Monday, January 4, 2016

From Homeschool to Unschool in One Quarter

Based on the date of the last post, you could safely conclude that homeschool has kept us SUPER busy! What an adventure. We've had plenty of ups, downs, moments of doubt, and moments of absolute affirmation. We've drifted off course, experienced the ramifications, and corrected ourselves. In spite of all that, I managed to assemble a portfolio of our work over the first quarter, and our first review with the county was glowing (one of my moments of affirmation, for sure)!

We've been through I don't know how many different formats and schedules. The maiden voyage of this homeschool ship has been nothing if not a massive exercise in trial and error. Homeschooling is enough of an undertaking on its own, but when there's a 2-year old and 6-7-8-month old in the mix as well, it takes some serious figuring out. Additionally, to say that the county's idea of a daily homeschool schedule and my own are divergent is an understatement to put it gently. One of my many reasons for choosing to homeschool is that I don't want my 5-year old held to a regimented schedule of desk work for 6 hours a day. My plan was for a fun and relaxed day, led by her interests and attention span, and accommodating the schedules of Little Sister and Baby Sister. So what on earth does that look like? As it turns out, it looks a little different every day! We started out with an actual schedule of certain subjects at certain times, giving each subject a set amount of time each day. That amounted to about 5 hours of schoolwork every day, and that's just not reasonable. In my mind it's not developmentally appropriate for a Kindergartener, and I can't manage that with the two younger girls. So we tried working just during nap time when the little ones were sleeping, except that only Little Sister takes a reliable nap. Baby Sister *should* take two naps during the day, but a lot of days she doesn't, and if she does they land roughly before and after Little Sister's longer middle-of-the-day nap. We ended up having about an hour of work time as a result, so that plan got tossed. We continued to adapt and evolve things until we hit another road block... Big Sister started showing serious signs of disliking school- a major dagger to my heart.

At that point, I knew we needed a big time overhaul (already). We were off track. I took a little time to think things over and realized that although I set out to give her freedom and flexibility and a joyful learning experience, my professionally-trained teacher brain had taken over. We had fallen right into a subject-based schedule that was stressing me out (because it didn't work for either of us),  and I was getting all caught up in the standard public school methods of learning on paper. She had started out SO so excited to learn about Bible stories and painting and music and a hundred other things. Yet, here we were, 6 weeks in, struggling with cooperation and motivation.

I decided our entire approach was going to change. We went from subject-based learning (reading, math, science, social studies, etc.) to student-led, topic-based learning. Big Sister and I sat down together and made a list of things SHE wanted to learn about. Blood, planets, princesses, painting, music, tools, flowers & plants, computers. She chose blood to learn about first. From there, we set out to learn everything we could learn about blood. We wrote a list of questions she had, checked out library books, watched videos, colored diagrams, looked at our own veins, took our pulses, and conducted experiments. She was into it and she was loving learning again. After all that, we went back to our list of questions and she was able to answer every one of them. Success.

Without paper-based, drilled practice we're still covering reading, math, science and even history. We're problem solving and using the scientific method. We're learning practical skills and knowledge instead of just a set of prescribed skills handed down by the local government. Don't get me wrong, I fully believe in teaching children to read and write, and we're doing that. I'm just not totally on board with the timeline and methods that public schools use. This is also not to say that children don't learn that way or that it doesn't work in public school, but since I have the opportunity to teach my child in a one-on-one situation, I believe there are better ways for her to learn. An added bonus is that we can include Little Sister in a lot of what we do and she's even learning some of the concepts right along with Big Sister. Just today she was talking about platelets, at age 2.

With our studies of blood concluding, we're preparing to move on to learning about space and planets. Big Sister has always had so many questions about space, stars, planets, night and day. I can't wait to dive in and let her start exploring. So far I'm planning a sensory bin, lots of books, several art projects, some star/planet gazing with the help of a very cool app, and of course a trip to the planetarium at the MD Science Center! This could be one of the most exciting units we study all year.

Stay tuned for more on our studies and what our unschooling adventure looks like. Check out the tab above to learn more about homeschooling and unschooling.

Cheers!
Emily

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