Unschooling Journey

Our journey from traditional schooling, to "school at home" and then on to greener pastures…

Tag: teaching vs learning

Getting in the way of learning…

THEN:

Rightio, I had all the worksheets printed and ready to go. Clipboard? Check. Pencils? Check. Erasers? Check. Enthusiastic child? Check. Well…kind of.

Clay was excited about going to the aquarium, but seemed less so once I went through the worksheets. I wasn’t asking him to do much, a few pages, and he got to choose which ones he wanted to do, I wasn’t being unreasonable. A trip to the aquarium was expensive, it couldn’t just be a fun day out, we needed to do some learning today!

What. A. Nightmare. One word answers, copying exact sentences, scribbly illegible hand writing. And then he got all stroppy at me when I erased a few words and asked him to re-write them.

He wanted to go home.

Well that was a waste of money!

NOW:

Clay and his friend were so excited. The King Tutankhamun exhibit had been a long time coming, they were skipping this way and that, and we hadn’t even gone in yet!

The doors open and they scooted around the first section, calling excitedly to each other “Come look at this!!”, “Whoa!!”. They were reading, listening, watching…and learning. All without a worksheet in hand, no pre-exhibit planning, no assignments, no post-exhibit test looming.

Who would’ve thought.

It made me smile, to see Clay so enthusiastic, so excited, chatting after we left and for well over a week afterwards about all the things he had seen and learnt.

It was an awesome day.

I cringe looking back, now, how I killed any sense of wonder, any free range learning, by forcing him to do worksheets and research before and after going to places like the aquarium, the zoo, a play. I mean, think about it, I come to you and say “Hey! Want to come to the movies with me? But hang on, you have to do this worksheet first, analyse the film afterwards, there’ll be a test too…”.

Seriously? No thanks.

Why do we find it so necessary to check boxes? To have someone else tell us what is important to know? I’ll tell you why.

School.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that without being forced, without being coerced or bribed, we would not learn, would not want to learn. But that simply isn’t true! When a child is interested in something, stay with them in that moment, be engaged with them, converse, ask questions, offer information.

Unschooling Dad holding and talking to daughter

Unschooling Dad and son gaming

And if a child isn’t interested? Well, please think about that, do we really believe that forcing a child to fill out a worksheet is going to miraculously make it interesting? Make them retain information about a topic they do not care for long term?

And if not long term, if the information is not valuable enough for them to retain and build on, why are we so fixated on having them “learn” it?

Oh yeah, to tick boxes.

So next time you’re trying to steer your child down a road they are uninterested in, check yourself, ask why, throw the boxes out the window and instead just be present.

xx

Ticking Boxes

THEN…

TICK! Can’t let him fall behind!

After pulling Clay from school there were still boxes to tick. I found myself scouring the standards and organising spreadsheets with check boxes to make sure I covered everything, so he would “keep up”. The Australian Curriculum App was my best friend for the first part of our homeschool journey.

I came up with some fabulous ideas, I mean, these were interesting and exciting ways to learn all that boring dribble that the Education Department deemed necessary. I’d spend hours coming up with different ways to teach things, make sure I knew the content before hand, had all the worksheets and laminated cards ready to go, pencils sharpened. Clay was on board to begin with, he was happy to be out and so would readily comply to my requests.

Then the resistance crept in.

How could that be? My lesson plans were epic! They were different and fun and interesting! Well, I had put in all this time, he would just have to knuckle down and do them anyway. Sorry buddy, there were standards we needed to cover, the big wiggies in plush offices, far removed from the minds and needs of children, said so.

“Do we have to do this?”, “This is boring!”, *thump* (head on desk).

Oh dear.

The arguments and threats began, no he couldn’t go to that activity without finishing his writing, no he couldn’t have his ipad until he’d completed the allocated math questions, no you’re not going outside until you’ve written this or that.

What was I doing? How was this different to school? It wasn’t, I was doing “school at home”. This wasn’t how I had imagined it, it wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

NOW…

“Spelling Book C”, that was my wake up call. He’d finished the workbook, complete with crosswords and word sleuths and look-cover-write check’s. What a neat little package it was, I could almost frame it. At the end of it all he did the last test, covering all the words he had learnt (and generally gotten at least 8/10 right throughout the semester on mini-tests), and he failed miserably. He got a little over 30%. It was like a big, fat slap in the face. The brightly coloured, Education Department approved, workbook had taught him nothing.

I began to let go of my pre-conceived ideas and tried to follow his interests, moving from a more “relaxed” style, (eclectic perhaps?), through to eventually throwing the standards out the window completely.

Clay has always surprised me with the things he says, what he has learnt, entirely on his own. He had this, this was about my fear, I needed to learn to trust him. His interests range from video gaming and YouTubing to chemistry, cooking, the natural sciences and beyond. He learns visually and kinaesthetically, having him fill out worksheets was never going to work. He has to see, he has to do.

IMG_3372 (2) Playing with acids and bases…IMG_9517

…comparing reactions and how the pH changes.

IMG_8732 (2)

Learning about physics and mechanical concepts through Scrap Mechanic

And then there’s Jessie, who has never been forced to “learn” anything. At 3.5 yrs, she asks me regularly how to spell things, types it on her iPad, asks me to write out the letters in words (her hand in mine), to read a book, she is interested in learning!

IMG_3361 (2)She found some geoboards in the cupboard and proceeded to make shapes, stretching the bands in different directions to make new ones.

IMG_3354 (2)

Pens/pencils and paper are always at hand

It’s hard, though, to let go of the idea that she needs to be taught, I mean, how will she learn to read? But I haven’t sat her down and forced her to memorise the alphabet, yet somehow she knows it, and I haven’t sat her down and forced her to learn phonics, and she knows most of those too. She’s already learning on her own.

One thing that I find people (myself included) often get concerned about with Unschooling is the idea that kids will learn on their own. Yes, but that doesn’t mean that if they ask for your help, if you see them struggling with something, or if you see that they are interested in something, that you don’t get involved, don’t offer suggestions (or strew), it just means that you wait, and watch, and listen to what they need.

I do believe that children can learn on their own, in their own time, because I’ve seen it, we all have. You can sit a child down and force them to do work, but you can’t force them to learn. My kids were born with a love of learning, not it’s my job to get out of the way!

xx

PS. Check out the documentary “Race to Nowhere”, it costs $4, but is well worth it, especially if you’re still in the mind set that kids need to “keep up”.

 

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