Friday, May 11, 2012

What I've Learned from Unschooling

Recently, an unschooling list that I'm on passed around the question "what have your children learned without school or curriculum?". I never answered the question, but I spent some time thinking about it, and this is a partial look at what I came up with....

Just so you know where we are coming from, we embrace a pretty standard version of unschooling (unscripted, child led, non-coercive learning), and recently we've started radically unschooling a lot of things (namely media which I'll write about in a separate post.)

So, what have the kids learned while unschooling...  Sometimes, it seems like the only thing they've learned is how to give themselves erections while watching cartoons, and they haven't learned a few very important things like how to read or how to mix me drinks. Most of the things that they have learned are things that fall into the life lessons category. The scholastic things fall mainly into the categories of natural science, math, history, literature, geography, and rhetoric.

They have learned (and I can not be sure if this is related to unschooling or is just a function of their personalities) how to pay close attention to things happening around them, and they know how to apply these observations. For instance, as I was bubbling through trying to explain rear wheel drive to boy two, boy one cut me off and explained it perfectly. Apparently, he had noticed rear wheel drive in action while watching semis and while noticing how his bicycle worked.

However, I wold like to focus on what I've learned.

The first thing is that our life is not necessarily going to look like what I thought it was going to look like. I didn't choose unschooling because I thought it was the best method. I choose it rather because it was the method that appealed to our particular personalities the best. However, at the same time, I was in love with the Well Trained Mind so I really thought that our days would like like a combination of that and the activity pictures in a natural toy catalog. In the morning the kids would ask me to teach them Latin, then we would talk about world history (in an orderly fashion), then they would paint pictures, and finally, they would have a gentle jousting session with some organic wooden swords while donning silk capes.

Clearly, I was high when I had that vision because that's just not even remotely close to anything that would ever happen here. However, just because our life doesn't fit into that particular box doesn't make it any less amazing, productive, or useful. (I can't go into how an average day looks here, but you can friend me on FB if you're curious, and you'll quickly get the gist.

The second thing I learned was not to disparage my kids interests because they can be the gateway to a lot of learning even if it doesn't look that way at first. Take for instance, boy one's two favorite things: money and Pokemon. I have let both of those interests annoy me at certain points (because he's obviously supposed to be painting or having gentle silk wrapped sword fights), but when I take a step back, I can actually see how much he has learned from both of those topics.

Money....  thanks to hours spent counting it, he has perfected his ability to multiply quickly by sums of 5, 10, and 25. Thanks to saving allowance, he has perfected his ability to add, subtract, and mentally track expenditures and goals. While talking about his obsession, we've covered the following concepts: employees, owners, investors, interest, mortgages, rent, lobbyists, taxes, profits, revenues, business expenses and more.

Pokemon...  hours with this game have added to his social skills (attributing social skills to Pokemon might be questionable, however, as he spends hours every week playing this game with kids who say things like "What song should I play, your choice?" to their opponent even though they are wearing headphones), how to amuse himself for hours on end (playing the game against himself or sorting cards), how to organize and keep track of 480 different cards, how to memorize things (each card has one to two different attacks on it), how to think logically, how to think ahead and plan an attack. The game is also math heavy. Within a minute or two last night, he dealt with 20 X 5 and the concept of 30n with the possibility that there is a fifty percent chance that n may =0.

It's not a perfect science, and of course, there are days where I'm sure that none of us had learned a damn thing  (as opposed to public school where kids are learning something every second--that's sarcasm), but I can confidently say that most of the things they learn, they don't forget because they are truly interested in them, and they know how to apply them. They don't get locked into a system of binge, purge (aka test), and forget, and I generally think that's a good thing.