Measuring Unschooling Progress

Keeping Unschooling Kids on Track

For some unschooling is a joie de vivre – a certain lifestyle that is embraced heartily – and sometimes rebelliously – against the established norm. I get that.

For our family, unschooling is a choice we made to ensure our kids get the best education possible. Which is weird, because we rarely educate them. Lol.

As I’ve written before, we focus our energy on ensuring our kids interests are fully explored using any method they find preferable. That doesn’t mean we don’t ask the boys to step out of their comfort zone. We do that often and our standing agreement is we try something and see what we think. If we like it, we stick around. If we don’t, we drop it. Always being respectful of our kids abilities so that we stretch them with success, rather than to frustration.

Occasionally, a homeschool parent will explain how hard it is to get their kids to “do their school work,” and they’re curious about unschooling, yet scared that their kids won’t learn anything. I totally understand.

I’m scared, too.

When I get freaked out about our unschooling path, I run to the Core Knowledge Series by E.D. Hirsch that was introduced to me by a fellow homeschool mom a few years back.

What your XX Grader Needs to Know Books by E.D. HirschThe Core Knowledge Series is a set of books, written by grade level, that gives schools and parents an idea of what your child could be, and should be, learning. I use them as idea-generators. For example, I’m not really gifted in art. I don’t mean crafts – I got that. I mean art. So I use the Core Knowledge Series for my kids’ grade levels to give me ideas of what would be age-appropriate ideas to expose my kids to more art. Cool!

That doesn’t mean that I sit the kids at the table and tell them “Today we will learn about art.” That’s forced learning. It’s boring. It takes away autonomy. It makes all of us grumpy. And it sends the message that learning is boring work you’ve got to slog through to get to the fun stuff in life.

We don’t believe that’s what learning should be.

We believe that learning should be a process that you’re excited about, even when it’s hard, because you are invested in the process and where that process will take you. If I want to become a surgeon, I’ll slog through anatomy class, even if I don’t enjoy it that much, because I really want to be a surgeon.

To make it clear…learning isn’t always a picnic in our unschooling house, but it is enjoyable in that we celebrate the process, the failures, the pain, and the joy because it’s FUN to learn!

Another cool thing about the Core Knowledge Series is that you can sit down on the couch and actually read the book with your kids. There are stories and poems, history lessons and booklists, math concepts and science projects all contained within.

Yes! I love it when the work is done for me! My kids will actually pick up these books and read to themselves. How cool is that for a learning guidebook?

Do I panic that I’m not teaching my kids enough? Sure. Do I sometimes feel like my kids are behind, not doing “enough,” not keeping up? Yep.

And in those moments, I pull out the Core Knowledge Series and put my fears to rest. You know why? Most of the stuff in those carefully prepared and heavily researched volumes my kids are stumbling upon in their own inquisitive journeys. As each of my boys poke and prod the world around them, I find that they have usually self-initiated whatever learning concept the Core Knowledge folks say they should be learning.

It’s amazing, but true! If you’re on the fence about relaxing the homeschool journey and trying a child-led learning approach, keep these volumes on hand and lean on them during those times when you’re feeling insecure.

Happy homeschooling,

Kate

 

Homeschool Kids in Colombia

Homeschooling Hits the Road

Both of my boys got their first passport before the age of one. Seriously.

I love to travel and I couldn’t wait to start globe trotting the world with my bambinos in tow. I may have actually filed for passports before I filled for birth certificates.

We finally got the chance to put those passports into practice as my hubs and I took the boys to a highly unlikely and unusual travel destination: Medellín, Colombia.

Why Medellín?

I was on my way to South America in 2002 when I met my husband. Detour! I never made it, yet continued to have a passion for exploring the continent next door. As Scott and I talked more and more about making international travel a part of our homeschool experience, South America surfaced again given the ease of access and relatively easy Spanish language (as compared to Mandarin, for example).

