unschooling: more answers

unschoolinglargeFrom 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.

Me: Here’s where I admit to something that isn’t a secret but new(ish) readers might not know. I didn’t unschool our girls from the cradle. Livi went to public school through 5th grade. Ava went through 3rd grade. And Nina hung out at 1/2 day kindergarten before she came home for (un)school.

I have three children who can read. I taught school for 3 years and have a college degree in elementary education. And guess what?

I have never taught a child to read. 

Livi learned in kindergarten. Ava learned in first grade. And Nina learned when she was four. Her sisters taught her. And they taught her pretty well. She finished the entire Harry Potter series soon after her 8th birthday.

I learned how to read when I was four too. By watching Sesame Street.

So, I think it can absolutely be done “unschooling-ly” but I didn’t do it that way (except for Nina–her sisters just read books with her until she could read them herself).

From Sarah (a dear friend and public school teacher): I await the blog post explaining why public school is structured as it is. Why teachers stand and talk of things that my child can google in two seconds. With all this info at our fingertips, what’s the role of the teacher? 😉

Me: Oh, this one is gonna need a whole blog post. Or perhaps an e-book. 😉

From Candice: I feel like learning for the sake of learning is valuable even if certain parts don’t directly relate to what we do in the future, it helps our brains grow. There are studies done on brain development, and school aged children are in a critical window for soaking everything up, and then giving them the ability to learn more as an adult if they learned more as a kid. What I am trying to say is learning is a discipline that paves the way for success in other disciplines regardless of if the same exact knowledge is what is being used.

Me: I agree. Your brain grows when you learn things, even if they’re things that don’t relate to real life or what you want to do with your future. But your brain also grows when you learn things you want to learn, things you’re passionate about, things you plan to use for a long, long time. And, if I have the choice, I’m going to learn things that help my brain grow AND help my heart grow AND help my soul grow AND help others in the process. That’s just so much richer, fuller, and more meaningful than expanding my brain matter.

Gonna be candid here. The very last thing I’m worried about is my children’s brain development. They’re three of the smartest people I know. And I’m not exaggerating when I say they are learning pretty much non-stop all day every day. Even their outdoor “play” time with friends every afternoon is spent learning new games and cultural traditions and Somali/Eritrean/Nepali words for this, that, and the other thing.

From 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. 

Me: This one probably needs its own blog post too, but I’ll at least get us started. The world of knowledge is too big for us to ever know it all. We only have so much time (and room in our brains). We all pick and choose (to some degree) what things we’re going to learn (or learn more) about. And what’s valuable to one person might not be valuable to another. History, for example. Yes, important. And my girls actually know (and like) a lot of history. For me? U.S. History is far down the list after World History, Geography, and Current Events. My dad? Loves the Civil War. So he knows a ton about it.

And all three of our girls like to write and can express themselves pretty well in written (and verbal) form. They can also read as well as adults. And do basic math. And lots of other things.

I respect your opinion that “eagerness and curiosity are great, but in education I think they need to be tempered with other not-so-exciting skills and knowledge.” But I disagree. Or maybe I just see it another way. Maybe we make the “not-so-exciting” fun.

What else you got for me?

19 thoughts on “unschooling: more answers

  1. Molly

    I’m wondering if you have any set time for your un schooling such as mornings beginning at a certain time or do you just let the girls decide when to do work? Also, do any of them plan to learn the higher maths? (Trig, calculus) Thanks!

  2. valerie

    Marla, just wanted to tell you that, after my explaining to my 14 yo daughter in about 1.2 minutes what unschooling is, she has now decided….no, not that she wants to be unschooled, but that she wants to unschool her own kids someday. 🙂

  3. Amy McAdams

    What Melissa said really makes sense to me. We see a lot of college age kids here on short term teams to Africa and you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I hear! Like, “is Louisiana in Alabama?” for instance. Lots and lots of kids who have graduated public school who don’t know a lot of stuff that my 6th and 7th graders know already! Makes me feel better when I get all panic-y about whether my girls will be able to write a decent research paper or essay for college entrance!

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      I have a friend from college who I still tease every now and again for not knowing New Jersey was a state (she thought it was a city in New York). 🙂

      p.s. Don’t panic. Your kiddos will do great.

