I’ve always shied away from using any terminology to label the kind of home educators we are. Home educators, especially on the net, are very vocal and protective of the varying labels.
We have always simply called ourselves ‘home educators’ because it left most room for the kind of learning we did with no-body but ourselves to judge it. On the other hand, it makes it sound like we are actually ‘at home’, which for large chunks of the week, we’re not!
We have experimented with elements of a Steiner curriculum and group learning projects, but in our hearts we identified more closely with unschooling, we were about 95% there in our understanding.
Recently though, something big clicked in my brain. Maybe the mind-shift happened because my daughter tried school and everyday she downloaded her experience to me. It certainly pushed me to 100%, but I had also begun seriously thinking about the idea of consent in education.
I began to reflect on my experiences as a teacher, the aspects of the schooling system I didn’t feel comfortable with and the many children I avocated for in my role as SEN co-ordinator.
Whilst googling the idea of educational consent and children’s rights, I came across Sophie Christophy’s blog and her posts about Consent based Education. Finally I felt a deep connection to a label! Consent based education is actually the key principle of unschooling; it’s respectfully educating and on a wider note, respectfully living and parenting.
Respectfully educating, yes, that is what I strive towards.
I don’t think it means it must always be child-led either. It is not about sitting around, waiting for your child to come up with questions or great ideas about what they want to learn and do, it takes way more involvement than that. On the other hand, I recognise that I have been guilty at times of making too many suggestions and overwhelming everyone. I guess I get excited about the possibilities of life! The ideal I strive for is far more like an intricate dance between parent and child, where you cannot tell who is leading and who is being led because neither is, or perhaps both are!
Quite simply, for us, unschooling is a deep connection with each other, a partnership born out of spending quality time together living our lives. From this, interests arise and can be explored and questions are asked and investigated. When at home, we kind of just hang out together and stuff just evolves.
This week I really tried to break it down, this daily ‘what we do’ and it includes all of this:
- Books: We usually start and end everyday with reading, either together or on our own. We swap our library books most weeks. L and T choose their own books but I often add a few to the pile that I think they will enjoy based on a current interest or conversation. The books are a collection of both fiction and non-fiction. We keep our library books in a basket downstairs for easy access and so they do not get mixed up with our own books and incur huge fines!
- Chatting: we spend a lot of time chatting as a family, so much natural learning opportunities come from our chats. Take this week as an example; one of us mentioned that a watermelon was a vegetable, not a fruit, according to one of the weird fact books from the library. This led on to T wanting to know what the differences between fruits and vegetables were. Somehow this led on to nuts (which are fruits), and lastly the problem of peanuts which are legumes, which we assume is a vegetable, right? It was a bloody confusing conversation and I’m not sure the original watermelon question was completely solved……but I’m sure they learnt something, even if it was just that Mum is clueless about fruit and vegetables, she isn’t even sure what a legume is, she had to google it, DUH!
- Random resources and suggestions: Someone will have an awesome idea of something to do or somewhere to go, which might be L or T or me. I don’t always wait for the kids to come up with the ideas, sometimes I make suggestions, but mine aren’t that random really, I know my children pretty well by now. We then try out the awesome idea because it’s fun and we want to! Yesterday the awesome idea came from L and was a card game which no-one knows the name of but which we named ‘Target’. It involved picking up groups of cards, figuring out the values using multiplication, then adding it to your total score. Closest to 100 wins. This led on to games of ‘Go Fish’, ‘Top Trumps’ and ‘Mancala’.
- Pinterest boards/real-life ‘project’ boards/ideas box: Both L and T have a folder on my pinterest board which they add ideas of things they’d like to make, do, learn about etc. They also have a project board on the wall, where they stick their real-life pins of inspiring pictures, ideas, works in progress and so forth. L has recently made an ‘idea’s box’ and asked us to post suggestions to be emptied every Monday morning and then decide together which ones to do during the week ahead.
- Structured Learning: Most unschooled kids go to some structured classes in something they love to do. Currently L has dance, horse-riding and multi-sports and T has tennis and multi-sports. Unschooling is not about never doing structured classes, it’s about choice and freedom. Sometimes my kids also love me to help them with ideas and ways to structure their academic learning too. At times that has meant setting up a group to work on a specific skill or subject area. Occasionally that will require me finding a suitable adult to share a skill, but sometimes that adult is me! For example, L has asked me to help her with her writing, for now we are doing that in 2 ways: working with her and her friend on creative writing and also supporting her to plan, write and edit her own stories. Just today T told me he wants to ‘do more science because he loves it’. We discussed ways he would like that to happen. He wants to do ‘fun’ experiments and so we sat and looked through our resources together to select ideas he would like to try and then we planned to do one straight away because wherever possible I try to make the learning they have asked for happen before life takes over again and we all forget our goals. I have learnt that capturing the moment in this way helps my children to feel supported.
- Home Ed Groups: We have a few regular groups we attend so that L and T see their friends often. Home ed groups have been trial and error for us, and we are picky about the ones we invest our time in these days. The group has to fit with our ethos and values.
- Experiences: I love this part:) The trips, the hands-on activities, the chunks of real-life action. T picks up leaflets from everywhere we go with ideas of places or museums he wants to visit. He pins them on his ‘project board’ as a reminder or carries them around for days. Sometimes L wants to come too and we do it together or occasionally she would rather not and so we organise it at a weekend when she can stay at home.
- Play: Play has always been a huge part of our week. It takes many forms: playing with the pets, with toys (a favoured pastime currently is playing with their shared doll collection, they do this sometimes for hours at a time), shooting hoops at the park, loads of board games and playing with friends both home ed and local. Playing on their tablets or gaming on the PC.
- Modelling a life: I try to be conscious of how I spend my time, and make room for things which are important to me. I want my children to see me do more than washing dishes and taxi’ing them around. I want to find my passions and I want to keep learning too! I try not to have a huge agenda for my children’s learning and lives, but if I want to encourage any particular habit (such as keeping their space tidy), I start with myself. Children are big imitators, they will learn from us whether we are aware of it or not. With this in mind, I have a ‘project’ board too. It keeps my own personal goals in mind and I share with my children my plans to achieve them. They see me make mistakes, learn new things, take risks and work hard to achieve what I set out to do. Most of the time they join in!
- Nature: Time outside has always been important to us as a family. We try to make room for this everyday, whether it’s a simple dog walk or a big adventure.
Here’s a list of things we did on a day at home this week to show how the above kind of melts together into a day of learning and life: discussed the news; discussed how media can influence you; drew our yearly self-portraits (which also involved a lot of measuring of faces and eyes, which led on to measuring bottom widths, I have the biggest bum in the family apparently); played with dolls; read from the new science encyclopedia; read fiction; cooked lunch together (L learnt how to make a cheese sauce); went swimming; played with friends and learnt to roller-blade.
Some of those things were planned (using L’s idea box), such as the swimming and the self-portraits, everything else was spontaneous.
Is our life perfect? No.
Does it challenge my parenting skills? Yes, often.
Have I got this unschooling malarkey down to a fine art? Nope.
Do my kids like being unschooled? Definitely.
Do I love it? Yes!
I can honestly, hand on heart say I never wish my kids went to school. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes I’d love a little more time to myself, sometimes I’d quite like to earn a bit of money and sometimes I dream of having less responsibilities and running away with the circus (true)
…………………………. but only if my kids can come too!