Medellín, knick-named The City of the Eternal Spring for it’s 70-degree year round weather,  is a short, three hour flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s easy! Once known as the most dangerous city in the world due to the horrific drug trafficking wars, today Medellín has earned it’s place as the Most Innovative City in the World due to its recent advances in politics, education and social development.

We liked the idea of visiting a city that was fresh, vibrant and in the midst of transformation. There is a happiness that comes with such energy; and a sense of purpose that is infectious. We wanted to experience this transformation first hand.Welsh Views Colombia Andes Mountains

Furthermore, Medellín boasts some of the most family-friendly restaurants and attractions you can imagine. Our favorite? The four-story, hands-on science museum, Parque Explora! There are restaurants with coloring rooms, TVs, toys and even waiters who will push your kids on swings as you sit back and sip a very  nice bottle of wine for only a few bucks. Seriously.

Oh, and did you know that Medellín sits in the valley of the Andes Mountains? As Jack proudly shares, “The Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range in the world, except for the mid-ocean ridge, but that one’s underwater so we can’t see it.” Lol.

Talk about some seriously beautiful scenery, eco-parks and hiking. Wowsa!

An Inauspicious Start

Our trip was planned with fervor on August 2nd and the very first thing we did was check all the passports to make sure they were current. We laughed at the baby-faced photos of our boys and even searched the Internet to make sure we didn’t need to update their photos. You don’t. I was surprised.

However, not as surprised as I was the night before we left for Colombia and I once again retrieved our passports only to discover, with great horror, that our oldest son’s passport was actually EXPIRED. Huh? Hadn’t we just checked this a few months prior? Did I need glasses? Was I reading his passport incorrectly?

I was devastated, panicked, and a good bit overwhelmed. Fortunately, my husband is a great counter balance to my panic attacks and calmly reassured me, “We’ll find a way to figure this out. We always do. Think of this as part of the adventure.”

Boy, I sure do love him.

We located a passport office in Miami that allows for walk-ins and said they might process a passport in one day. Depending on how many other people showed up, cancelled appointments, and the general mood of everyone involved.

It was a slim chance, but we took it, packing the kids up at midnight to drive to Miami for a 7AM arrival. We were #18 in line and the office didn’t even open until 8:30!

Homeschool boys wait on floor of Miami Passport Agency GarageIf there is ever a time when you need your kids to pull it together and be as mature as humanely possible, it’s when you’re waiting for a cattle call, in the basement parking garage of a government-run establishment, sitting on dirty cement hoping you’ll make the cut. And after two hours of waiting, holding nature’s most urgent call, you get to the front of the line and make it upstairs only to discover you now have a six hour wait, without electronics or food allowed. OMG.

As the hours ticked by, the room became less and less crowded as family after family received their passport documents. At 3PM, our number was finally called and they said they could process our passport. Yay! Now we only had another 1.5 hours to wait.

Jack chose to wait with me, while Scott and Eli went to scout a hotel. We had delayed our trip by a day and would stay the night in Miami. At 4:30PM, Jack’s name was called. He was so elated. As he rose from his hard metal chair and walked across the now almost barren room, even the tough security officers smiled and gave him a thumbs up.

The adventure had begun…

Our Arrival

Refreshed from our overnight in Miami, we departed for Medellín at 8:30PM. Aboard the flight, Jack and I sat next to a lovely woman from Medellín, who now lives in Boston. She was going home to visit family and gave us some advice on where to go and what to see. We exchanged WhatsApp numbers and were able to stay in touch throughout our stay.

What many of us might expect at a South American airport is chaos. Visions of shouting, crying babies, strange smells and foreign language might be the image we most easily conjure. I have to say, our experience was the exact opposite. The only family with small children, we were immediately ushered to the front of the immigration line in front of the Colombian citizens. Seriously.

That was easy!

Our next task (finding a taxi at midnight to take us on a 45 minute ride to our residential apartment in Belén) was not so easy.

Did I mention we don’t speak Spanish?

