Back when I first started home schooling I latched onto what seemed to be a very successful way to home school (according to friends who home schooled and to a blog I regularly read at the time). It was workbook home schooling using a very tight and regular half hour schedule. For a good couple of years I tried to copy this family and this blog. It wasn’t until Gary turned to me one day and said that we needed to find the Gary and Claire way of home schooling that I finally saw the light. He said to me that God had given us (two very different and very individual people) three young children (who were also very different, individual people). We had to find our way of schooling which would suit Gary and I and the children we were blessed with. Since then we have very much followed our own vision for our children.
Over the last year or so the older children have become very opinionated about their learning, and I love it! I had thoughts of sitting back and letting them take over their learning. I mean they were clearly enthusiastic enough and always looking for learning opportunities, so I began to research unschooling. As regular readers already know, this really did appeal to me. However, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the reins completely. So I compromised with one week of normal school and one week of unschooling.
So far we have done two schooling weeks and two weeks unschooling. I had a picture created by our family as to how our school weeks would look and a picture in my mind of how the unschool weeks would eventually look. The schooling weeks have turned out exactly as planned. We work really hard; we are in a good routine and we all feel we have achieved a lot at the end of the each day. In fact the four older children asked me to push them harder during our school week. This may come as surprise to some but not to me. I know my family. And we are all by nature happier being busy. Our school weeks are going very well, thank you very much!
Unschooling is another matter all together. The first week I would have deemed successful. I realise as an unschooler it is maybe frowned upon to make a judgement on the success or otherwise of the children’s week. What really matters is whether the child believes it is a success. But I am their mother and it is completely foreign to me to be completely hands off and thoughts off.
The first week I enjoyed the learning I was seeing. In general the children kept themselves occupied and productive. And it is important to me that they are productive. They only have one life with a finite amount of time. I don’t want to see them wasting any of it. However, what really spoke to me of its success was their happiness. They were so joyful exploring their own interests and setting their own goals and striving to reach them each day. They had purpose and created meaning themselves whilst happily fulfilling that purpose.
This week has been different. Now I am aware it is February so I am probably not seeing things through my generally rose-tinted specs. But I think it is more than that. It was when they referred to their unschooling week as their week off that I began to hear the warning bells. And in deed they really have treated this last unschooling week as a week off rather than a week to explore their interests. Screens (which I have honestly had a problem with right from the start) have been on continuously. However, if they had been using them to learn things I maybe wouldn’t have minded (well, not so much, anyway), but they have been spending hours watching music videos and T has been on Ebay ‘watching’ a hundred and one Ipods to try to buy himself one. Apart from chores and maths nothing of use has been done that I can see. But more than that, my children are antsy, dis-satisfied and dare I say it, seem a little low. Again, it could be February, but I don’t think it is.
We have, as always, chatted about it. As we were chatting we revisited how all of us thought these unschooling weeks would work. And without exception they all said that these weeks were to have time away from the restraints of a normal school schedule to explore their own interests. But more than that, they all expressed a discontent with how little they did do when they were left to their own devices. I suggested that they needed to stop thinking about the unschool week as a holiday week but to think of the two weeks together as a two-week schedule which would be repeated. The first week I would schedule and the second week they would schedule. All three loved that idea and started to excitedly plan how they would plan. I was asked to provide blank scheduling sheets and it was agreed that they would all hand in their proposed unschool schedules each Friday.
I asked if they would like something in place during which they could demonstrate their learning in their unschool week. Again this was met with excitement. T13 suggested they all did a short presentation to Granny, Daddy and I. It was agreed that this was a grand idea to help with accountability but also would give a voice to the children’s learning. So if a child shot a film we would all watch it; if they drew or painted we would peruse their art in a mini gallery they would set up; if they were practicing a song, we would listen to them singing it or if they were writing a story, they would read it aloud to us. They would have an audience, people who cared to bounce their learning off and with added accountability.
There is much excitement in our house this week over the next unschool week (we are in a half term holiday at the moment). It had been agreed that the planning sheet would be given to Gary and I each Friday to go over. They duly did so last week. They were to include ingredients for any recipes they wanted to cook, kitchen time slots, any resources they needed. T wrote a quick essay on why he wanted an Ipod and what he would be doing with it during his unschool week. He put forward a good case for us contributing some money towards a second-hand one from Ebay, which we agreed to. They all included special time with their little sisters, with L teaching the little ones how to trampoline whilst C will teach them piano and singing.
It was a useful exercise to see their schedules and how specific (or not) they are. I will be returning one or two for more detail as I really do think the less open-ended they are and the more specific they are the more success they will see at setting goals and reaching them – a very important life skill.
This session, chatting everything through with the whole family, has been of huge benefit. We were able to really consolidate what it was we all wanted from these non school weeks. It was not to give them a week off. It was not time to do as they pleased. In fact, it was an opportunity for them to develop their gifts; time to pursue those things that might get lost under all the curriculum dead lines and most importantly it was time to become more authentically themselves whilst there are no restraints put around them. Really anything goes so long as they are able to demonstrate their learning during the fortnightly mini presentations.
I can sigh in relief. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet, all on the same page. I know I will not be disappointed during the next non-school week. The children have big plans. They are excited. And so am I.