While unschooling falls under the umbrella of ‘homeschooling’, since it’s done at home, it differs from almost every other educational philosophy in that it tailors the education towards the child’s interests rather than directing the child based on a standard curriculum. What we learn, day to day, can’t be charted against any State guideline or specific Grade evaluation. If our unschooling was a type of living arrangement, what we do would be considered ‘off the grid’.
The fact is, I’ve tried it both ways…with curriculum and without. Using a curriculum I found I spent 100% more energy to stuff it in their heads, with about 10% retention. Without curriculum, based entirely on interest and curiosity, I found I spend 10% the energy, and see about 90% retention from them. It’s just a basic human truth…we remember what we care about. We learn and retain information that has meaning.
There are some periods in our unschooling life where the kids are obsessed with a particular subject and focus on it for months at a time. We had a fantastic early American History focus that spanned 6 months one time. They just couldn’t get enough of it. The finale of that particular interest was going to Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg, Virginia.
Then, there are times when there really is no focus or interest per se…maybe little things they’re working on individually, but nothing big to tie one day to the next or take up huge chunks of our time. It’s like an ebb after a flow…the rhythm of learning has its own beat. I used to get stressed out when this would happen…anxious in the void and stressing over it. But now I notice that sometimes this is the most productive time, even if I can’t test it or evaluate it. This is the time when their minds are searching, open and waiting for the next source of inspiration. This is the time that we do lots of activities and field trips…get out and expose ourselves to as much of the world as we can.
At home, in times like this, I use a monthly calendar as well…the kind that gives all the holidays and month long observations possible. For example, if you follow the link, you’ll see that November is Latin America month. It’s also Aviation month, Drum month, Model Railroad month, Epilepsy month…etc. So the kids pick out the things that interest them, and then for the rest of the month we kind of generally focus on it. This month the kids wanted to find out about Latin America, so we got every book we could out of the library that talked about countries in Latin America. Naturlalist traced a map onto a canvas, and when we’re done learning about a country then they paint it in. When we’re done, I’ll have something special to hang on our wall.
I just never know what will turn from a spark of interest into a passion for them, this helps keep the sparks coming. It’s also fun to see what each day’s events are…Nov. 15th is ‘Pack your mom a lunch” day, the 17th is “take a hike” day…the 30th is “stay at home because you’re well” day. If something we come across takes center stage and becomes a big focus of interest, then I back off the calendar. But in times like this, I use it to keep exposing all of us to lots of interesting things and places.
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