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!

5 comments:

Holly said...

I'm just catching up with some of your posts after a long hiatus from blog reading. It looks like you're all having a wonderful time!
I just had to comment on your use of the term "conventional unschoolers" because it made me laugh and got me thinking. Is there really such a thing? Isn't that an oxymoron? I'm not saying that in a challenging way - I just found it funny, especially since I was just trying to explain to a friend how a group of people with such vastly different views on education and parenting could voluntarily unite under the umbrella of unschooling. Aren't the conventions of unschooling that there are no conventions? My unschooling philosophy is pretty similar to yours, the cornerstone being flexibility and a willingness to reflect on our own notions about education; thoughtfulness rather than the blind following of a prescribed set of beliefs set forth by someone else. We are also very "tidal," and I like this term. I know what you mean though, by "conventional unschoolers", those who would question your choice to support what works for your child because it doesn't mesh with their definition of unschooling - to me, these people are in fact the least unschooly!

Fanny Harville said...

Hi Holly! I totally agree about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase "conventional unschoolers." It is funny, but unfortunately also accurate. I like the label "unschool" because it can unite a range of approaches, but often, at least in the blogosphere, that variety is not as evident...

Anonymous said...

i love the idea of interest-led learning! during my brief foray into education classes in college, i fell in love with that concept. so nice that you can implement it for Norris.

CMR said...

that last comment was from Carli. can't get my gmail password to work.

Christina @ Interest-Led Learning said...

I can really relate to your style of learning. We have some regular things we work on every day, but, like your family, it grew very organically around things the kids gravitated towards every day already. Now we flow in and out of the same types of things every day. We don't have a "school" year either. I can relate to the tidal term, too. It seems like for a while, maybe several months at a time, we get excited about praticiting writing or doing more math activities, but then we want to do more outdoor things or sciency things. We tend to learn a few things in big blocks of time instead of a lot of different topics at the same time. I'm very glad you shared this link with me. I'll be visiting more often!