Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unschooling

A couple of months ago I wrote about a year-long road trip Robin Page (my wife), our 10-year-old son and I are planning. In response, I.N.K. readers gave me some good leads on homeschooling resources and provided some philosophical guidance.

Lately, as I continue my homeschooling research, I've been coming across a lot of references to 'unschooling'. This is an informal movement (with a patron saint: John Holt) that has been around for years, but I encountered it only recently. Unschooling appears to range from what we might think of as typical homeschooling (if there is such a thing) to a free-form experience-life-as-it-happens approach, in which children explore whatever they happen to find interesting. In the latter case, it's up to the parents to make sure that a child is exposed to lots of different potentially engaging situations.

To some extent, unschooling is simply a rebranding of homeschooling, which has found itself increasingly identified with a fundamentalist Christian movement that has mostly to do with limiting children's contact with ideas and personalities that didn't fit comfortably into that particular worldview.

Over the past few months I've been reading homeschooling guidebooks, reviews of homeschooling curricula, and looking at a lot of downloadable math and language arts worksheets. I was beginning to think that — even with a fairly unstructured approach — teaching the sixth grade in a VW camper had the potential to make everyone miserable. Robin and I began to shift our concept of homeschooling more and more toward an experiential, Jamie-directed model. Discovering the unschooling movement (which is more about how one doesn't teach a child than it is a specific educational recipe) has reinforced that inclination.

What, the reader may ask (with some justification), does all this have to do with Interesting Nonfiction for Kids? There is a connection, I feel certain. One of the intersections involves a book I've been spending some time with lately. I've referred to it previously in this space: Writing to Learn, by William Zinsser. The premise of this book is that one of the the best ways to learn about any subject is to write about it. Science, history, even math: the act of crafting clear, concise prose teaches both medium and message. Now we just have to figure out how to convince our 6th grader that in composing elegant mathematical word problems he is choosing to pursue his own interests. I have to admit there is a bit of a contradiction here, our focus on self-directed learning while editing Jamie's description of campground flora and fauna. I like to think of it as creative tension.

Thankfully, this post is relevant with the simple change of a preposition: Interesting Nonfiction by Kids.

3 comments:

Teacherninja said...

Can't wait to hear how it goes! Do keep us posted. I would also recommend The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith, which is not about homeschooling but about the way we learn and how we mostly go about it wrong in the schools. And I think the novelist David Guterson had a good book about homeschooling a few years back that might be worth checking out.

JoVE said...

We all struggle with that same tension. I have also found that as you do it, you find the right balance. If people are crying, stop doing whatever instigated the crying. That's about the only rule you need. (By people, I mean you, Robin OR Jamie.)

Momma Snail said...

Thanks for this very informative post. I have to check out this book! I haven't read it yet.