You Don’t Have To by Laurie Wolfrum
Are you coaxing your child to sit and do math or write an essay?
Is it affecting your relationship? There are alternatives! We’ll talk about how to help your child pursue their passions, how learning happens, and the role of a parent in an unschooling home.
This is the time of year I’ve finished doing reviews for homeschooling families. Many of the parents I’ve talked to are pleased or satisfied with how homeschooling is going, but others feel it’s a struggle.
It doesn’t have to be.
Homeschooling parents don’t need to coax their children to do lessons “for their own good.”
- You don’t need to try to make your kid understand what a curriculum states is important for them to know at a specific grade.
- You don’t need to follow a curriculum.
Instead of hindering our children’s learning process by directing them to study what others think they should know by a certain age or grade, we can help them to find resources and do the things that they are interested in and trust that they will take from them what they need or want at that time.
We can also trust that they will make learning connections and that this process will continue throughout their life. (Refer to Sandra Dodd’s Just Add Light and Stir post in resources.) Just as it does for us! In addition, we can be available for answering questions or suggesting ideas that they are free to take or not.
Allowing and supporting your children in learning this way can take a huge leap in trust, especially if we went to school and even more so for those that studied education.
People can feel fearful when they do things differently than the mainstream. Homeschooling is already outside the mainstream, and unschooling is a minority within a minority. Feeling fearful can be very uncomfortable.
What do people naturally do when they feel fear? They try to quell it or find ways to cope with it.
One of the ways parents may feel more comfortable with homeschooling is by choosing to use a curriculum. It may help alleviate their worries, may give them peace of mind knowing experts have devised the curriculum, and they may trust that by following it, all the important bases will be covered.
Whether our children attend a public or private school or are homeschooled, we are still responsible for our children’s education.
When people enroll their kids in a school, they feel like their child’s education will be taken care of by the teachers and they can let go of some of their worry.
Perhaps some of the reasons people decide to follow curriculum are that:
- It helps them feel like someone else is sharing the responsibility of their child’s education
- It is simple in the sense that there is specific information to study and the plans are already laid out.
- Someone else already did the thinking about what to learn and when.
- If the parent gets their kid to do the lessons, they believe that their child will know all the skills they need to know.
- There won’t be gaps.
Sometimes parents feel comfortable with the way their children are learning, except for certain areas.
People may say they are unschooling except for math. Their reasons for doing so are along the same vein as those who use a curriculum.
Using a workbook, following a curriculum or doing structured math lessons may help them feel like they are covering what they should be covering, there won’t be gaps in their child’s knowledge, their child will have a good knowledge base and be able to sequentially build upon it, and their child will have a good understanding of the math skills they need to know to be successful and competent.
(Pam Sorooshian math audio)
Do the people who write the curriculum know your particular child? No!
The curriculum designers don’t know anything about your particular child or life. Like school, curriculum is designed to mold and shape and control the masses.
Following curriculum places the parent in the role as teacher.
The parent feels pressure to follow the syllabus and get kids to do the lessons and tests.
The child may feel pressure to prove they can do the work and get good grades.
In doing so, instead of a child seeing himself as capable of learning what he needs to when he needs to, he may become dependent on others to know what he should know. His self-confidence is affected. He may not trust himself because he isn’t being trusted.
Other children may feel resentful at being required to study and get tested on information that doesn’t seem relevant. Not only may they get turned off to learning and feel all those other things that affect their self-confidence, but the parent-child relationship may become adversarial.
Rather than spending a lot of money and time trying to get your child to follow a curriculum or use a curriculum so that you can say you did math or spelling, consider using your time and money to follow and support your child’s interests.
If you are feeling unsure about trusting your child’s learning process, invest time to find out more about unschooling and how people learn. Pam Laricchia’s book Free To Learn is an excellent resource as is John Holt’s How Children Learn.
John Holt, in a 1980 interview with Mothering Magazine said, “The human animal is a learning animal. We like to learn. We need to learn. We are good at it. We don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.”
3. Learning and connections
There is a saying that “You learn from the company you keep” And we humans do!
We have been learning from those we identify with for thousands of years.
Frank Smith’s book Learning and Forgetting explains how less experienced members learn the skills and knowledge required from more experienced members of a social group or "club."
