Saturday, 23 June 2012

I've been thinking...

Lately I've been thinking (have been doing a lot of that since we left school)...
I've been thinking about the week of experimental unschooling that we attempted.  You see, a friend of mine with an autonomous (i.e. led by the child) approach to home ed recently said that when she started, her 6yo spent the first week on compter games... and then he got bored of being on it all the time!  What a lovely thought!  I totally bottled after just half a day of non-stop Wii-playing - as blogged in Experimental Unschooling Day 2.  Maybe if it had just been one child involved I could have lasted longer - it was all the squabbling between the three of them that did me in!  Anyway, the thought that a child can get to a point where they just get fed up of mindless playing all the time is encouraging.  I just couldn't handle the fall-out from letting mine find their own games-console saturation point.
So anyway, I've been thinking that maybe I shouldn't write it off: maybe we will end up doing our version of unschooling.  After all, that's pretty much what home ed looks like round here at the moment anyway, since I made the decision to take the pressure right off, and just let us all deschool.  I do like structure, and I greatly admire certain friends/ bloggers who use structured learning really effectively... but it is also really important to me that the boys follow their own interests free from a structure that they may resent & could hinder their enjoyment of learning.  I also really admire other friends/ bloggers who have had the courage to risk (it seems to me a risk at least) their child(ren) learning absolutely nothing, for the sake of enabling them to find where their passion lies.  To allow a child to pursue what is most valuable to them - that appears to me to be the holy grail of HE - and autonomous learning seems the most complete version.
However, I've also been thinking that there are some things that seem really important and that I would like the boys to have a broad understanding of - that if left to their own devices, I'm not sure whether they would ever want to learn.  Take, for example book reviews - it may not be an obvious example to you, but that's where my brain went for some reason, maybe because English is 'my subject', but anyway - I was thinking about how I used to teach book reviews in class, and took delight in my students being able to produce a good piece of work... and I was thinking that I really can't see any of my three being interested in pursuing that ability, particularly Eldest who is the same age that my book-reviewing students were, and my immediate thought was how sad that would be.  But I then had to ask myself why: how would it really benefit him to be able to write a good book review?  I mean, nobody ever taught me (I sometimes wonder what I was taught in school). I taught myself - and if I wanted to become a professional book-reviewer, I would set about properly learning how to do it.  The first attempts would doubtless be clumsy, but I would keep going, keep learning, keep refining, until it was an aquired skill (for the sake of argument - let's just go along with the pretense that I'd be excellent at it).  So if Eldest or either of the others ever wanted to know how to write a book review (or do pretty much anything, for that matter) they could find out.  And when you are motivated by a real desire to know something, the information sticks so much better! 
There are just two things then, that I need to 'teach' (or share with) them.  One is the thirst for learning.  The second thing is linked, and is vital: it's the ability to discipline yourself to learn.  Learning the vast majority of things involves first acknowledging what you don't know - or what you want to know (and if you're lacking in confidence, acknowledging that you don't know something can be disheartening in itself).  If you have the motivation to learn, this will overcome most discouragements on any learning curve... but if you have never disciplined yourself to pursue learning despite not understanding straight away, thus possibly losing the 'fun' aspect of whatever you're doing - well, I think this is the risk in my head regarding unschooling.  You see Eldest, as is often the case with first-borns, is quite hard on himself.  If he can't do something easily he can be tempted to give up too quickly for fear of failure.  As we are currently, my concern would be that if I just let him do what he wants (as is my perception of unschooling), he would have lots of great ideas but give up at the first sign of discouragement, and miss out on a whole raft of things that are easily within his grasp if he could just overcome that first obstacle.  So my goals during Home Ed are expanding - I want to enable my children to find what it is that they love; I want to help them to learn perseverence - to know that failing to understand is just the first step on the journey to understanding, or that if something is hard work, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  And finally (for now) I want to help them learn how to think.  Hubby and I have been growing in confidence that whatever we're doing, we can chat about it to the boys.  It's not just giving them experiences, it's helping them to think about them.  At school, a lot of their learning (whether by workbook or lesson) relied heavily upon them being told what to think - or learn.  For me, the concept that they are learning how to think for themselves, to question and work things out - well that is really exciting.
So, what have I concluded from all this thinking?  Absolutely nothing - we're still deschooling, after all!  I'm just letting you in on my thought-processes.  All of my thoughts are still coming back to the same general place though: I want my children's learning to be largely autonomous, but if I feel the need to wade in and be a little directional, I'm not going to rule that out, whether it's requiring that they follow an online Maths curriculum or practice their handwriting (both of which I'll try to ensure are as enjoyable as possible), or encouraging them to persist with something that has lost its appeal due to being harder than first anticipated.  No decisions here though - like I said... I've just been thinking.


  1. That's a brilliant post, thank you. I encompasses many of my own thought processes. We do a lot of verbal literacy in the car. We make up stores, we made up verses to hickory dickory dock the other day, we review books, we play opposites and eye-spy. Equally, we do lots of maths in the car too, times tables especially and counting in 5s, 10s etc with my 5yr old. it is all about confidence and I'm gaining it daily. I also have a fundamental belief in self discipline though and as they get older I would certainly like to encourage more discipline. But for now, with my oldest being nearly 8, I just want them to have happy memories of their childhood and be exposed to as much of life as possible!

  2. What a lovely comment - really encouraging! Thank you, Mama Smu! I agree - happy memories rule :)