Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why the "-ish"?

So, "unschool-ish homeschooling" - why sit on the fence like that? Why not just go ahead and unschool?

Unschooling, just in case anyone isn't clear on the distinction, means that the child's education is completely driven by her own interests, questions, and passions. If your child happens to want to divide her time pretty equally among typical academic pursuits, then unschooling will look a lot like ordinary homeschooling. If your child wants to spend all his waking hours observing beetles in the garden, for example, then it will look very different! In either case, though, the unschooling mom's job is to pay close attention to what the child is interested in, and support those interests as best she can.

The theory behind unschooling is that kids will learn everything they need to know, in the sequence which is most meaningful for them, if they just follow their passions. And that there is very little point in making kids study things which they aren't interested in, because even if they obediently comply and learn the material, it won't stick in their heads long-term anyway.

I buy this logic. I really do. It's certainly been true when I look at the things I've learned in schools and out of them, and I can see the enormous amount that my kids are learning without direct guidance and instruction from me. The inspiring blogs over there on the right offer example after example of blissful and brilliant children achieving astounding things, all of their own accord.


I do still have two small areas where I require my daughters to follow my agenda, rather than leaving it up to them.

One is learning to read and write Arabic. For this one, I'm clear and confident (in my own mind) about why I'm teaching it traditionally: it's important to both me and my husband that they be able to do it, and since we're not living in an Arabic-speaking country, they're not going to pick it up by themselves. I do completely believe that kids will learn to read by themselves when they're ready - my oldest was reading chapter books when she was three, and my middle child is starting to read now, aged five, without my ever having given either of them a reading lesson - but in Arabic, they're just not exposed to it enough. Arabic-language picture books are rare, expensive, and often have appalling plots. My kids aren't seeing street signs, commercials, subtitles, or grocery lists all around them, the way they would if we were living in the Middle East. So, we do ten minutes of Arabic reading lessons, maybe three times a week.

The other area where we do formal schoolwork is math. Or at least, not even Math - that wide and glorious field in which the beauty of patterns is explored in all kinds of intellectual ways - but the plain, store-brand math which has been drilled into schoolchildren for generations. Arithmetic.

I try to choose appealing curricula, and we only spend maybe 40 minutes per week on it with my 2nd-grader; but still, I require it, even though that's not how my daughter would choose to spend those 40 minutes herself. She doesn't hate it, and she can do it fine, but she's just not all that interested.

So why do I make her? Because ... I don't know. Part of it is that I want her to be confident in her ability to ability to manipulate numbers, so that tasks and fields involving numbers never seem intimidating or unfamiliar to her. But part of it is definitely something to do with my awareness of what people would think, if they met a sixth-grader who couldn't add and subtract, or a high-schooler who struggled with multiplication or had never covered fractions.

I think maybe it's because a student's math skills are so often assumed, in our culture, to be a good indicator of how smart or well-educated she is? I don't want my kids to have to overcome assumptions that they are dumb or ignorant, when it can so easily be prevented by a few minutes a week of arithmetic practice. And honestly, I know it's about me, too. Even close family and friends would think I wasn't being responsible about my children's education if they couldn't do arithmetic more-or-less on schedule, and I'd really like them to be enthusiastic about our homeschooling, rather than have to defend it continually against their (very well-intentioned) worries.

So for now, what we have is unschooling, plus thirty minutes a week of Arabic, and a little more than that of RightStart math. But it's the unschooling that's the interesting part. That's what I'm planning to talk about from now on :)

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