“What do you do about the boys’ education?”
I get asked that question all the time. Granted, given the fact that John and I are long-time teachers most people assume we know what the boys need to learn and know how to teach it. But the reality is we mostly allow Mother Nature to be their teacher.
One might think two classroom teachers would favor a structured approach to education and that we would set aside time on a daily basis for the kids’ lessons. Nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the things John and I have learned from our years in the classroom is that kids have a natural propensity for learning and an inborn desire to make sense of the world they live in. They want to learn, and will learn unless that curiosity is driven away.
I’ve learned a lot about homeschooling in the last couple of years, and I’ve learned there are a whole lot of approaches. Some parents basically do school at home. They have a set series of lessons for the kids, and their children “attend school” roughly the same hours they did in public school. Other parents mix and match – pulling ideas and activities from a variety of places. And other parents allow their child’s curiosity and desires to drive their education. This approach is called unschooling.
Although I can’t stand the term unschooling, I love the concept. I think whoever coined that term did major harm to a wonderful educational movement, and it frustrates me each and every time I say the word. While I can’t proudly call myself an unschooler (actually I cringe each time the word leaves my mouth), I will proudly announce that I wholeheartedly embrace the ideas of unschooling, and know that my boys will learn way more by using that approach than they would with a more structured approach.
OK – so what is unschooling? Unschooling.com has this to say:
Have you ever described ‘red’ to a person who is color blind? Sometimes, trying to define unschooling is like trying to define red. Ask 30 unschoolers to define the word and you’ll get thirty shades of red. They’ll all be red, but they’ll all be different. Generally, unschoolers are concerned with learning or becoming educated, not with ‘doing school.’ The focus is upon the choices made by each individual learner, and those choices can vary according to learning style and personality type. There is no one way to unschool.
Unschooling is primarily about process not content. The process of learning, the process of knowing yourself, openness, confidence, self-determination, independent thinking, critical thinking….none of which one gets when following other people’s agenda. Making one’s own agenda is what it is all about. Again this is done not in isolation but in the context of ones family and community. -Joel Hawthorne
Unschooling isn’t a method of instruction, it’s a different way of looking at learning. -Linda Wyatt
Unschooling is following your children’s lead. Allowing them to learn from a wide variety of experiences and resources. Start right from where you are and enjoy. -Sandy
An unschooling moment of realization (one of those things that you know, but have a moment of knowing it even more): Learning is learning whether or not it’s planned or recorded or officially on the menu. Calories are calories whether or not the eating is planned or recorded or officially on the menu.- Pam Sorooshian
Unschooling is like the old Open Classroom research and theories. If kids are given an interesting and rich environment they will learn. (All kids learn anyway, all the time.) -Sandra Dodd
Unschooling doesn’t mean not learning – it means learning without the trappings of school. Its not unlearning or uneducating. Its only unschooling – it points out a contrast in approaches to learning. My unschooled kids are learning as much or more than their schooled friends (and that includes home schooled or institution schooled).- Pam Sorooshian
What does all this mean for us as we travel southward? It means that our daily lives will be filled with learning – although that learning will be far from predictable. As we pedal alongside the Alaska pipeline, we will learn about oil production and the permafrost. When we see wildlife on the side of the road, we will learn about bears and moose. Our boys will see Aztec and Incan cultural relics and gain an understanding of how people in those cultures lived. They’ll experience various political and economic environments. All those sights, sounds, smells, and tastes will be their teacher.
We will continue on in the same vein as we did last year when we take off in June. The kids have some math workbooks they’ll use on occasion. Last year we tried to find time two or three times each week for the boys to do a couple pages in their math workbooks. We will write in journals on a regular basis – a couple times a week at least. And we always tried to have novels for all four of us to read each evening before bed. Surprisingly, this proved to be our biggest challenge last year – I had no idea it would be so hard to find children’s book in small towns!
But the bulk of our boys’ education came from the various educational opportunities we found scattered around. We took advantage of state and national parks and learned tons there. We read roadside historical signs. And we talked – a lot. As we cycled, the boys didn’t have anything to distract them – no TV’s, gameboys, or toys – so we talked. They asked some great questions and we had time for wonderful discussions of everything from the idea of the checks and balances in the US government to the intricacies of nuclear power to the subtle differences between various types of cactus.
I honestly feel my boys got a far superior education last year than they ever could have received here in Boise. And I believe they will learn far more on our upcoming journey than I can even imagine. And I’m excited about learning right along with them!
-edited March 24, 2011 to add-
We’ve now finished our journey – after nearly 3 years on the road! It’s been a phenomenal experience for all four of us and a tremendous learning opportunity for our sons. Throughout the journey, I’ve written a series of articles about their education as our experiences taught us more and more. I’ve linked to most of those articles in our page on Roadschooling.