Yeah…so with my usual over-confident gusto I sauntered to the curb where a gaggle of men waited with taxis. We had received no less than six different recommendations on how to safely hail a taxi in Colombia. Um…I wasn’t able to use any of them. As I was baffling the locals with my complete lack of Spanish, a fluent North American walked up and asked, “Hey, are you American?”

Well, everyone standing on the curb was technically “American,” yet I knew what he meant. “Yes,” I replied, “I am American.”

“Do you speak Spanish?” he demanded. “No, but my husband kinda does,” I said with a small amount of defiance.

“Where are you going?” was his next question. “Belén,” I stammered. “What? You’re staying in Belén? Are you sure you got this?” he asked with a wink.

“Sure!” I said resolutely. OMG.

The guy was quite helpful in locating a taxi that would accommodate a family of four with two suitcases and off we went into the dark night: dazed by what we’d gotten ourselves into and amazed at the sprawling city lights in the valley below.

The boys were charmed by their first taxi ride and although it took some work to find the apartment in the maze of city streets, we finally made it to our temporary diggs.

Located on a side street of a one-block, city-square we were politely greeted by the building security officer (one of three who would become our friends). We said a few words of Spanish asking where our apartment would be and then insightfully, my husband had the good sense to ask the officer his name. With that simple gesture we had made a friend. It was a lesson we didn’t quite understand at the moment, yet would soon come to rely on as we fumbled our way around a city that is unaccustomed to tourists.

Exhausted, happy, and excited about what the morning would bring, we carried ourselves up the four flights of stairs to our new home away from home. By 2AM we were settled and fast asleep.

— To Be Continued Next Week —

How I Ruined Summer Reading

I Forgot Why My Kids Love To Read

Every three or four months my kids and I choose a few themes to help focus our learning. We practice unschooling, so I use themes to help me stay alert to various resources that my kids might enjoy. Our summer themes are sea turtles, video production and swimming. Based on the boys’ request, we are also starting to learn about commerce.

The boys, ages seven and almost five, are both reading now so when the Alachua County Library Summer Reading Program was announced, I thought this program would be a cool activity for us to add to the pile.

The gist of the program is to challenge kids to read different genres of books, listen to audio books and read magazines under the umbrella theme of Superheroes. As the kids accomplish the various tasks, they get to check off a tile on a game-board-style brochure. At the end there is a reward. It’s a lovely program full of color, fun and an honorable purpose: motivate summer reading.

Yet it bombed in my house. Here’s how I goofed this whole thing up.

Not thinking, I outsourced this lovely library adventure to the babysitter who took the kids to sign up. They came home and dumped two envelopes into my lap containing their game-board brochures, some bookmarks, program announcements and other various bits of paper. Paper. I dislike paper.

I sorted through the bits of paper, stuffed it all back in the envelopes and stuck them into a corner of my kitchen counter. The envelopes sat there for two weeks taunting me. Every time I looked at those darn papers I felt guilty.

Guilty I wasn’t filling the papers out, guilty I wasn’t coaxing the boys to engage in the program, guilty I was such a slacker mom…

Guilt, guilt, guilt!

Finally, I got the dang envelopes out and sat down with Jack to fill his out. We looked at how many books he had read that day and checked them off the list.  The audio-book arena posed some challenges for us because my younger son shoved a bunch of coins in our mini-van CD player, so we haven’t listened to an audio book in awhile.

So I put an audio book into the living room Blu-Ray player and Jack listened to it. Then he checked the box and left all the papers, plus the marker in the middle of the living room floor.

Sigh. I dislike paper.

A few days later, I asked the boys if they wanted to work on their Summer Reading Program. They ignored me.

The next night, I tried to pick out some new books from the bookshelf and told the boys it would be a good idea to read something new so they could check off more boxes on their Summer Reading Program gameboard. They ignored me.

Then I gave up.

You see, what I had failed to realize (once again) is that kids don’t need external motivation to learn. My kids read all the time. They read in the car, in the hallway, during bath time, at breakfast and whenever they feel like it. Books are strewn about our house on every surface. We visit the library at least once a week to play (and read).