For example –
Early craftsmen learned their trade through apprenticeship.
Elder tribesmen pass on their knowledge to the younger members of a tribe.
Music instruction involves working with a more experienced or master musician.
Under these circumstances, learning is effortless and the learner retains the information.
Learning happens easier when the learner is interested and the reasons for wanting to know and understand are meaningful to the learner.
There is a quote that I’d like to share with you by Katrina Gutleben. She wrote, “Learning can only happen when a child is INTERESTED. It he's not interested it's like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it EATING.”
Real learning occurs when something is understood and remembered, not when it is memorized and regurgitated back for a test.
Children have an innate motivation to learn what they need to and what they are interested in. Actually, people of all ages do!
Think about yourself as a parent. Before you had kids, would you have thought deeply about homeschooling or how your child would best be educated? Before you were pregnant with your first child, did you know the many birth and child care choices you would be making? We become knowledgeable when we have a need or desire to know.
People want to do many of the things others do in our culture and society and they are wired to learn. When we are motivated by something meaningful to us, we find out what we wish to know and we learn all along the way, including from our mistakes. We make connections with information we already know and this process continues throughout life. There is no information that is irrelevant or unworthy. Everything we learn has the potential to connect to something we’ve learned previously.
4. The Role of An Unschooling Parent
Unschoolers value their family’s hobbies and interests and take each other’s needs and wants seriously.
When someone in your family wants to try something, help them find a way to do it. That doesn’t mean without any thought. Be thoughtful. If you have concerns, bring them up. If it won’t work because of a conflict, see if you could brainstorm alternative ways that it might.
In my opinion, the most important role a parent can play in a child’s life is that of trusted partner, facilitator and friend. That doesn’t mean never saying no or cow-tailing to any family member. It does mean that to be trusted by your child, you must be trustworthy and that you must trust your kids, including their learning process.
How can we can trust our kids to learn? By noticing how naturally they already have and by paying attention to what they are currently learning.
- Notice the things that they learned to do naturally - like walking and talking.
- Notice that they want to do the things that enable them to belong and fit in with a group that they identify with.
- Notice the skills that they’ve picked up because of their interests.
Communication is something people naturally want to be able to do with one another. Reading is one of the ways that people communicate. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why a person may want to read.
We are surrounded by literature. It’s on lables, signs, in books and in games.
At some point, when it is meaningful to them, kids have a desire to want to know what is written. It’s important that they want to know, not that someone else wants them to know.
Some reasons a growing person might like to read are:
- to recognize his name (which might lead to wanting to spell and write it)
- to read a book, card, email or note by himself
- to understand game or other instructions
- to be able to skype chat or read game chat
- to be able to read texts
Before kids know how to read, they may start to recognize popular signs like McDonalds. They may ask you to tell them what something says.
Even after they can read, they may ask you how to spell or pronounce certain words or want to understand how to use them in a sentence.
Conversations and explanations about words are a part of our regular life. Li, for example, is 14 and has an interest in understanding new words almost every day. He often asks me for the meaning of a word and how it might be used in a sentence. I define it and tell him synonyms for the word. Sometimes I provide an example of using it in a sentence. Li wants to be sure he understands and will typically say, “So could you say….” and use the word in a sentence that he constructs.
Playing with words is fun and creative to me.Years ago I heard about sentences with puns in them called Tom Swifties. A few weeks ago, I got excited when I noticed there was a chapter about them in a book called Puns and Games. While we were riding home on a long trip, I shared some of them with Jim and the kids. Here are some examples from the book:
“I want to be a doctor,” said Tom patiently.
“I’ve struck oil,” said Tom crudely.
“I love pancakes,” said Tom flippantly
“My glasses are fogged up,” said Tom optimistically.
“Fire!” said Tom alarmingly.
We then tried making some of our own up. Ie. “I go to church every Sunday,” Tom said religiously.
On our way back from Portland’s First Friday Art Walk on September 4th, we put on an audio story called Rain Reign which was one of the titles on the Maine Student Book Award list. The story is about a girl who is very excited about prime numbers and homonyms and wants to be sure she and others follow all kinds of rules correctly. Since there are so many examples of homonyms throughout the book and because they meant so much to the main character, I think it is something that has made a big impression on those of us who listened to the story. Makana, part way through one of the chapters, asked me to pause (paws) the story so she could share some homonyms she thought of on her own.
