The First Six Months of UnSchooling

Our family has flourished during the first six months of home schooling; completing Kinder and moving to 1st grade. This is intriguing/interesting because when we started the process of home schooling I was petrified as to what the outcome might be. Would my kids hate me? Would I be able to get them to concentrate? Would they absorb any of what was being presented? Would I run screaming at the end of the day out the door with my hair on fire as soon as my husband walked in the door? Am I providing them with the right lessons? None of that happened, we had good days and we had bad days. After experiencing Kindergarten and having success, I see that we are more of “unschoolers” than I thought. Our unschooling is a way of providing our children with curriculum, but still emphasizing on life experiences, rather than what’s in the text book. After all when stuck in a deserted mountain range, your kid is not about to pull out a “How To Survive Being Lost in a Mountain” book, their going to remember back to life experiences and draw on those tactics for survival.

Unschooling a child teaches them to be as effective as possible and provides them with critical thinking skills, feeding natural curiosity, building self-esteem, being open to learning, and many other attributes which are crucial to development. The idea is to become educated about what the child is passionate about, not just sit and “do school”. We have materials which are provided to us, and we loosely follow those materials – but then there are always those questions – as in when we began to learn about the human body including skeleton lay out, bones, blood, skin, muscle etc… this prompted one of the twins to ask – “how are dogs made? How do dogs work like humans?” Did I squelch this and say it’s not part of what we were learning today? No I used this as fuel for learning and said “let’s table this and work on it next.” We did and there was a greater excitement to start school the next day. Since that day our child’s favorite subject is Science and as of the last six months she’s determined to be a Vet when she grows up. Will that change? Probably a hundred times before she graduates. Had I ignored her request to veer out in a different direction with the lesson who knows what spark I might have put out? My motto to them has always been question everything; ask every question you want – there are never too many questions. (Believe me they’ve tested me on this theory!)

Developing critical thinking in a child is difficult because many studies show that portion of the brain is not fully developed until after college begins. Critical thinking is the process of being able to reflect on lessons or actions and then take those and build upon or alter them to better suite your current situation. It reminds me of what my college professor said once about always evaluating the evidence provided and be willing to question everything; even yourself, your historical assumptions and your own expectations and evaluations of the outcome. “Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.” (Bob Bhaerman) Critical thinking is difficult for many adults; and I see now having had this as a core part of my degree – that often this is because it was not encourged and developed upon during childhood. Our children’s quality of life, which is most important to every parent, depends on nurturing ciritcal thinking and real life experiences.

I’m not saying to answer your child’s every whimsical fantasy, but I am saying be reasonable and nurture curiosity, encourage questions and move beyond what is given to follow your child’s lead. This encouragement leads them out into the world with the openness to ask questions and seek answers just like George Washington, Joan of Arc, William Blake and Clara Barton (Teri Ann Berg Olsen). As I read in an article once: “Learning is learning whether or not it’s planned or recorded or officially on the menu. Calories are calories whether or not the eating is planned or recorded or officially on the menu.” (Pam Sorooshian)

Teri Ann Berg Olsen,

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