What I was inadvertently doing was making reading a chore. Reading became a box that had to be checked, instead of an activity that was simply fun.

Also, the particular format of the Superheroes reading program didn’t work for our family.

Doh.

Did I give up on summer reading? No way! In fact, I incorporated the lovely Alachua County Library Summer Reading Program into our style of learning.

I simply modified the program to meet our family’s needs. We took their game boards to the library, along with a few cool stamps, and the boys raced around the library finding various books, and reading them, so they could complete their game board. Yay!

You see, my kids love passport-style programs where you go from one activity to the next and stamp your passport at each activity station. The catch is, that for our family, the passport game has to happen all at once. We aren’t good at keeping track of papers (grrr…I dislike paper) and we aren’t good at keeping up with programs that require consistency over a long period of time.

So our “one afternoon and done” summer reading program worked out really well! The boys had a blast, I was happy with my parenting choices, and we all felt good that we completed the program in a way that fit our needs.

Ah, smell the homeschool success!

My summer reading goof freshened my resolve to keep stepping back and evaluating what works and what doesn’t within our homeschool family.

I’m not sure if this post is helpful to you at all, but if so I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

Happy homeschooling,
Kate

 

Unschooling Slice of Life

What an unschooling schedule looks like for our family

Unschooling can be a scary concept to those of us who like schedules. Or those who enjoy order. And those who like to get things done.

I happen to have every single one of those characteristics. We are unschoolers. OMG.

Yet our unschooling approach works extremely well, despite my need for structure. What I do, is apply structure to how we divide our time during the day and not necessarily toward the types of activities.

For example, I spend one solid hour with the boys every morning to fill their cup. We do whatever they want. It could be gaming, playing in the toyroom, reading books, watching a TV show. It’s my way of communicating that they are important and their needs are important. What they need first thing every morning is to connect with me and know that I am willing to partake in their world.

The dishes can wait. Growing my children’s confidence cannot.

After the first hour, I might continue to hang out or do a few chores or answer emails. Yet, I give myself a time limit and communicate that to the boys in order to set an expectation for all of us.

Then I go back to the boys. Etc.

Here is an example of what a day might look like for us:

7:00    Everyone wakes up

7:20    We play Stack the Countries on the iPad

7:50    Boys are getting restless, so I get out our felt board and ask the boys if they want to create some mass destruction and narrate a story to me. They want to, so that’s what we do and I write each of their stories down. Eli’s story was about dinosaurs smashing a city. Jack’s was about dark matter crashing into our galaxy. LOL.

8:15    We hit the streets for some scootering

9:00    Breakfast watching Wild Kratts while I clean up the kitchen

9:30    We dress up as Indiana Jones adventurers and run around the house chasing stuff and finding treasure.

10:00  Eli plays Brainzy on the computer. Jack and I plant peppers in the garden and read a book.

11:00   Jack jumps on the computer for Minecraft Homeschool assignment. Eli and I read and play Toca Boca games on his iPad.

12:00  Lunch. We do puzzles at the table and I prep dinner.

1:00    Outside again. This time we walk the dog.

1:30    Chill time. The boys watch The Lego Movie. Mom catches up on emails and laundry.

3:00   Grocery shopping. We all hate this, but it has to be done.

4:30   Back home. Boys choose to play Legos and some iPad gaming. I cook (another chore I can’t stand, LOL).

5:30   I knock out a quick workout and then we go back outside to do sidewalk chalk together.

Eli counting at Trader Joe's.

Eli counting at Trader Joe’s.

6:00   Dinner. We read a book about space and tell knock knock jokes.

6:30   We clean up the kitchen while listening to music. Then we dance. I mean, we get really funky!

7:00   Bath time with snacks. My kids seem to eat more at night, which drives me crazy.

7:45   We decide to watch another movie. This time Night at the Museum.

8:30   Movie paused. Bedtime. Goodnight unschooling boys. See you tomorrow.

