We had a great start to the day today... hero hubby and I had put the trampoline net up last night (almost as soon as he got in from work - what a star), so the boys were very excited to get dressed and go out to play on it together first thing. I gave them breakfast first (we NEED a meal routine as none of them are great eaters), then they had put the TV on so I expected them to be engrossed with Spongebob for an indefinite amount of time - but no, DS3 decided he wasn't watching, he was going to bounce, and as soon as his brothers saw they ran out to join him and ended up playing non-stop on the trampoline for over an hour... happy boys make for a happy Mummy (especially when they're being happy outdoors)! There were a few squeals of indignation when they bumped up against each other, but generally they were so determined to keep bouncing that they resolved it quickly by themselves :) DS2 was the first to come off after 75 minutes, to play on GridClub... DS1 & 3 followed 10 minutes later, but all of them spent the rest of the day in and out of the garden to continue bouncing :)
Anyway, when they weren't bouncing, DS1 wanted to bake a cake, so we had a quick trip to the local shops to buy a missing ingredient (and pick up our dry cleaning). Once home, it was DS3's turn to go on the computer (Reading Eggs, of course!), and DS2 flitted in between the kitchen (where DS1 was now happily mixing ingredients for the cake) and study, watching his brothers. That brought us to lunchtime, and we sat down to eat in the lounge while Mummy (tried to) put on our 'Come Outside' DVD... I had the episode in mind where Auntie Mabel & Pippin go to the dry cleaners, as we'd been there earlier. However, the DVD refused to work, not surprisingly considering the greasy fingerprints all over the disc... (hmmmm, today DS3 also learned how to pick up a disc by the edges!)). Finally we got it to work, and I had a nice snuggly time with DS3, watching TV together. DS1 & 2 had vanished outside to bounce again as soon as they finished eating.
It got me thinking about why I'm happier letting them spend the best part of the day on the trampoline but not the Wii... I think the thing about the trampoline is it involves fresh air and a little sunshine (today at least), and physical exercise - all of which are vital to good health. The comparison between boys and puppies still holds for me: give them some exercise outdoors to burn off some energy, and they are much happier for the rest of the day! When they have played on computer games all day, they get tired in a whiny, irritable kind of way, borne - I think - out of a restlessness from not having really done anything other than hopefully stimulate their minds. Trampolining or other physical exercise - particularly the fresh air kind - seems to tire them out in a much healthier way, and leads to much better sleep, and greater ability to concentrate, from my experience.
As for lessons learned from today's 'unschooling', well - while the boys were happily bouncing again this afternoon, I had a really encouraging and thought-provoking conversation with some other Home Edders, chatting about the importance of not comparing yourself to other HE families or even an idea in your own head of the 'perfect' way to Home Ed. Unschooling particularly seems to lend itself to these kind of struggles. Home-schoolers or those with any kind of structure have at least some frame of reference so they can follow how much their child is 'learning' - but unschoolers have nothing. It can look as though nothing at all is going on education-wise, which is an incredibly insecure place to be for people who love their children and are passionate about giving them the best. There is nothing really to show if the 'dreaded Local Authority' come round to measure your child's learning. In its purest sense, unschooling is just a completely different philosophy and can't really be mixed with any form of structure as far as I can see. However, autonomous learning (child-led rather than parent/teacher-directed) can happily work alongside some kind of structure, which is probably where I am.
I love the ideals of unschooling - I do believe children are by nature inquisitive, and learn best when left to their own devices. For example, take a toddler learning to walk or talk - if you interfere or try to get them to do it to your own schedule, you just get frustrated and can make them miserable. If you trust in their own inherent ability to grow and learn, they get there in their own time with a lot less stress all round. There is no reason why that learning shouldn't carry on naturally if un-interfered with. However, putting that kind of thinking into practice is an enormous leap from where I currently am. I am just not used to thinking that way - I was in full-time education for 23 years of my life - and then later went on to teach others in a 'learning establishment', so school as the 'norm' is pretty well embedded in my mind. Admittedly, the school where I taught on and off for the past decade (and the boys attended) was independant rather than a state school, so I have become used to thinking slightly outside the box when it comes to education. We weren't tied to the National Curriculum, for example, although we did use another set curriculum, so the problems of institutionalised learning turned out to be not that different after all. Considering that background, the way I find myself thinking now is pretty radical. I have often read experienced Home Edders stating that people new to HE commonly start off with much greater structure than they end up with, so that encourages me that even though I'm not confident enough right now to make the leap into full-on unschooling, that doesn't mean we won't end up there. Everything is possible :) But for now I feel like I need that security blanket of having regular Maths/ English input for the boys with other subjects pursued as dictated by interest - and am happy for them to be autonomous as possible within that hopefully small degree of structure. And of course, I'm still keeping a weather eye on the need to deschool, so am not planning to enforce anything just yet anyway!