Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Today was quite eventful if you looked closely! On the surface it didn't really appear that much was happening and someone spending the day with us would have assumed we were taking "Spring Break." (Which is such a funny concept when you unschool because learning is life and you can't take a break from that, lol)

Jace had an extremely productive day:
This morning he was already on the computer when I got out of bed; he's an early riser and I am not so he occupies himself for about half an hour or so. I noticed he was on Webkinz (again) but he had opted to do the "quizzies"- trivia games which help them earn Kinzcash. The quizzies have some random trivia and wouldn't really be considered a productive use of time by most folks because the facts are so, well, trivial. But then, oh how my heart soared to see this site, my little guy had this quiz business all figured out. He had two windows open and when he didn't know the answer to a question he would google it in the other window. He had figured out that navigating away from the page would end the quiz but had found a way around that. He used logic and reasoning to overcome an obstacle that was preventing him from achieving a goal which he found important (acquiring Kinzcash) and in the process had discovered a very useful skill that will serve him well for a lifetime... if you don't know the answer, know where to find the answer.
He is very into a board game right now called "Totally Gross" which has science trivia and asked to play that after breakfast so we did; there were some funny and interesting tidbits that led to some greater discussion. The best part is that to win the game a mini science experiment is completed with common household items. Today's game winning (Jace's win, not mine) experiment used a cup of water, pepper, and a drop of dish soap to demonstrate surface tension. It was very cool, very easy, and very fun.
The rest of the day was spent "playing" his guitar, swinging, hanging out with Grandpa (which varies day to day but can have them doing anything from building in the shed to playing chess), watching some interesting TV, listening to me read from our shared book, and communicating with his e-pen pals from various parts of the world. The only thing I had to do with any of this was asking for some quiet time without any screens for a while.
The kids have to be in bed at a particular time but they do not have to go to sleep, they can read, draw, etc. as long as it is quiet and can be done laying down and resting. Jace was looking at a toy catalog. About half an hour after he went to bed he came out of his room to show me his wish list. It included a price list with the total price of all of the items on the list and, here's the kicker, a timeline for his ability to purchase these items based on his allowance and money that he predicts he will receive for gifts. Out of curiosity I checked the timeline and it was perfect; those were pretty great math skills for a 10 year old but it seemed fun because it was in a context which was important to him.

Kya had a great day as well:
In the morning she watched some educational TV which included Dora the Explorer. It is a little young for her by some standards but she is interested in learning a foreign language and likes learning hearing the Spanish. She also watched a musical with the closed captioning on so she could learn the words to the songs that she couldn't quite decipher. She sang those songs all day(and got some reading practice to boot because you can't help but read along with closed captioning).
She also spent some time outside, listened to me read, and hung out with Grandpa. Incidentally grandpa informed me that at lunch time he has started having the kids read the package directions aloud to him as a way to help. I think he was trying to redeem himself for feeding them so many processed foods. ;)
In the afternoon she also looked at a toy catalog and used some great rounding skills to mentally figure out how much all of the things she wanted cost. (hmmm... I'm seeing a pattern here, perhaps its time to "lose" those catalogs for a while, lol.)
She likes to read at bedtime and settled in with a great stack of picture books and a chapter book to top it all off. She is becoming such a great reader but more importantly she is developing a great love for reading.

In black and white I can see how much the kids learned today and I didn't even write all of the interesting and insightful conversations we had. At the time it felt very relaxing, almost to the point of feeling badly that we weren't being productive. It was so easy and natural yet now I can see that so much learning took place. I guess as they say, you learn something new everyday. ;)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My new role

When I was teaching public school my role as educator was very clearly defined. There was a curriculum that must be followed, limited resources with which to teach that curriculum, we were confined to the classroom for the most part and it was important that we didn't disturb the other classes. I tried to be creative and come up with activities that would be fun and challenging for the kids but there was very little freedom. Then we started homeschooling; I could do WHATEVER I wanted. ;)

In the beginning it was difficult for me to take off my teacher hat so we all spent some time deschooling- something that I realized we really needed when Jace was asking permission to use the bathroom in his own home. So, after a period of deschooling we settled into some relaxed, predominantly child-led, homeschooling. My role was still to be the teacher, the keeper of the knowledge so to speak. I would discuss with the kids what they wanted to learn then I would find resources to bring that information to them. I bookmarked websites, organized activities, checked books out from the library, and planned field trips. This new way was definately an improvement but it still somehow felt lacking. Then I read about unschooling; the KIDS could do whatever THEY wanted!