I will often go to bed with the boys. Or I may stay up and write this blog ;). Or work on a project for one of my small business marketing clients. Whew…another awesome day is done.


I have no idea if seeing our daily schedule is helpful or not. But I don’t like it when people tell me they have this amazing way of doing things, but they don’t share what it’s really like behind the scenes. I mean, what is unschooling, right? I think it’s different for every family, but if you’re curious here is what a day in our unschooling life is like.

What does your day look like? I would love to learn from you in the comments below!

Happy homeschooling!

Kate

Leave Learning Out

I love Better Homes & Gardens Magazine. My favorite part is looking at the tiny home makeovers –  you know…the ones where a family of six is living blissfully in a 1,200 sq ft cottage? The kids toys are hidden away in expensive baskets tucked beneath vintage sofa tables or upcycled bookcases. Sigh. This is not what my tiny 1,200 sq ft home looks like.

Despite my OCD for having the bed skirt straight, the linen closet perfect and “a place for everything,” the rest of my gang could care less about order and prefer their home disheveled and chaotic. I am learning to cope.

The upside of a crazy house is that there is stuff to do spread everywhere. This has taught me that if you leave learning out your kids will learn. Duh.

Pile of messy Legos on floorWe have world maps hastily tacked to the dining room wall, books strewn about the hallways, and Legos instead of carpet in the living room.

Yet, despite my discomfort, I marvel at how my children gravitate to this mess and teach themselves about geography, reading, math, and life.

As my kids zip from one activity to the next they ask questions: LOTS OF QUESTIONS! and I do my best to answer. This is our unschooling approach, but of course you could also find a curriculum or project that feeds off that question and consolidates their learning.

My six year old loves asking questions about numbers. As we drive from Wally world to Trader Joes, I am pummeled with a series of questions like: “If you take 10,000 and add 3 million and subtract 64 and add 1,833, what number do you get?” I struggle to do the mental math while keeping the car on the road.Boy lines up notecards in numerical order

Last summer, I wrote random numbers from one to one trillion on note cards and left them lying out on a bookcase. My eldest son found them and put them into numeric order. I was dumbfounded. We’ve never discussed place value, nor has he ever touched a math worksheet.

Yet, he learned place value through  months and months of asking questions about math while we were driving in the car. The point being, he wanted  to learn about numbers so he did.

My boys also love maps and geography. Anytime a new place is mentioned in a movie or book, they immediately pause and run to one of those gaudy maps hanging in my dining room to visualize that location, which solidifies their learning. This, in turn, leads to a series of questions about the climate, culture, people and animals of that locale.

We buy all sorts of educational books that are fun and tell stories about math or grammar. These become easy tools for learning as the kids will simply pick them up to explore what’s inside their bright, cheery covers.

Right now we are crazy for graphing after we found The Great Graph Contest. Another fav is Exclamation Mark which has my four-year old yelling “EXCLAMATION MARK!” at the top of his lungs whenever he sees one. Love it!

IN CONCLUSION

Last night, my husband asked me if I wanted to watch a documentary on “Tiny Houses“. Oh my goodness, really? I can’t imagine stuffing our homeschool chaos into a home any tinier! LOL

It drives me wild to live with this stuff everywhere, but by golly it works! Now if I can just find my purse…

Kate

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Unschooling ABCs

In the few short years we have been homeschooling, I have realized that if you “leave learning lying around” it works really, really well. As an unschooling family, we don’t sit down for a certain period during the day to learn. We learn as we go, throughout the day, as the boys’ passions are inspired.

This morning, my four year old found a word search book on the kitchen table and decided to do one of the puzzles at breakfast. I don’t know why my kids love to learn while they eat (!!), but they do.

Eli has never shown interest in this book before so I was curious to see what he would do. I watched as he chose a blank puzzle and found a chunky marker to write with. He began reciting the letters of the first word in the list and searching for it.

