didn’t take into account the fact that the cold damp weather would mean that the paint would take longer to dry.  Sigh.

However we had many awesome learning opportunities at the pond–talk about interest led learning–it was an awesome experience!  The kids got to help install a hot water tank, explore the old hot water tank and figure out how it worked and what went wrong, build a pirate ship/submarine out of the hot water tank box, watch movies, read numerous books, play card games, play on the paddle boat, see a doe my mom got hunting–her first with her bow which we walked up to see in the dark so they could se eit before it went to the butcher the next morning, star gaze–looking for known constellations and making up our own, as well as…

Learn to golf,

After playing many games of golf on the Wii Essie decided she wanted to take it up for real, with a too big golf club and wearing many layers to fend off the cold.
After playing many games of golf on the Wii Essie decided she wanted to take it up for real, with a too big golf club and wearing many layers to fend off the cold.

Enjoy watching birds, chipmunks, turkeys, and squirrels and all God’s creation,

We got to do all sorts of nature walks watching the leaves change and the animals prepare for winter.
We got to do all sorts of nature walks watching the leaves change and the animals prepare for winter.

Watch movies,

We watched numerous movies (especially since for several days we had very cold rain.)
We watched numerous movies (especially since for several days we had very cold rain.)

Daydream

Issac watching the ducks on the pond--several Mallards were hanging out as well as 9 turkeys, three grey squirrels, one red squirrel, several chip munks, and lots of birds.
Issac watching the ducks on the pond--several Mallards were hanging out as well as 9 turkeys, three grey squirrels, one red squirrel, several chip munks, and lots of birds.
Issac cuddled up watching a movie.
Issac cuddled up watching a movie.

Card games,

I brought along this silly sentance flash card game and all three kids, with little prompting from me, spent hours making silly sentences and telling stories with these cards.  The cards have sentence structure on them so the older two were reviewing noun, adjectives, and verbs, added in their own hand written words to make the sentences more interesting, and took pictures of all their creations, while Issac learned about nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and practiced reading the sentences he made.
I brought along this silly sentence flash card game and all three kids, with little prompting from me, spent hours making silly sentences and telling stories with these cards. The cards have sentence structure on them so the older two were reviewing noun, adjectives, and verbs, added in their own hand written words to make the sentences more interesting, and took pictures of all their creations, while Issac learned about nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and practiced reading the sentences he made.

Ecosystems and building,

The girls discovered a small section of land by the pond full of crickets.  We discussed ecosystems and then the kids decided they wanted to build houses for the crickets out of sticks (Issac made slides and a clothes rack instead).
The girls discovered a small section of land by the pond full of crickets. We discussed ecosystems and then the kids decided they wanted to build houses for the crickets out of sticks (Issac made slides and a clothes rack instead).

Developing family relationships,

Issac playing with Uncle James who is off school due to a teacher's strike.
Issac playing with Uncle James who is off school due to a teacher's strike.

Building lean-to’s/survival training

The kids spent 2 day sbuilding lean-tos in the woods with Uncle James.  They also learned about being in the woods during hunting season (and wearing bright colors so people don't think you are a deer or turkey. :))
The kids spent 2 days building lean-tos in the woods with Uncle James. They also learned about being in the woods during hunting season (and wearing bright colors so people don't think you are a deer or turkey.)

Family time

Did I mention it rained several days and we got to spend lots of time cuddled on the couch watching movies together?
Did I mention it rained several days and we got to spend lots of time cuddled on the couch watching movies together? Not to mention reading aloud together.

I also got a few small paintings nearly finished and the girls got to practice being left alone for short periods of time (Rach longs to be able to stay home alone and letting them practice in a cottage surrounded by family on 13 acres of woods is much safer than at home where we live near a major high way.)  And just when we thought we were going to stay home we visited grandma and the car acted up meanign we stayed over night there  (the lights were dimming too much to drive home at night– known alternator issues okay as long as we drive during the day.)  It has been a week full of God’s blessings and interventions once again, and the learning has been amazing to behold.