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Sally Ariad, June 2013
As an unschooling parent I see my role as facilitator more than educator. Unschooling means I don’t make my kids do any forced learning work. That does not mean however that we never do workbooks or sit down together and study something (which from the outside may in fact look like a school lesson).
What it means is that I never force my kids to learn something that I see the value in and think they should learn. I let them choose what they want to learn. I never make them keep learning. If they lose interest in what we are doing I let go and they wander off to do something else.
Providing a Stimulating Environment
We do this by filling our home with interesting and fun things. Some of these things look like traditional educational resources. We have maths and English workbooks, Cuisenaire rods, calculators and protractors. And we have many resources for learning about science; rulers, scales, graph paper, magnifying glasses, magnets, bottles, measuring cups, and containers. Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, balloons, a dress maker’s tape-measure, builder’s tape measure, compass (the type for drawing circles), and a compass that tells you direction, binoculars, matches, candles, a flint, dirt, sand, rocks, crystals, an hour glass. Scissors and knives, building blocks, set square, rope and twine, tape and glue.
DVDs are another great resource, and not just documentaries. I believe children learn from TV and movies as well as documentaries.
The children have access to many craft and art materials; paints, pencils, felt pens, pastels and chalk. Felt, fibre, yarn and fabric, wire and beads, leather and modelling clay. Wood working tools.
Our home is full of musical instruments too. We have an electric guitar and amplifier, an acoustic guitar, a 3/4 size guitar, and a pink ukulele. Three djembes, two darabukas, a kids drum kit, two recorders, a bamboo flute, a key board, an African finger harp, an ocarina, a kazoo, three didgeridoos, two sets of clap sticks, various percussion instruments including a xylophone, shakers, a triangle. And the children are often exposed to live music.
Toys and games are educational too! Think about Monopoly, Cluedo, chess and card games…to be able to play these you need to develop logic skills and many of them require an understanding of maths. Games like Scrabble involve literacy. Building games like blocks and LEGO develop fine motor skills and also the use of logic and principals of engineering.
But it’s important to remember that even games and toys that don’t have an immediately obvious educational outcome to you as parent are still valuable.
I find that if I am feeling judgement about some toy or activity it is time for me to stop, think and let go. Even a toy like a Power Ranger figurine or a Barbie doll has value. Kids use these to model social behaviour; they use them in imaginative games that sometimes involve complex fictional stories. Even if you can’t see the value in the moment you can see the enjoyment your child is deriving from playing. And being joyful is a huge learning outcome!
This is the concept of leaving interesting things lying around to stimulate children’s interest. Some unschoolers use strewing often, especially if they feel like their kids aren’t showing much interest in any particular subject. Some parents have a learning corner where they will leave interesting things for the child to find, others just leave things around the house; on the kitchen table or lounge room floor.
Strewing is often used to introduce subject areas. For example a parent may provide a group of objects such as a book on insects, a magnifying glass, a DVD about Insects and a dead butterfly. That way the objects are related and may lead to learning about the insect world, or it may just lead to looking at the hairs on your arm through the magnifying glass, or it may lead to nothing… Just let go.
I don’t use strewing intentionally very often. I do strew however. For example if I am at a library or second hand book store and I see something that might interest the kids I grab it and leave it on the kitchen table. I might buy some interesting art and craft supplies and leave then out to see if the kids want to make something with them, or some different ingredients to cook with. But I am unattached to the outcome. If none of them pick up the book it ends up on the book shelf. One day in the future someone may be interested and it adds to our wonderfully diverse library.
Outside the home
One misconception about homeschooling is that we do all our learning at home and that it may be boring and creates a sense of isolation. Home is our base and we have many resources here but we do a lot of learning out in the world.
Any trip away from home is a learning experience and an opportunity for socialising. From a trip to the supermarket where the children interact with familiar people in our community and might learn lessons about budgeting and money, to ingredients and additives, to branding and advertising; to a trip to the post office or any other place we regularly visit in our daily lives.
Many members of our local homeschool groups also organise outings, activities and workshops for the children. Some that have been offered in my area over the last year are woodwork, archery, abseiling, homeschool camp, visit to a bee farm, circus skills, art and pottery classes. We also participate in community events, and community initiatives like community gardens, and visit museums and galleries.
Last year we took our children to Thailand for six weeks which was a wonderful learning experience for them. Really the whole world is our classroom.
Helping them follow their interests
When my children are interested in something I try to provide resources to help them learn more about it. I will Google it, find books and DVD’s, equipment. When my child shows interest I try to be present and committed to helping him. If they need something for an experiment or to cook a new dish we’ll put it on the shopping list on the fridge so we remember to get it. If it is something bigger they want (like an electric guitar) we will find a way to get one. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. If you want resources for your children you will find a way.
About four years ago my now 18 year old son wanted to learn to play the guitar. I gave him my old acoustic guitar (I bought it years ago intending to teach myself how to play but never got around to it). I wanted to take him to guitar lessons but at the time we only had one car so I put a notice up on local notice boards to find a guitar tutor who would come to our home to teach Alex. The next day we had a call from a tutor.
He had half a dozen lessons but then decided that he wasn’t enjoying it. He wanted an electric guitar so he could play the kind of music he enjoyed listening to. A week later Scott found a guitar amplifier at the rubbish dump, brought it home and tested it and it worked! I put a second hand guitar on lay-by at the local pawn shop and soon Alex had an electric guitar.
He decided he didn’t want lessons and instead started learning through You-tube tutorials. We also downloaded heaps of music together over a couple of months, doing a history of rock and roll; from early jazz and reggae to punk and hardcore, grunge and dub. About six months later a friend who has been playing the guitar for years heard Alex play and was blown away that he had taught himself.
This is the beauty of self-directed learning. When a child wants to learn something they are capable of learning a great deal in a very short time.
Following our own interests
My children learn from watching their father and me following our own passions. Often they show interest in what we are doing so we will learn together. My kids have learnt about gardening and nature, building, rock climbing and abseiling, crochet, knitting, sewing and cooking because they have shown interest in what Scott and I are doing. Of course they are not into everything we do just as I am not into all of their interests. I never play computer games!
This is one of the reasons why I never doubt that my children will learn to read when they are ready. They see me and Scott enjoying reading. They see me writing all the time. They see what a useful tool reading is and how it gives them access to so much knowledge. I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to learn to read.
Children learn best when they are immersed in the world of adults.
Out sourcing learning
Of course I don’t know everything my kids want to learn. Many parents who consider homeschooling have said to me, “But how would I teach high school maths and science?” My reply is that if your child wants to learn physics and advanced maths then you will find a way to provide the resources, the child will be interested in learning and will use their initiative, and you can always find a tutor.
My children learn heaps off other people. From friends and relatives they are exposed to interests other than our own. Last time my father was visiting he was teaching Tama Indonesian stick fighting. My eldest son learned to weld by asking a neighbour to teach him, he learned motorcycle repair from another neighbour and how to wire a basic solar system from yet another.
Children learn through people of all ages. They learn through elders, tutors, grandparents and parents, they learn from their peers and they even learn things like compassion and understanding from their younger siblings.
Sally is a mother, scholar, healer, artist, lover, respecter of all things living and inanimate and spiritual being. Follow her blog at www.rainbowlovefarm.blogspot.com.
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