Now I am not a trained educator, nor child development specialist, so I cannot say if our approach to education is a good one, but I thought I would write down how this particular scenario unfolded in case it might work for you, too. Young boy doing a word search puzzle

I STOPPED WHAT I WAS DOING AND ENGAGED

It was Saturday morning and we were running about getting ready to go grocery shopping. However, as my son picked up the word puzzle, I stopped what I was doing and seized the moment. I sat next to him in case he needed me. I find this to be essential. My kids know that I support their passion for learning, so much so that I will stop what I am doing and partake in the learning festivities.

I DIDN’T OFFER CORRECTION

Several times my son made mistakes, yet I never corrected him. I allowed him to learn through his own process and progress at his own rate.

For example, my son thought that the lower case “d” was a lower case “b.” This became tricky for him because the word list was written in upper and lower case, but the letters in the puzzle were all upper case (cheap dollar store book). He became stuck when he tried to find the letter “B” in his puzzle, but instead found a “D”. I kept quiet and he figured it out for himself.

This builds confidence and reinforced with my son that his mind is competent and he can think independently. I want my kids to trust in their own minds more than I want them to get data correct.

I GAVE HIM THE GIFT OF TIME

Let me tell you that doing a word search puzzle with a four year old is not a quick endeavor! My son would often get lost in the letters he was trying to find and have to go back and forth between the list and the puzzle repeatedly.

Every word he circled was painstakingly slow as he attempted to avoid touching the letters with his pen. It was tempting to check Facebook or emails while I waited, but I pushed my iPhone out of reach. I made sure my son knew nothing was more important to me than him.

Unschool ABCs v2

I DIDN’T “ONE UP” HIM

Whenever my son became tired, he would ask me to circle a word. I did so, but I copied his very slow and methodical method. It would have been easy for me to quickly circle those letters with perfection, but that’s not the message I want to send.

I want my son to know that his chosen project is worth doing with concentration and effort. If I one-up him with my adult skills I may frustrate him. There’s a difference between demonstrating a skill and showing empathy toward a child’s efforts.

I HELPED HIM WHEN HE ASKED

A few times, my son couldn’t find the correct letters on his puzzle and started to get frustrated. I would simply point to the first letter of the correct word and that was all he needed to regain his momentum.

While I want my kids to work independently and find confidence in their abilities, I like to offer support and guidance when they need it.

I LET HIM DO IT HIS WAYCircled words of a word search puzzle

All of the words were oriented either horizontally or vertically. However, my son found his own pattern for the word “hook.” I didn’t correct him. In fact, his method was really clever!

The object of the puzzle is to find the letters that make the word – the fact that his combination of letters for “hook” didn’t fall in a linear pattern was okay. It’s more important that my kids learn to solve problems than to follow directions.

I NEVER SAID GOOD JOB

If you’re not familiar with negative connotations of saying “Good Job!”, then please take a look at Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason or  NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.

I still struggle with repressing my instinct to say “good job”, but I work at it.

As my son found words in his puzzle he got really excited and would shout “Look what I did!” or “Mom, I found one!” Each time, I smiled and a few times I said “Isn’t this fun?” instead of “Good job!”

We also like to relate accomplishments back to emotions so I also said, “How does that make you feel?” to reinforce the internal motivation for a job well done vs. the external motivation of my approval.

IN CONCLUSION

After we did two puzzles, my son decided he was tired and wanted to go grocery shopping with Daddy. He said, “Mom, let’s leave this book right here and we can do more when I get back.”

I hope this is helpful. Leave a comment below and share your own story!

Kate

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Unschool? NO WAY!

When my husband first suggested the idea of homeschooling, my children were still babies. I strongly dismissed it. “I am not a teacher!” I complained. “How will our kids learn to socialize?” I lamented. “Will they be able to go to college?” I cried.

Terrified at the thought of homeschooling, I buried my head in the sand and comforted myself with the reality that my children were merely toddlers and didn’t need “school” yet.

I focused on what was important to me: building a close, loving family that used empathy and compassion to communicate.

