Could This Be Education?

I’ve been thinking more and more about the legitimacy and sense of unschooling.  I don’t know that I will ever fully quiet my fears of all the “what ifs” and “but, if I don’t do a, b and c…” types of thing that run through my head, but I am ultimately convinced that unschoolers have it right, at least where my family is concerned.  It is a difficult transition for me in some respects, because I enjoy planning unit studies and I also like feeling in control and seeing results.  With unschooling, results happen, but they aren’t always as easily measured.  On the other hand, I never cease to be surprised by the amount of knowledge my kids acquire all on their own.  Just when I think we are stagnating or I begin to worry that they aren’t getting enough academic direction, that’s when we will inevitably launch into a completely unplanned discussion about a random topic of interest or expound upon something the girls saw on a program or heard in a book that led to a serious discovery or line of questioning.  In none of these times do I sit the girls down at a desk and shovel workbooks or lectures at them.  There are no multiple choice bubbles to fill in and no essays, however brief, to write.  Yet, somehow, some way, despite what might seem their best efforts to play all day, my girls are inquisitive, educated little beings.  Could it be because I give them plenty of time to play and explore and delve deeply into their interests?  Yes, I do believe we are on our way to becoming that family that doesn’t really “do school” because learning is just taken for granted.  It is not set aside as a special time.  It just is…all day…any time.  It is life and we intend to live it.  This is not to say that it isn’t without it’s hiccups.  I can’t help myself sometimes from trying to expound upon something that I might deem worthy that the girls didn’t exactly request to learn.  I suppose that makes us not the best unschoolers on the block, but I think it’s all about balance.  There is a fine line between the give and take of the teaching/learning relationship and it’s a balancing feat to remain on it.  I believe that my girls will eventually learn all they need to be successful, but I also believe that many things are more easily grasped while they are young, so it is a constant internal struggle for me to know when to push a little and when to leave things be.  I think the balance has been struck so far pretty effectively, simply because they haven’t reached the point where any imparting of wisdom receives groans and sighs.  When the glazing of the eyes starts to happen, I know it’s time to switch gears.  I just let the girls do what they do and pay close attention to where their journeys take them, seizing opportunities to turn experiences into education…on the sly.  😉  This is what one of the first weeks of completely stepping back from traditional, directed learning looked like for my girls:

I downloaded a new app on the IPad called Toca Builders that lets kids essentially create buildings in a virtual world in a similar fashion to Mine Craft. 

Tater Tot discovered this and commenced teaching herself how the app works and building her virtual world.  The girls later went outside and decided to build tents with sheets, chairs, sticks and whatever else they could find.  This led to Tater Tot’s question of whether or not they could camp in the back yard.  (Instead of that, we ended up camping at the end of the week at Wildcat Mountain.)

While watching the girls play in the yard from inside the house, I observed Tater Tot problem-solve a situation by trying various methods to get a swing to a position she wanted it by the tree.  She ultimately ended up tying an extra rope to the swing, throwing it over the “Y” of the tree trunk and using it for leverage as a sort of pulley to hoist the swing to the height she wanted it in order to swing down with it from the tree.  Such good thinking and she didn’t call for me once!  I did break my non-directive approach a bit and asked if the girls wanted me to read to them while outside.  I read a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods. 

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They seemed only moderately interested in that, so we haven’t revisited the book since.

The girls decided to complete their alligator craft that was started the week before and completed it with a discussion of what alligators eat (and stickers in the mouth to match).

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Tater Tot drew a picture and began to stick more random stickers on it, but those turned out not to be so random after all, as they were all water creatures in her water scene.

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Tater Tot had gymnastics on Monday night and on the way home, I saw what looked like a group of bats flying overhead.  That lead to some questions that evening, such as whether they stay in warm or cold places and where they sleep.  The next day we pulled out our Usborne Bat book and looked through it together, answering those questions and more.

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We also found a cute little bat hanging out in our patio umbrella around the same time.

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Playing outside again, Tater Tot randomly made up what I believe was a tall tale about a strange looking bug we had seen the day before.  She told me that she “just remembered that her old preschool teacher had told her that the bug was called ‘Cumulus Acclominus'”, (which she accurately repeated to me numerous times that day), and then proceeded to explain the “facts” about the bug, such as it’s preferred climate, habitat and sleep patterns.  Very creative, though I might need to be worried about the nature of it being a “fib” in itself.  She also assured me that I needn’t look it up because she is sure she knows what she is talking about.  lol

The girls are all growing as growing girls do, and so we spent some time together going through the clothing and changing out the size/season boxes. Later, in typical fashion, the girls managed to make another play fort out of my couch pillows.  This is a pretty frequent occurrence, though it really drives me a little nuts. 

I asked if the girls would like to make things out of pretzels and marshmallows, which we did…outside.  This was a fun treat, as they loved to eat their creations once completed.  It was a great opportunity to discuss the difference between 1, 2, and 3-dimensional objects.  Tater Tot did a great job at making some basic 3-d shapes and also decided to make a 2-d house.  (For anyone wanting to duplicate the activity, I would maybe suggest toothpicks in place of the pretzels.  They worked, but just barely.  I think toothpicks might be easier to work with.)

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The girls did some cleaning and picking up on their own, without my direction or request.  Tater Tot began listening to White Fang on audio book each night and finished it within about a week.  She has been very interested in wolves lately.  She even wants to be a werewolf for Halloween.  I went to the Warrens Cranberry Festival here on recently and snagged a really great wolf winter hat/scarf/ mitt combo and even a real wolf’s tail from the local Trapper’s Society for her costume!  Picked up a cute polar bear one for Boo Bear and a nice wooden name puzzle for Sweet Pea, which she figured out how to put together right away.

On another trip outside in the morning, when the dew was still heavy on the ground, the girls noticed the drops glistening like diamonds and we discussed dew, condensation and evaporation.  Tater Tot also found a couple of great spider webs. 

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We tried to preserve one, but it didn’t take to the paper well.  We went inside and watched a YouTube story reading of Eric Carle’s, The Very Busy Spider. I think they found it a little boring, though. 

The girls then wanted to make spider crafts. 

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After that, I made a painter’s tape “web” in the doorway and we played a game of catching the flies in the web, complete with counting practice for Boo Bear. 

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The girls wanted to make bat crafts then, which led to more bat questions, and another visit to the bat books for more bat facts.  We pulled out the Fall decor and started decorating.  Tater Tot also helped me to make a camping list for that trip at the end of the week.

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Soccer practice was on Wednesday night.  Boo Bear skipped out on her soccer again, so she washed dishes with Mommy to make up for the time and money wasted transporting her to an activity she never wants to participate in.  (We haven’t bothered going back.  She just isn’t interested this year.  I believe it’s because they combined ages with an older group for the team and it’s not a girl teaching this time.)

Periodically throughout the week, the girls opted to listen to our lovely little patriotic cd, We Sing America.

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Then the weekend was here and we had a great time camping!  We went on some hikes, rode bikes, roasted marshmallows, talked about what a fire needs to keep going, as well as fire safety, learned how to put a tent together and visited a great nature center to learn about all the local wildlife while there.

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It was a fun-filled, educationally enriching, child’s delight-filled week, with not a plan, curriculum or agenda in sight!  Yes, I believe unschooling is the way for us.

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