unschooling: in reply

unschoolinglargeFirst of all, answer me this: what kind of UNSCHOOLER promises to blog every day for 31 whole days? Goodness. This structure and accountability might be the death of me.

Just kidding. Not really. Just worn out tonight from a rambunctious group of kiddos at tutoring and a loooooong phone conversation with an international airline that ended without us having quite bought tickets (almost, but not quite).

I need to start answering some more of your fabulous questions before I get overwhelmed by the number of them.

Today’s questions are all from Ann on yesterday’s post about unschooling & the laws of the land.

Ann: From what I’ve heard about unschooling (and I’ll admit it’s not much) I envisioned no textbooks. I pictured it being something like the child being curious about something and then goes online or to the library to learn more about it.  

Me: Yep. You’ve got it. No textbooks here. Curiosity –> Google/library.

Ann: The child is still learning, but it’s hard to plan in advance what he or she is going to be curious about which is why I had questions about submitting your curriculum plan for the year. First, can you correct any flaws in this idea of unschooling that I have?

Me: No flaws. You nailed it.

Ann: If you are relying on the student’s curiosity to determine what will be studied, how do you plan your curriculum? Can you give an example of what you would write on your brief outline you submit to the school district? (…asking in case I end doing the unschool route with my kids. I love the idea, but I’m so confused about how this unstructuredness works when you still have to submit a plan. How do you plan something unstructured?)

Me: Good question. This is what the “law” says (from yesterday’s post): Submit brief outline of the curriculum you plan to use (a list of textbooks, correspondence courses, commercial curricula, OR other basic teaching materials you plan to use).

I took the word “or” to mean what it means. OR. And it said nothing about writing out a plan. Just what basic teaching materials I planned to use.

I listed things like: iPods, laptops, the internet, pens & journals, novels from the library, language-learning CDs/DVDs, science and history documentaries, non-fiction books from the library, blogs, web design/photography training from Dad, writing “workshops” with Mom, field trips to zoos, museums, foreign countries… (I searched for my actual “Letter of Intent to Homeschool” so I could copy/paste it here, but I couldn’t find it.)

Ann: If you are using a predetermined curriculum, how does that mesh with the student-led learning?

Me: No predetermined curriculum.

Ann: What if they’re not interested in it (either as a part or a whole)?

Me: I rarely make my kids learn things they’re not interested in (this is one of the biggest beefs people have with me–how will your children ever be disciplined if they don’t learn things they don’t want to learn?). However, I do make them do things they don’t want to do. Dishes, laundry, putting their stuff away, making dinner, taking out the trash, getting the mail…

Ann: What if they are curious about other things halfway through the year? Do you have to continue with what was on the original plan you gave to the district? …or can you change things throughout the year?

Me: I didn’t give much of an original plan. I just listed the things we’d use to help us learn. And, yes, I believe you can change things. They check in with me exactly twice a year. At the beginning and at the end. What are they going to do if, at the end of the year, I didn’t do things exactly like I said I would? Tell me to repeat the year? Again, they didn’t ask for a plan; they asked for a list of curriculum OR basic teaching materials.

Ann: Lastly, regarding “Promise to provide at least 900 hours of instruction in these subjects: language, reading, writing, spelling, geography, history, government, math science, health, physical education, fine arts (including music), and first aid, safety, and fire prevention.” is the requirement a cumulative 900 hours or do you have to have a balance between subjects? If my child was really into history could we spend 800 hours on history and 100 hours on everything else (assuming my child could learn everything to pass whatever assessment was being done on those subjects)?

Me: It’s cumulative. As far as I know anyway. It doesn’t say anywhere that it has to be 100 hours of this and 75 of that and 120 of this and 110 of that, etc. 800 hours of history? Why not?

In my opinion, 900 hours is puny. That’s 180 school days x 5 hours. My girls use their brains and learn things and work on projects and what have you for about 10-12 hours a day 365 days a week. 😉

Thanks again, Ann. Great questions!

Question for you:

I have some feelings about how long kids have to sit still in school and listen to someone talk. And also about homework. Will blog about them soon.

Before I do, do you have any thoughts/questions about either topic?

13 thoughts on “unschooling: in reply

  1. Melissa D

    My first comment is that I am really enjoying your blog this month. It has been really interesting to learn about unschooling. My kids are in third grade and first grade and go to public school. As for homework, I don’t feel it has been too much this year. My daughter (1st grade) usually has a (pretty simple) book to read and one page of math homework that reinforces what they did in school and that is about it. My son (3rd grade) typically has a page of math homework, to read 20 minutes a night, and to review math facts. Sometimes there are spelling words to review also. It isn’t that it takes a lot of time to do just several things to make sure you get done every night. My son doesn’t want to do the math homework, read, and review facts all at one time. I agree with one of the above comments about wishing that there was more time allotted in the school days for movement so the kids are not sitting quite as much.

  2. Jen H.

    I think it’s interesting that the unschool/homeschool requirements are “900 hours … That’s 180 school days x 5 hours” when kids in “real” school do WAY more than that when you add up their hours in school plus their homework. Seems like a good case for proving that most of what they learn in “real” school isn’t necessary.

