Friday, August 27, 2010

On Routines, or Back to (Un)school

Over the course of last academic year, N.'s kindergarten year, his and Tim's days evolved organically into a quite predictable routine that they enjoyed calling "doing school."  After N. and I ate breakfast together and looked at the newspaper, I left for work (around 8:45) and N. would usually go to the sunroom to draw or the living room to play while Tim ate his breakfast.  Then they'd both go to the sunroom to "do school," which meant Tim reading aloud, N. practicing numbers or writing, looking up a random encyclopedia entry and following ideas and connections that arise from that, etc.  This usually lasted for a couple hours; at noon they would take a long walk around the neighborhood, usually around 2 miles.  They take turns telling each other made-up stories on these walks.  Tim's are called "Original Huka-Buka Stories," about a princess of that name, and N.'s stories all take place in an elaborate make-believe country where he and Huka-Buka and other friends live and own a train yard.  After their walk, Tim and N. ate a late, long lunch while listening to CDs, talking, reading.  The rest of the day was devoted to playing independently or with our neighbors inside or out, sometimes more drawing or reading aloud, household tasks to do together, (gardening, laundry, cooking, or baking).  We continued this routine until the beginning of July, when I finished my teaching.  Then our homeschool went on summer vacation until this past Sunday.

I use the word "unschool" to describe our homeschool method because we don't use a boxed curriculum, don't make detailed learning plans in advance, we follow learning cues as they arise out of real life experience, we emphasize noncoercive learning and learning through play.  There might be other words that better describe our approach, such as "interest-led learning."  And as I've mentioned before I like Melissa Wiley's "tidal homeschooling" metaphor to articulate our movement between more and less structure over the course of the year.  The routine I've described above might not seem very "unschooly" to some (the combination of "Unschool" and "Academy" in my blog's title indicates that we aren't conventional unschoolers), but I maintain my use of the word unschool to describe what we do because our routine evolved organically and is not imposed by us on N.  I was affirmed in my belief that what we are doing works for N. when I saw his excitement to resume the homeschool routine, to "start First Grade."  He asked to begin on Sunday, the day after his 6th birthday party and all week he has been really energized by his learning.  He thrives on the regularity of his school routine and on the intensity of focus and attention he gets from Tim during these times.  

That's not to say he wasn't learning during our vacation.  We're concluding a kitchen remodeling project, and N. loved watching and talking with the various tradesmen who've been working at our house.  He and I read many chapter books, especially during our road trip to Minnesota.  During our month-long visit to Duluth (see here here, here, and here for descriptions of last year's Duluth vacation), we spent lots of time hiking, socializing, looking at old buildings and learning more about Minnesota history, communing with Lake Superior, learning about rocks, watching the amazing cloud formations over the lake, kayaking and canoeing for the first time, picking wild raspberries and blueberries, learning about Great Lakes mining and shipping, and more.  It was a rich summer.

We found inspiration during the summer for further study during the academic year.  Tim and N. spent a lot of time on a cloud book last spring, and the gorgeous sky vistas in Duluth made them both want to continue learning to identify clouds and to understand what they signify.  Tim bought a history of Iron Ore mining when we visited a mine overlook in northern Minnesota and he and N. have already spent a lot of time with that book this week; its early chapters lead to them learning about the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson's presidency, and a bit about the relationships between the French, British, Americans, and Indians.  We don't make daily lesson plans, but we have some broad goals for the year: to continue regular practice of reading, writing, and numbers; beginning with the cloud book, to build on science knowledge; continue building on geography and history knowledge; piano lessons (pending).  I suggested we sign him up for a homeschool Spanish class but N. rejected the idea of taking a class with others and anyway he wanted to learn French because he's already learned a few words from "Eloise in Paris."  So at his request I agreed to start teaching him French myself with short lessons a couple afternoons a week.

We're all feeling refreshed from the summer and excited at the beginning of our second official year of homeschooling!