Other kinds of learning experiences happened naturally over the past year.
Last fall, my daughter Makana had an interest in graphic art. For Christmas, we bought her a Wacom tablet and she purchased a program with her own money that one of her friend’s used called Paint Tool Sai. She made lots of pictures. Some of her favorites are these. (Refer to Makana’s digital art on resource sheet).
Makana read some Smart About Art and other books that we had on our bookshelf. Because she liked them, I found other books online that I thought she might enjoy, requested them from the library and showed them to her. Many she did like to read. The rest we returned. I paid attention to the books that captured her interest so that I had a better understanding of the kind of style that she enjoyed.
We read many of the art books together. We especially loved the Talking With Artists by Pat Cummings and Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg.
Here’s a little blurb about Beautiful Oops!:
It’s OK to make a mistake. In fact, hooray for mistakes! A mistake is an adventure in creativity, a portal of discovery. A spill doesn’t ruin a drawing—not when it becomes the shape of a goofy animal. And an accidental tear in your paper? Don’t be upset about it when you can turn it into the roaring mouth of an alligator. (snip)
Beautiful Oops! shows young readers how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. A singular work of imagination, creativity, and paper engineering, Beautiful Oops! is filled with pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope”—each demonstrating the magical transformation from blunder to wonder.
Makana loved that book and after reading it, when she found a hole in her good quality drawing paper, rather than throw the paper out or feel frustrated, she included the hole as part of her drawing.
She did the same with some marks that she didn’t intend to make; she used them to create something else and was proud of it.
The idea of using unintentional holes and marks gave her a new way to think and be creative.
This past spring, Makana wanted to attend a homeschool trip to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. After visiting the Farnsworth, she talked about various paintings and mentioned one that she especially liked that she noticed on her way out. She said it was inspiring.
On the way home, she asked me to buy her some canvases so that she could paint on them. We found a pack of five large canvases at Job Lot and she was thrilled to include in her painting the apple tree she saw at the Farnsworth that had inspired her.
Over time, I’ve noticed that when Makana sees other artwork, she gets her own ideas from them. She’s also inspired by what she thinks is interesting or beautiful or by something she sees outside in nature. So that she has an image to refer to when she draws, she has photographed some of the things that have captivated her interest such as bugs, webs, and the shape of a tree trunk.
I get enjoyment when she notices paintings by famous artists and gets excited about seeing them. I love how she is excited to tell me that she noticed a Van Gogh or the Mona Lisa or an impressionist painting that she saw in a book while watching a video. (connections!)
During the winter, Makana asked me about art lessons. She thought she would like to try taking them. Art lessons? This was one of the things I breathed deeply about because long ago, a homeschooling friend who was very artistic suggested not rushing kids into art classes as she thought it could stifle their creativity.
Rather than listen to this fear, I thought about it. I knew that in the past, when I followed what my children wanted to do, good things happened. I have learned that things turn out best when I trust my children.
I considered what could happen if Makana tried art lessons and didn’t like them. She could stop.
My kids know that if they don’t feel comfortable about something, we talk about it. If they feel something isn’t a fit after all, they can find another way to get the information they desire. And they know we will support them if they realize they aren’t interested in what they thought they were.
It turned out that she enjoyed both private and group art lessons and she will be continuing to take them this year.
Makana often carries her large, pink canvas bag (a hand me down from her big sister) with her. Usually an art pad or two, many drawing pencils and an eraser are in her bag in case she sees something she’d like to sketch.
I don’t know how long she will have this interest. I do know that she has it right now and I will continue to go with her flow and offer ideas and resources that I think she will like.
4. What is important now is exactly that…what is important to your child now.
Your homeschooled child has the privilege of learning in his own time and way.
- He won’t necessarily know the exact same things as a public schooled child, a private schooled child, or another homeschooled child.
- He won’t have a cookie cutter education.
- He will have an individualized education tailored to meet his needs and interests.
