Answering a few questions about Unschooling sent in by a reader.
Unschooling book recommendations?
John Holt is regarded as the founder of the unschooling movement so he would be excellent to read.
Also John Taylor Gatto.
There is a book I have called ‘The Unschooling Handbook’ by Mary Griffith that I just googled and is on book depository.
Dayna Martin is an American unschooling mama who has unschooled all 4 of her kids and written a book, although just googling her and watching her you-tube clips could be enough. I’ve heard her speak at a conference and her confidence in this lifestyle is really encouraging.
I haven’t yet read but I have heard very good things about ‘Free to Learn’ by Peter Gray, ‘Home Grown’ by Ben Hewitt and ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv.
Also, not technically a unschooling/free learning type of book but definitely one that can help shift those western society mindsets we are all conditioned with and one of my personal favourites – ‘The Continuum Concept’ by Jean Liedloff.
What resources to buy or not to buy? How often do you buy them and do you have a budget?
I am an avid op-shopper from pre-kids, so I have continued that habit and we’ve picked up some cool stuff along the way. Especially books; almost all our books are second-hand. Very early on I chose to buy more open-ended toys, and spent money on quality items at Christmas and Birthdays. As the children have grown, family members have even contributed to a few bigger items like our Spielgaben set or a trampoline for Christmas gifts. However, with resources I never went too far beyond the general, where the use of the toys could be used in several different ways. I knew I couldn’t predict what my children would or wouldn’t love, so I decided I would wait and see for certain things. Plus, they really don’t need much. Nature is probably our favourite ‘resource’ and that is free! Some of the things I’m glad I spent money on; are a good quality wooden block set, wooden chair and table set, lego, lots of books, micador waterpaints and schleich plastic animals. We don’t have a budget necessarily, but I do think ahead to things like birthdays etc as I mentioned above and I am frugal I guess. A telescope is probably going to be our next larger purchase because we all love astronomy.
Do you set up many, if any, numeracy and literacy activities such as letter and sound recognition, spelling, number recognition sorting, patterning etc?
No, I don’t specifically set up any educational types of activities. This is where that cornerstone of unschooling comes in – trust. Trust, and a deep understanding of the curiosity that drives young minds. Numeracy and Literacy are everywhere. They surround us in daily life. The names of shops, and labels on food, and prices on menus, and letterbox numbers, and, and, and… the examples can continue forever. What actually happens is that children notice that we (their parents/carers) can read and that we can write and that we can use numbers as tools in everyday life, and they seek to emulate us.
They ask questions – many, many questions – and us parents are here to wonder with them. Sometimes a simple answer is what they’re asking for, and other times they need deep discussions that meander into many unrelated topics. Sometimes their questions are met with an ‘I wonder…’ and they have time to think of creative reasons for their pondering. And sometimes, if they feel comfortable and connected with the involved adult in their life, they will hypothesise,and notice things, and want to share their discoveries with their parents, and that is how we know they are learning some of the skills our society deems important.
Patterns and sorting are a huge part of nature, and children notice these very naturally in my experience. They see the patterns in nature even when we don’t. One important part of unschooling is that because we are with the child all the time, we don’t need to see the child ‘prove’ their learning the way that schools do. A child who draws a picture of a butterfly with symmetrical patterning on each wing, is demonstrating an understanding of patterns. She doesn’t need to repeat this action over and over again to prove her understanding. She knows it’s there, and through displaying her art, the parent now does too.
With things such as days of the week, weather, months etc, do you have a daily chart or are these concepts just discussed as opposed to being displayed?
Again, we don’t. Not that I think it would be bad to have them displayed, but that in my experience, the understanding for these concepts just happens along the way. Again, through everyday conversations and experiences. An interesting example I have from my own experience, is that Hannah learned to read time on a clock at age 4, but we’ve never really had a regular clock in our house! She observed that we spent time talking about time and therefore she wanted to know more about it.
Plus, I think there is something to be said for waiting until the child is ready to learn a concept, and then working through it in a way that suits the child individually. As a broad example, if your child was a visual learner a chart or picture of the months of the year may be very helpful and appealing, but a child who learns best through one on one conversation is going to get little from the same chart. Simply, we follow the child themselves and allow them to guide the direction of learning in every circumstance.
How much time should I be guiding or facilitating versus just letting the children be?
I am available to the children every day, mostly all day, to be there as a sounding board, talk through thoughts and ideas, read stories, help find items, organise outings, discuss interesting concepts, cuddle with, ask questions of, joke with, clean and garden with, and generally just live. I’m here. And because we have the freedom of quality time, there is no hurry. If a concept or question doesn’t get answered or explored in they way I would have preferred because of a cranky baby who needs a nap or dinner that needs concentration, then I know we have the time to come back to it. Knowledge builds on itself. I know we can talk about bees this week, and next year there will be an opportunity to go meet a beekeeper, and the month after we might see some native bees nesting in a log and 2 years later make candles out of beeswax. It doesn’t all need to fit within a ‘unit of work’ because we’re not a school serving information to many children who may or may not be interested in the information. We’re very connected and able to flow with the time and circumstances life gives us.