Now I am not the keeper of knowledge, I view myself more as a facilitator than a teacher. I no longer ask the kids what they want to learn, they are always learning. My responsibility is to ensure a stimulating environment. I still do some of the same things but in new ways. For example I take the kids to the library and make suggestions for books related to things in which they've expressed an interest but the choosing of books is entirely up to the kids. I still like to go to interesting places and have new experiences with the kids but now those trips aren't necessarily part of a "lesson plan." If the kids ask to visit a place related to an interest we do that of course but other times the trip itself will spark the interest. We have list of places we think are interesting and they are sorted by distance from our house; if we wake up and think it would be a good day for an outing we have a list at our fingertips from which to choose. I make suggestions but I have taken a big step back and follow the kids lead. I feel like we are all learning so much.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Small Successes

The small successes are really what helps me trust my instincts. As I said before we've been leaning into unschooling for a while so I've really learned to be observant when my kids make progress or show interest in something. You'd think I would be used to the small successes by now but I'm always happily surprised that this REALLY works for us.

My methods of complying with state regulations is to record the activities the kids are choosing and to tally those at the end of each month. (You'd be shocked by how much they do, all without coercion from me.) Kya had a friend sleep over last night so I didn't think there would be much to observe; I figured it would be lots of Barbies, fresh air, and giggled late into the night. I did count some extra-curricular time for art and music as this went along with the games the girls were playing but wasn't really counting on her choosing anything that would count toward core subject time while she had a friend over. When we got home from playgroup I was working on a project at the kitchen table. Kya came and sat next to me with a spelling word search book that she enjoys. I like it because it not only does it encourage spelling skills (which isn't a strength for her) but the lists also have a common theme so it gives us a chance to discuss categories and grouping. Normally she likes for she and I do the pages together so I was surprised to see one of the pages finished that I hadn't helped her with. I asked her if she'd done that on her own and she replied, "No, Leslie helped me with it." So, while she had a friend over she CHOSE to do a workbook page. It is not a very unschooling attitude to be so pleased about this but I am. That's why I don't think of myself as a radical unschooler; I will always be happy when my kids choose, all on their own, to make learning a part of their everyday lives. When a workbook is just as much fun as a Barbie doll, that makes me smile.

Jace also had some success today. He decided to go to playgroup, which he hasn't wanted to do lately and we haven't been forcing him. He brought his Nintendo DS and at first he stayed in the car and played his game. I really wanted him to play with the other kids but I decided to just wait and see how it went. After about half an hour he popped out of the car, smiling and happy. He waved to me on his way by to go play with the other kids. When he was ready to go we talked to Kya and she agreed that she was also ready so we left. I probably wasn't quite ready because I really enjoy the mom time, plus he'd spent all that time in the car and I wanted him to play some more. However, I want him to come back to playgroup on his own. In order for that to happen he needs to feel like it is safe to go to playgroup because he won't be forced to play when he doesn't feel like it or to stay when he's ready to go. We tried that already and it lead to frustration for both of us; we tried something new today and we both had a good time.

All in all, a really good day. :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A New Direction

We have been leaning into homeschooling this year. I have difficulty with big changes but if I do them in baby steps I'm fine, so, we leaned. It was last March when we first decided to homeschool and although we had to finish the school year due to contractual obligations we really started the day the decision was made. We no longer cared about grades and tests and things we knew didn't matter. We were just trying to finish the year with as little stress as possible.

We started off thinking Kya would stay in school; Jace was having difficulties and this seemed to be the best solution but Kya didn't "need" to homeschool so she would continue attending public school. It didn't take long for me to get over that misguided notion. We quickly realized that she was getting up early, coming home tired and still had tons of homework and wasn't really learning anything that we felt was valuable. She was also missing out on opportunities to go places and we were always rushing to leave those places so we'd be home before the bus. So in November we decided to pull her out of school too.

This was a bigger adjustment than I'd first anticipated. I was having such an easy time with Jace because he just naturally wants to learn. Kya naturally wants to play. I didn't want her to "fall behind" so I started doing some very structured things. I wanted to reassure myself that we were on the right track. Over the course of several months we tried several approaches which included cheklists, schedules, and "learning baskets." None of it felt quite right and it certainly didn't feel natural. We would stick to it for a while and then it would start slowly phasing out.

I've come to understand that the reason I couldn't stick to it was because deep down I wasn't really comfortable with any of it. We are unschoolers. Maybe not dyed-in-the-wool radical unschoolers but unschoolers none the less. I believe and trust in my children's ability to learn through their experiences and interests. I believe in it to my very core. Of course I still have inevitable moments of panic, especially about math, but I'm coming to terms with those things.

I do still like to be able to look back and reflect upon things so I can reassure myself that they are learning and growing (like I said, I'm not quite a radical unschooler). So, I've decided to keep this blog as a way for me to be able to do just that. This isn't a blog about what types of "school" things they are doing because I won't be requiring that from them. This is a blog about our life experiences and how those experiences create opportunities for them to naturally learn. So, here goes!