Most importantly, the journey, the process, the living can be enjoyable and connective rather than coercive and distancing. It can affect your life and your relationship in positive ways.
The process to trust unschooling can be a long one. If or when you make a mistake along the way, remember Beautiful Oops! and how you can think of it as an adventure in learning.
If you have a moment where you are questioning the process or feel like you want to make your child sit and do a lesson, keep in mind what Meg Cabot wrote in The Princess Diaries, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the judgment that something else is more important.“
Let your child - and your relationship with your child - be more important than coaxing him to do lessons because of fear.
5. Network, Ask
There is a facebook group called My Unschooler Is Interested In. People write what their child is interested in and others post related ideas. If you join the group, before you post, look up what people have written before to see if someone already posted the topic your child is interested in.
I thought we’d try something similar here. Here are some papers to list your name and one of your child’s interests and their age.
After doing so, please pass your papers around to others who can add some ideas to support the interest listed at the top.
If you think of some books, magazines, places to visit, websites, board/card/video games, toys, movies, documentaries, youtube channels, businesses, people who can be a resource, the name of someone who is into the same thing, or any other suggestion, please write it under the interest listed at the top.
We can leave the papers on one of the tables to give everyone a chance to share resources they might know of.
At the end of the day, please pick up your paper to take it home with you. You might be surprised to find some interesting resources and ideas.
Just Add Light and Stir – If you’d like a short and encouraging daily note with a photo, subscribe to Sandra Dodd’s Just Add Light and Stir email series.
Remember that if your “unit study” is the universe, everything will tie in to everything else, so you don’t need to categorize or be methodical to increase your understanding of the world. Each bit is added wherever it sticks, and the more you’ve seen and wondered and discussed, the more places you have inside for new ideas to stick. A joyful attitude is your best tool. – Just Add Light and Stir 8/21/15
Pam Sorooshian – Free audio to do with Unschooling and Math. Pam is an economics professor from California and unschooled her three now grown daughters. http://aboutunschooling.blogspot.com/2010/04/sound-files-from-san-diego-conference.html
Free To Learn by Pam Laricchia – Excellent book! I highly recommend reading it.
How Children Learn by John Holt
Subscribe to Pam Laricchia’s unschooling newsletter and email series: http://livingjoyfully.ca/newsletter/
Makana’s digital art using Paint Tool Sai and a Wacom graphic tablet
Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg
Talking With Artists by Pat Cummings
Some of my favorite recordings were from the 2011 Life is Good Conference. All the talks were great, but these three I especially loved.:
The Kids are Fine; You’re the Problem - Laura Flynn Endres
Too often, new unschoolers focus solely on what the kids are doing (or not doing) when really, kids are natural unschoolers.
When not micro-managed to death, kids have plenty of ideas about how they should spend every waking minute and are little learning sponges. So what’s the hang-up? Why all the worry?
Because we parents have a lot of baggage to work through, baggage acquired through our own schooling experiences and through living, most likely, in households where parents ruled and kids followed the paths laid out for them. So let’s call it like it is – the kids are fine, you’re the problem – and let’s examine the major obstacles parents must overcome in order to fully embrace the unschooling life. 55 minutes
The Dark Ages—Unschooling Tweens - Kelly Lovejoy
Tweens often seem to slink into the darkness, sleeping, eating, and grunting. Unschooling tweens maybe even more so. This cocooning stage is actually full of learning; and when they emerge on the other side, they are primed and ready for the next big stage. As unschooling parents, we can face this stage with patience, understanding, acceptance, and humor. A little faith in the process doesn’t hurt! 57 minutes
Unschooling: It’s a Mindset, Not a Skill Set - Kelly Lovejoy
Unschooling is not just how we approach education; it’s how we approach life. We aren’t arming our children with a simple set of skills, but a mindset that they are capable beings and can do whatever they desire. 35 minutes
You can purchase a CD of all the 2011 LIG conference presentations through the LIG Conference Store for $25.00
Name of Parent: ______________________________________________
Child’s Age and Interest: _______________________________________
List below any resources that may support the above interest.
Ie. books, magazines, places to visit, websites, board/card/video games, toys, movies, documentaries, youtube channels, businesses, people who can be a resource, the name of someone who is into the same thing, or any other suggestion.