My focus currently with children who are small (all under 8 years old) is on lots of free play and time to just be. I never have a ‘plan’ of the day or what I will explain or tell them about that week. But if I see something I think they would like, I tell them about it. Just like I would with my husband or a friend. We have a relationship, my children and I, and that is the basis for everything else. I am not a teacher. I don’t have all the knowledge. No one does. And critical thinking, is I believe, an important skill to develop so we start early. The children have time to create their own theories of how many planets are in the solar system and why the grass is green. And that’s the best part.
Concepts I should or should not be introducing?
This ties into above. Follow the child. Lean into trust. There is no set time to learn ANYthing. That’s a socially constructed lie. Our brains are able to evolve and expand with knowledge at any age, not just in the first 5 years. Through unschooling, we don’t focus on ‘learning stuff’; that just happens. We focus on living together; connecting; getting to know each other; trusting each other; being kind, thoughtful and considerate; exploring themes of gratitude, and service and justice; connecting with nature and having adventures; and accepting ourselves and our divine individuality. Learning of an academic nature honestly just happens in a very organic way. If your child is asking questions about a certain topic or concept then they are ready to learn about it. However, we have to be careful not to take things too far and go overboard. As I mentioned above, there doesn’t need to be a unit study created on bees by you at 2am just because your 4 year old asked something about beehives at dinner. Try as much as you can to move out of the headspace of ‘are they missing something’ and instead see everything they are doing. Sharpening your skill of observation is incredibly helpful. A type of documentation may help as well. This doesn’t need to be rigid, I have an instagram account. Others use a diary. Some don’t do anything at all. And it’s all good. This post that I’ve written about the parents role in unschooling may help as well. You are important, but your child is the person learning and their experience should be personal. You’re just there to support and assist when needed and build the connection. Remember that it’s a relationship.
We don’t follow a curriculum or textbook of any kind when it comes to science. This is not because we don’t think science is an important subject, it is because we believe that like other subject areas, deep, meaningful learning will occur when it is interest-led. I have previously written about The Nature Curriculum and how my children have learnt a vast amount just by being immersed in nature and having the freedom to explore and develop their interests. Science is one of the most frequently discussed subjects in our home and it develops through my children’s interests and their natural curiosity as they engage and interaction with the natural environment. And this is how we came to learn about snails.
At the beginning of this year we moved from northern Australia to the east coast (NSW) of Australia and with this new location came a new variety of animals for us to discover and learn about. In our new front yard, hiding in our mail box, was a large group of snails and these mail-eating molluscs quickly became a daily topic of discussion as an interest and curiosity began to develop.
We spent, literally, many hours observing the snails crawling around our garden and eventually brought some inside so we could observe them closely. The first questions to arise was about the appearance of the snails body and how they move along.
For my daughters who are six and four years old, I purchased a Snail and Nomenclature Cards and Definition Booklet for them to use and learn about parts of a snail. I presented the cards to my girls and we talked about the different body parts while using our vineyard snail figurines to get a closer look. For my son who is a little bit older (10 years old), I purchased this 4D Vision Snail Anatomy Model from Mad About Science (Australia) for him to learn about the different parts of a snail. Here is a link to the same snail anatomy model available on Amazon. The model came with a booklet so my son was able to independently explore the anatomy of the snail at his own pace and interest.
After observing the parts of a snail, questions developed about the snails shell. We went hunting around our garden and found lots of shells which no longer had snails living in them. This sparked questions about did the snails die, did they grow out of their shell (like hermit crabs do) and why do they die. My children developed an hypothesis that snails in our garden had died because they were old and maybe there wasn’t enough food for them or it might have been too dry for them to survive. All really great questions!
We collected some of the shells and took them inside to observe them further. The shells were of different sizes with different shades of brown. Most of the patterns were the same so my children thought that this might be because they were the same type of snail.
We took a closer look at these shells under a microscope to see the detail further. Questions continued to develop about how hard the shells were, does the shell get bigger as the snail grows or do they need to find a bigger shell, and what if snails didn’t have a shell. This led our conversation towards molluscs and what other creatures were apart of the molluscs family.
After looking at the shells, the interest in snails seemed to slow down for a few weeks until my youngest child found a very tiny snail in our garden. This sparked questions about the life cycle of snails and how they have their babies. We read our books which told us that snails lay their eggs in the dirt so of course, we went exploring further. Unfornately we did not find any snail eggs but we did spent lots of time watching these baby snails.