  4. Nancy

    I think what you’re doing is incredible. Your girls are learning a lot more than some kids (not all) in school do. I believe we learn best when we’re interested and engaged. Oftentimes in a school setting, that is just not the case. Most of those people who can’t figure out the length of the side of a right triangle…they “learned” it in school! I was pretty good at math back when I was in school, but I can’t say I’ve ever had to find the length of any triangle sides since then. Learning to interact with people of different cultures, learning a foreign language, or learning about making money? Those are skills I could have used. I’m still learning those…

    1. Nancy

      One more comment about reading… My kids both went to public school and my daughter basically taught herself to read at age 4. Kindergarten teacher was so disappointed he didn’t get to teach her. My son was basically taught at home….the school curriculum was so messed up. They changed reading curriculum between his Pre-K and K years. In Pre-K they taught the Letter People (M = Munching Mouth), which I understood. Then they switched to another curriculum where the letters were not represented in the words used to describe them. For example: X = “Soda pop, soda pop, ks, ks, ks.” Maybe it worked great for thousands of kids, but in our household we were just plain confused! I understood they were trying to get the kids to learn sounds, but equating the letter X with soda pop just wasn’t working. Just my two (er…guess it’s up to 4 now) cents!

  5. Addie

    just curious if you were going to answer my 2nd question about you moving to Cambodia? or no, since it isn’t really an “unschooling” question? (it was on the “data set” post)… if not, that’s fine too

  6. Melissa

    I don’t have any questions for you, you’re doing great 😉 I just wanted to add my thoughts on the last question. Even though we are just homeschooling and not unschooling, some people have asked me how I know they will learn everything they “need to know.” (That question assumes that they will learn everything they need to know in a school setting which is well ummmm . . . I met a girl in college who had never been homeschooled, she was public school educated all the way and she didn’t know what the Holocaust was – so being in public school does not equal knowing all the things). Anyways, this is what I always answer people. I’m not going to be able to teach them everything. Even if they were in school, they couldn’t possible know everything. But here’s what I can teach them. I can teach them to love learning and I can teach them how to learn something. And if you love learning and if you know how to learn, nothing is outside of the realm of things you can learn. When you have the tools and the know how of learning, that serves you far better than any memorized list of facts.

    P.S. I haven’t taught anyone to read (yet) but Dominic learned the whole alphabet basically without us ever sitting down and teaching him the alphabet. We read a lot of books. A lot. And he would point to letters on my shirt, on boxes, in books, wherever he saw them and ask what they were and we would tell him. And he learned them all without me ever sitting him down and drilling him on the alphabet. I think reading will come to him pretty much just as naturally – he has learned in the past week to recognize his name when it’s written down. I do think some kids might need more help with reading – like kids with dyslexia – but I still thing there are probably ways to learn it that are more organic than forced.

    P.P.S. I know I learned how to find the length of the side of a right triangle multiple times while in school, but I can not for the life of me remember what it is. Nor have I ever needed to use that in my every day adult life. But if I ever do need to, I know how to learn it and I have the tools to learn it.

    1. Sharon

      Just have to chime in here because something Melissa said reminded me of this. I did not sit down with my 4 yr old and teach her the letters of the alphabet, yet she knows them!!!! We did read through an Elmo book a bazillion times that had the letters in it. She also has a foam letter puzzle type thing she likes to play with. And, her little sister who is almost 2 also knows some of the letters. Again, haven’t done any formal instruction with her on the letters. It’s amazing how quickly kids pick things up!

      And, Melissa, I’m so with you on the right triangle thing. No need to know.

    2. Christy

      YES, YES, YES!!!! To this –> “I can teach them to love learning and I can teach them how to learn something. And if you love learning and if you know how to learn, nothing is outside of the realm of things you can learn. When you have the tools and the know how of learning, that serves you far better than any memorized list of facts.”

      And your right-triangle comment cracks me up b/c I felt a little ‘stupid’ that I’d gone through all of my public schooling and earned a BA but couldn’t tell you how to find the length of a side of a right triangle without Googling the equation. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m fine. I’m not stupid. That just didn’t interest me and I don’t use that info on a regular basis, so there’s no need for me to have that math fact memorized.

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