Long haired boy gazes at oceanI also took my babies everywhere so they would be exposed to a variety of opportunities from a young age. I took my boys hiking and kayaking. I found a kid-friendly beach and we made regular pilgrimages. We hung out at the library, hopped aboard the downtown bus and even visited roadside truck stops.

As for homeschooling, I pushed my anxiety about how to homeschool down the road to deal with when the kids grew older.

Fortunately, my husband not only loves to read, but he also has time to read and listen to podcasts. Tuning in to parenting podcasts, he began introducing me to books on homeschooling and child development that really meshed well with our attachment/peaceful parenting style.

The more I learned, the more I realized that homeschooling was exactly what we should be doing. I was smitten!

One of the first books my husband introduced me to was NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, which gave me the jolting insight into how our minds work.

I already knew that my parenting and our home environment was a major influence on my kids future happiness and success, but I had no idea how many actions that our society routinely accepts as good parenting are actually detrimental to our kids. Whoa…if you haven’t read this one, it will forever change your perspective.

Sage homeschooling mom, Callie W. recommended this next gem of a book to me and it was a source of knowledge and inspiration when I first began my homeschool journey: Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson.

To me, Guterson’s book gives great perspective on why school is not a necessity. As a public high school teacher who homeschools his own three sons, Guterson is able to make some excellent comparisons and provide pros and cons for each. He also demonstrates that homeschooling can be accomplished using a variety of methods or curriculum, yet all methods lead to a well-educated adult.

Great read and very comforting one at that.

As I continued learning about homeschooling and my kids continued growing, I also started observing my kids with my new found knowledge. Spending long days with my boys allowed me to step back and reflect on what my kids were doing.

I watched my toddlers crawl out of bed and immediately set about learning without any prodding from me. I watched as they took toys apart and used them in ways I would never have thought possible. I saw how one son refused to dress himself until the age of five, while the other son would spend thirty minutes picking out his own clothing and dress himself from the tender age of two.

I noticed that bicycles and footballs were ignored, yet caterpillars, spiders and roly-poly bugs were adored.  I saw that when I tried to force numbers, letters and coloring books I was met with anger and tears, but when I simply answered questions about the alphabet or played imagination games, my boys’ appetite for learning was never satiated.Two young boys and dog gave over Cloudland Canyon bluff

What I observed is that children do not require adults to teach them. They are naturally curious and love to learn.

I observed that each of us is different and has our own unique passions. Some of us will learn to dress ourselves at age two, while others will wait until age five, but if we force learning, it becomes a chore to be avoided instead of an exciting accomplishment.

I learned that each of my children has their own gifts and limitations and that what makes them unique cannot be reinforced or celebrated in a classroom that has to teach to the masses.

What I learned is how to be an unschooler.

What this means to our family is that we focus less on what we are learning and more on the process of learning. We don’t benchmark progress compared to our friends or state mandated standards; we benchmark progress  compared to where we were individually six months ago.

We also don’t worry about when we learn stuff. I would rather my kids learn to do geometry at the age of 14 and do so joyfully and with purpose than ask them to learn geometry now when they don’t have an interest in it.

And we focus on what our kids can do, instead of what they cannot do.

My six year old taught himself to read and does so fluently. It surprises me, yet I’m happy for him. He wanted to learn to read so he spent the time learning how to do so.

However, he doesn’t ever write. Not even his name. He is absolutely loathe to even pick up a pen. That’s okay. At some point in the future, he will want to write and then he will learn how to do so. And he will do it joyfully with excitement instead of with dread. I’m good with that.

This process builds lifelong curiosity and a confidence in one’s own ability that are the true tenets of success. Facts and figures will come with time, when my kids are ready to use that information.

My job is to simply support the learning they are interested in now, while exposing them to a lot of different stimuli so the boys can see what the world has to offer.

Huh, who knew I didn’t have to teach after all? I just have to keep up with their insatiable desire to learn!

I hope this is helpful. Leave a comment below and share your own journey!

Kate

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