Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our journey from school at home towards unschooling

When starting our journey into homeschooling in September 2013 we took a very lax approach where we tried to create, a school-type hands on learning environment at home ("school at home").

We started with unit studies. Through our online research and my Early Childhood background I was creating all our activities. Our first month was spent learning about APPLES . We drew, we labelled, we identified, we counted, we sorted, we hiked, we collected, we baked, we tasted, we researched and we learned a lot.

We had so much fun and everyone seemed interested. Then we moved into another fun topic fall/leaves/Halloween and we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors. While writing this post I realized that I had missed posting about our fall/leaves unit study.   Below are a few pictures to show some of the activities we did like: creating leaf butterflies, sorting leaves by colour and shape, practicing symmetry, observing leaves, making blow-print fall art trees, printing out poetry, illustration, graphing, comparing, researching and printing fall words and many more.

As November approached, we started to plan for the month ahead. We chose to work our activities around children's books as Sierra was starting to develop a dislike for books and reading. We thought this theme would encourage reading, but the more we pushed books the more she resisted.  We found ourselves fighting to read which led to more disagreements when it came to spelling and eventually math as well. Our girls were tired of the novelty of "school at home". In a very short time, I felt burnt out from hours and hours of curriculum prep and activity planning.  We found, to our dismay, that we were relying on too many worksheets *argh*. This bothered me as I have always been a believer of hands on learning and a play based curriculum. HERE is a great article on The Worksheet Dilema by Sue Grossman Ph.D for the preschool years. Another article more relevant to elementary age children  can be found HERE by Pamela Haack who is an educational consultant, national presenter and keynote speaker. She is also co-founder, along with author/instructor, Mary Peterson, of Teacher Online Classes, an organization that offers e-resources and online seminars and workshops for educators.

The month of December was swallowed up by the hustle and bustle of Christmas activities, family outings, friends and fun natural seasonal learning like baking, crafting, budgeting for Christmas gift buying, and researching thoughtful gifts to make. Though we were busy, we found that during this time we bonded as a family.

During the holidays Sierra discovered Minecraft pocket edition and she has for the most part been consumed by it. The mainstream parent in me at times wants to tell Sierra to put down her new iPad mini (she just got it for Christmas) and experience life for a few minutes. Then I think, what right do I have to do that? Why is what I see as important, more important, than what she sees as important? Just because I'm the adult? I recently read this article by Dayna Martin Author of, Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun about the evolution of children's rights and it really hit home for me. What my children want to experience in life is just as important as what I think they should experience and we need to empower our children and learn to respect their individual choices.

Yes Sierra has a new iPad mini and yes she is immersed in a new game on it (and other games too) but who doesn't get immersed in something new they really like? Honestly she isn't just zoned into it and lost in the abyss despite what it might appear to someone looking in from the outside. She is busy learning such things as: creativity, cooperative play (through wifi), research skills (google), problem solving, imaginative play and she even role plays Minecraft creatures when playing with friends and not electronically connected to the game. (I recently wrote a post about "Learning with Minecraft" which you can read in THIS post). Most importantly she is having fun learning about what she is interested in. I don't know about you but for me...when I am interested in something I learn about how to do it because I want to. I'm motivated and I choose to learn...why should it be different for children?

Admittedly Sierra is a bit iPad mini and minecraft obsessed right now. Is that bad? I don't know??? I'm beginning to think it's not so bad.  I am trying to learn to let go of what I think she should be doing and allow her to follow her own path. Learning doesn't just happen at "school" or at "school at home". Learning happens every day for all of us all of our lives or we stop growing.  

Living and learning go hand in hand. 

Learning happens when we are interested in what we are studying. "Schooling" is forced learning, and in my opinion, the info really isn't's just memorized and recalled when needed. I believe there is a fundamental difference (HERE is an article on Memorizing VS Learning).

Sierra's iPad mini is also teaching her to read and spell. Two areas we were fighting with her in November which she now dives into herself willfully. She sends wonderful little texts all the time to everyone she knows. She finds humour in her mistakes and learns from them as shown below.
With her iPad mini she is learning about photography; how to compose and edit pictures. The other day she spent literally about 5-6 hours sorting her littlest pet shops that she no longer plays with (she has her favourites still), setting them up into groups, photographing them, editing the photos to add prices to the pictures to list on kijiji and negotiating prices when people make offers vie email.
links to our our listings to see all
 So our typical "school" day doesn't look much like school lately but our days are filled with learning. This week already we have learned so much:

We are learning about measurements, baking terms like packed brown sugar, how to measure 2 1/2 cups, how to take turns with siblings, how to read a recipe and follow directions while baking.

