Thursday, June 13, 2013


Science experiment about density

Last weekend, the girls put their heads together and presented me with a proposition: "can we go to school?" Suspicious and not altogether out of it at that particular moment, I asked some questions before responding: "why?" and then, "when?" Turns out they want "to go to school" because they want the summer off from academic work, like school kids. Unable to commit to a WHOLE summer off but eyeing the pile of work I seem to not quite get to, I quickly agreed to at least a few weeks. 

The very next morning, they bounded out of bed, free! (Said tongue-in-cheek, as it isn't as if they have such a highly regulated schedule anyway.) The first thing they requested was to listen to their rock and roll math music and as I sat in the corner grading papers for my adult students, listening to shouts of "and eight times eight is sixty four!" I smiled to myself. They then moved on to board games - money, synonyms and metaphors, herb awareness. Then science experiments with Dad's help (a density experiment shown above). Life is rich.

 I was especially cognizant of the richness of their learning because I had recently read a series of anti-unschooling articles that an unschooling friend had shared. Their basic premise was that kids, given no direction at all, will choose to do nothing; thus, unschooling ill-prepares kids for learning or life. Even while recognizing the articles as poorly researched and even when reflecting on brilliant families we know for whom unschooling creates rich learning experiences, I felt a pang of doubt for a moment. Not that we consider ourselves unschoolers, but whenever you dodge the norm there are moments of panic and I surely relate more to unschooling than to the brick-and-mortar traditional model that the articles touted as more ideal. Seeing the choice of activities our daughters embraced when free to do anything they wished reminded me of some observations I made last week when I saw these minds so actively at work. 

In our San Francisco history activities, we moms have introduced the kids to past events through field trips that are supplemented with reading, science experiments, and some games. This week the kids were especially energetic, running through the park en route to the historic site, identifying birds on the beach and then running to play amongst them, making up games on historic boats, and more. If I had insisted upon a more traditional approach, i.e. reading each information sign as they quietly walked with me, I doubt that they would remember the facts or the bigger picture we were studying as much as they will remember the historic message they absorbed through this self-instigated roll playing. Moreover, their energy translated into practice with and learning about far more important skills than mere historic context; I watched as they self-organized, worked through conflict, created new and complicated games, and shared leadership. It was marvelous to see their minds at work in this way, together innovating, creating, and sharing through energetic and rich play. 

A life full of learning is rich indeed. Those who would posit that unschooling translates to stagnation of learning clearly haven't spent much time with children who have tasted the freedom that comes with such an environment. The lack of imagination from the authors of those articles about approaches that differ from their own experience is itself revealing and a good reminder to remain ever open to new ways of doing things.
Playing physics games together

Teaching Daddy to play
Finding them togeher at the library,
after I'd snuck off to look for resources
in the adult section.  Love their heads together!
A friend noticed that many kids don't know how
to hit a nail with a hammer.  One park day
and that was no longer a problem!  This occupied G and friend
for hours.


Marisa said...

Hi Therese,
What an amazing site! I particularly loved this post, because it shows how your homeschooling really offers the girls the best of both worlds. Even with their newfound "independence" from school, they're choosing to learn. I love it! You know you've succeeded when this happens. ;-) Enjoy your summer break!

Charles, Therese, and Family said...

Thanks, Marisa! Love your blog, too!