Confession: I’m not a good unschooler. I had intended for this year (or at very least the first few months) to be a break. Aside from Morning Time (A Year in the Hundred Acre Woods), math and reading, our learning was supposed to be entirely delight-directed. We were going to dive into the world of the self-educated — a world in which parents are not teachers but facilitators. A world in which a child’s passion guides his or her learning.
But it’s harder for me to let go than I thought.
We started our school year yesterday. One thing led to another, and I ended up packing in several hours of school work. It was lovely though and no one minded … and that’s exactly what I was going for in the first place.
You see, we began with the first day of Lisa Wilkinson’s A Year in the Hundred Acre Wood and we fell in love. It’s such a gentle, beautiful curriculum incorporating character study, scripture memory, copywork, science and more. The girls were asking for more. Then we did math and reading. All good. Then history and then geography. When we were finished, my middle child wanted to research Newfoundland, so I set her up with some books and the tablet and let her have at it. The oldest sat down with some field guides and identified fungi and lichen from photos taken on a hiking trip last week. The youngest read me a book and played. They asked to watch a documentary on coral reefs and since I had some things I needed to do, I said yes. All in all, not a bad school day.
Today was more self-directed. We squeezed in scripture memory, copywork and math before I had to slip upstairs for a phone meeting. When I came down, the girls had just finished creating water colour paintings of gourds and were clamouring for something to eat. After lunch, we headed to a nearby hiking trail. And there we stayed until dinner.
In the woods, I let the girls take the lead and they did so with insatiable curiosity. They opened a gall in a maple leaf stem and found little insects inside. They watched milkweed beetles munching on leaves. They waded in a stream, their cheerful chatter intertwining with the water’s gurgle. They picked golden wildflowers and threw handfuls of soft thistledown into the air. They took photos of fungi to research later and rolled over logs to discover what creatures lived beneath. They identified the birds flitting through the treetops and the plants lining the trail. And all the while, they ran and jumped and splashed and climbed, their laughter ringing through the air.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that today wasn’t enough.
I’m currently reading Unschooled by Kerry McDonald and Peter Gray. In it, they say:
With information so accessible, and learning resources so abundant, the static process of schooling becomes obsolete. It used to be that school was where the books and knowledge were; now the books and knowledge are all around us … In a new, networked world with information at our fingertips, a set curriculum may actually hold us back.Kerry McDonald and Peter Gray, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, p. 29-30.
It’s true, although it’s hard to disentangle myself from the belief that a teacher-led education in which I check off public school priorities equals success. Lisa Wilkinson’s curriculum is a nice balance for us. It includes a bit of everything (except math and history) but it’s gentle enough that it’s enjoyable and forgiving enough that we can substitute or skip activities without feeling guilty.
And really, that’s what we’re after this year. Something that’s fun but also allows us the time and freedom to pursue individual passions. One daughter wants to take the year to focus on math, drawing and music. Another wants to ride horses, learn more about birds, and improve her handwriting. The youngest wants to learn to read and has been making decided progress.
And me? I want to learn to let go for a year. To facilitate rather than micromanage. To set aside the checklists and instead provide tools and opportunities for growth and development.
To homeschool in a way that leaves us all feeling refreshed.