We are learning about force and pressure while cracking eggs without squashing them.
We are learning about sharing with siblings and respecting their toys. Sometimes we learn about accepting someones choice not to share and then have to learn about the feelings that choice evokes: how we feel and how we deal with it.
We are using our imaginations and practicing fine motor skills while building with legos, playing with Littlest pet shops or strawberry shortcakes.
We are learning to enjoy reading on our own time in our own ways. 
We are practicing gross motor skills by climbing up on the top of the bed and jumping down. Not to mention having fun with tickle fights, pillow fights in bed and making dancing videos with Video Star.

We are being creative with the crafts and activities we make. Our girls even take our activities and expand on them by themselves; like they did with our snowmen bowling game. They created their own play which I turned into a separate post about 10 ways to expand play with our snowmen bowling game. Many of those ideas were their ideas. Sierra was especially proud of her idea to make one into a musical instrument.
Click here to see this post
We are visiting friends, socializing, playing dress up, creeper tag, having Nerf gun fights and enjoying meals and conversations together as a family and with friends.

We are learning the art of negotiation and to express our opinions. Here Aayla discusses with daddy why she should be able to buy this set of books from Scholastic. We are making decisions, and discussing those choices daily.
We are having fun doing random things like cruising down the grocery store isles on a plasma car. We are learning to stop for pedestrians and to look around corners carefully before darting to the next isle. We are learning to be careful of others nearby and say sorry if we bump into them by accident or say excuse me if we want to pass them.
We are appreciating the little things. Little things like comments our children say. This weeks favourite was from Aayla while grocery shopping:

"mommy look they have red, yellow and orange peppers like us. AND MOMMY, they have green! We no have green...oh mommy this is MARVELOUS. I pick a big one. Look how big it is mommy!"

How totally, amazingly beautiful is that? Such appreciation for a green pepper of all things.

We are experimenting with food choices. Sierra ate macaroni in eggs at daycare when she was 2 and asked to have it again for lunch this week (this girl has a memory like an elephant). We are also learning that sometimes memories are better left as memories...she is not such a big fan of macaroni in eggs anymore!
We are learning about basic life skills and building fine motor skills while practicing to cut with a knife.

All these things provide so much natural learning. They build connections, attachments and relationships with each other and others. These things are much more important to us than their score on a spelling test or if they are at the right reading level for their age. Not to mention how horrible it was fighting with our kids to get them academically where society expects them to be.

Our children are different. They have their own unique individual needs. They are square shaped pegs in a world of circle holes (and that's a good thing!). They are energetic, bright, courageous, enthusiastic, spirited, creative, curious, emotional, compassionate, loving, and caring individuals. They are who they are and as parents we need to accept their admirable traits and their arduous traits. We have to learn to let go of everything we've been taught, programmed, trained to believe and just follow our hearts through this learning journey towards unschooling.

We wonder some days if we are failing our children by going down this path. Especially when someone asks "how is school going?". In our hearts we know it's right for our kids. In our heads we have a hard time letting go of societal beliefs and internal struggle for us. What we do know is we are all happier and healthier when we let go of restraining expectations. When we give our children the freedom to be who they want to be and follow their own path. They want to learn, they are curious, they explore, they create. We believe it is our job as parents to honour and respect their choices (even if they differ from our beliefs), offer guidance, provide experiences, help with research and resources, facilitate their learning so they can become their own unique individual selves and reach their own personal potential.

If you think we are crazy (or even if you agree but have never seen this video) take a look at this youtube video below of Logan LaPlante. It is an amazingly insightful, inspirational speech by a young teen and maybe it will help you understand what we are talking about.

Are we technically homeschoolers? or unschoolers? Do I care about the label? Nope. Wherever our children's learning takes them, we will support them, encourage them, guide them and believe that in the end they will be "happy" learning about whatever they choose.

Are you a homeschooling family? Do you follow a curriculum or do you unschool? I'm curious to hear what works best for your family.

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