Most of our questions were answered in the books we had and some of the questions we were able to find and answer for ourselves through observation. One such questions was asked about snails sleeping during the day. We thought maybe they were nocturnal so this took our learning into the late hours of the evening. After a passing rain shower we were able to observe the snails come to life” and it was awesome! My children weren’t the only ones who were amazed to see how busy snails are at night time.
Although it is wonderful to read about information in a book, it is even better to actually see these facts and information in full action right in front of our eyes. You can find more resources and information over on my Pinterest and follow along on our adventure over on Facebook and Instagram.
Today, Brian and I celebrate 9 years of marriage.
[I’ve written this post a little ahead of time, as we will be away on our road-trip down south during our anniversary.]
The little beach we live footsteps away from has a lovely home on the beachfront that people occasionally hire for weddings. Every Saturday I wonder if there will be another, and today there was. Brian was away on shift, but the kids and I left for our afternoon walk a little early and happened to catch the ceremony in progress. As we walked around the rock pools, I watched the wedding in progress and I was instantly transported back to our wedding day. I remembered the super feelings of excitement and the deep relief when the ceremony was over and we were now actually married. Actually husband and wife.
When we tied the knot we had already been together for 6 years (with a few little breaks here and there!). We already felt married. We lived together, shared our finances, spent our time together, felt truly comfortable with each other and dreamed for the future together. We didn’t think getting that marriage certificate would really change anything, and in a lot of ways it didn’t. But I do think somehow there is a weight to marriage- to that word – and that act of commitment we shared together in front of our loved ones. We did marry in a church although we are not religious (I know, I know) so it’s not about the faith aspect of it. The weight is more about the fact that we did commit for a long-term partnership. And we knew that wasn’t always going to look rosy. And it hasn’t.
Far out, it’s been hard sometimes. We’ve faced some tough, tough things. We’ve lost babies, and we’ve lost money, and we’ve lost love and we’ve lost ourselves. But – for me at least – knowing that I had made a promise to this man, made me want to work harder to renew our connection and love deeper. And every time we’ve done that, it’s made me say, “Wow, love is strong. Stronger than I could imagine.” And that is the weight of love. And of marriage.
In many ways I’m not the same girl that walked down the aisle towards Brian that day. And he isn’t the same man. We’ve grown, and not in a linear way; not at the same rate and speed alongside each other. Oh no. We’ve individually taken twists and turns, we’ve made corners when the other was cruising straight ahead, we’ve gone too fast and got completely lost along the way. Sometimes it felt like one of us was driving and the other was the passenger. And sometimes it felt like one of us didn’t want to be in the car at all anymore! But we kept driving, we talked it out, fought it out, and loved it out more times than I could possibly count.
The truth is that we don’t live life in the slow lane, and that is one thing we can both definitely agree on. We love to reach for our stars, choose our JOY and dream and live big. We’ve pushed the envelope and our time. We’ve packed a lot into our nine years of marriage and while it’s been fun, it has added to the stress at times. We’ve been pregnant and unpregnant and miscarrying, and sinking into depression and buying houses and wanting to quit uni degrees and apprenticeships and pregnant again and listening to negativity and losing jobs, and becoming parents and finding our way and moving house, and feeling isolated, and changing jobs and going overseas, and trying for another baby and moving house, and raising a toddler and having another baby, and breastfeeding, and moving house, and finishing a degree and deciding to be a stay-at-home-mum, and looking into education options, and finding our tribe and reconnecting and moving house, and losing another pregnancy and getting pregnant again, and knowing we will unschool, and doing a second apprenticeship and moving house, and going on road trips and camping, and finding our way and having another baby and being tired, and moving house and wanting to travel more and business ideas and selling houses, and having financial nightmares and another overseas trip and losing jobs and moving away from Brisbane, and having to start again, and loving unschooling and losing another pregnancy and moving to the sea and life with three little kids and, and, and.
Life. It’s full and we love it that way.
That’s probably my favourite thing about doing life with Brian – that it’s ours. I’ve learned something special in last 12 months – which has been small parts wonderful, but large parts hard, awful and overwhelming – which is that when B and I are in the flow, life is grand. Even when it’s not. Because he truly is my best friend. My partner. The one I’ve shared life with for over half of mine. And that is damn special and I feel grateful for it.
I admire and respect so much of who Brian is and what he brings to our family dynamic. .At his core, he is an amazingly involved father and partner and provider and caretaker and lover and friend and the best thing? He loves me. Yes, it sounds egotistical but I’m not blind, I see people everywhere desperately trying to find someone who loves them, flaws and all, and I’ve found that! And I’m really trying to be very, very careful not to take that for granted. Because I don’t. And I hope never to, and if you see me taking him for granted feel free to give me a wake up call. Because he’s great. Mostly ;).
So although we’re celebrating Nine Years of Marriage, we’re really celebrating more than that. We’re celebrating our commitment to us. For nine year plus. We’re pretty proud of ourselves and how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved together.
And babe, I’m looking forward to the future too. The best is yet to come.