  3. James

    I love the idea of what you are doing. However I, like others, struggle with not forcing your children to expand their education in areas in which they are not interested. Just because a child doesn’t like history doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely valuable to know the stories and lessons from world history and our own country. Even if a child doesn’t like to write, being able to express oneself well in written form is an invaluable skill. I am shocked by how many people I run into who can’t do fairly basic math, like finding a simple variable, or finding the length of the side of a right triangle. Eagerness and curiosity are great, but in education I think they need to be tempered with other not-so-exciting skills and knowledge.

    1. Christy

      The problem (in my own life) with having to learn things that I don’t find interesting is that I learn the information just to pass a test or finish an assignment but completely forget it quickly after that. When I am fascinated by a subject, I devour all the material I can about it and never forget what I’ve learned, often passing on that information to others as well.

  4. Liesel

    How do you teach a child to read? In my (limited) experience, it takes lots of practice over a period of time to become a comfortable reader. Including regular instruction on the rules of phonics at least until that info is ingrained. That kind of system doesn’t seem to mesh with unschooling. I’m a super laid-back homeschool mom of young children, but that is one thing that I’ve seen huge difference on when I am lackadaisical about it, vs. practicing daily. That’s my question. And I’m loving this series! I only know a small number of people who unschool and I’ve had so many questions about it!

  5. Ann

    Thank you so much! That cleared things up considerably 🙂 The more I learn about unschooling the more I drawn to it. Can you clarify just a little more? What typically happens when a student is curious about something? Google it, read the answer, and that’s the end? Are there any grades? Or is there any writing about what was just learned? It seems to me that we remember the things we’re curious about and no writing assignment would be required….but I’m so entrenched in the structure of school that I keep trying to fit unschooling into this structured mold instead of being able to fully picture how much freedom it gives.

    My biggest problem with traditional school is the wasted time. My mom had talked of homeschooling us but it was only in the “that’s a nice idea” stage for years. Then I got really sick and missed a month of school. It took me 1 day at home to make up all the work I missed during that month. (Not the “busy work” only the “real” work.) I went to a great school and loved my teacher. Not wanting to bash them at all, but we couldn’t get over how much time was wasted in the classroom to allow me to do an entire month’s worth of work in a single day. Between that and homeschooling/unschooling allowing you to cater to learning styles and interests, the “normal” school setting has little appeal for me. I was shocked when I saw how much homework is given to kids these days. There have been several times when I ask the kids I work with if they have any fun plans for the week and they look at me with weary eyes and sigh “I just want to play.” I know some kids dilly-dally with their homework and make it last longer than it should, but too many of the kids I know don’t have time for anything besides homework. They are so bogged down (which certainly doesn’t help give them a desire to learn) and don’t have time just to be kids. It’s sad.

  6. Joy

    I still want a set of Encyclopedia when we have kids. 🙂 I love Google all the other modern educational choices, but I remember as a kid looking something up in the encyclopedia and getting drawn into multiple topics. This is why I changed the topic of one of my end of year reports three times.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      I had encyclopedias for the loooongest time. Move after move, Gabe would haul them up flights of apartment stairs. My grandma sold World Book, and I have beautiful memories of them. HOWEVER. You do realize that they become obsolete soooooooo quickly, right? xoxoxo

  7. Melissa

    There is too much sitting, for sure. Especially for little kids, who are still designed to need a lot of movement. School doesn’t meet this movement need, I believe.

    And there’s too much homework. Actually, my problem with homework is less the amount and more the kinds. There are two kinds of homework – the meaningful kind and the busy work kind. I have no issues with the meaningful kind, but I believe unfortunately most homework falls into the busywork kind. Am I making sense? So much homework I think is just assigned for the sake of having homework assigned but it’s the projects that make you think and grow and explore that really teach you something.

  8. Henk

    Hej Maria,

    I am from the Netherlands. Homeschooling here is only allowed if the child is has some severe degree of mental of physical disabilities or you have gotten exemption of the goverment on religious reasons.

    As for you questions:
    It depends on the age of the child and how much he/she can take. Our kids are going to an elementary school which give 15-20 min standard instruction after which they start to work on their assignment. Some kids do not even need those instructions. They just listen to what the purpose is of the assignment and start working on their own. For some kids the instruction is not enough and get more guidance.

    As for homework I do not really know. This year our kids get it for the first time (topography). And they like it a lot. May be because they can do it on the computer. 🙂

    One question: Probably you have mentioned it before, but I could not find it. Why did you decided to homeschool you children? The data set? Religious reasons? ….?

    And my compliments for you blog. I always enjoy reading it!

  9. Sharon

    My kids are not in school yet (well, one is in preschool, but the only homework there so far is show and tell every Wednesday). So, I don’t have experience with the amount of homework that is given these days. I have heard that it’s a bit extreme, if you will. They spend all day in school, come home and have to do more school related work. No time for relaxing with the family or getting adequate sleep. So interested to hear what you are going to say, Marla!

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