Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Too Cool For School

As you can tell from yesterday's Wordless Wednesday post, we are unschoolers. You could also probably tell that we are learning Chinese by immersion...and that's just one of the jǐng rén (exciting/fascinating) things we get to do with the kids because we have decided to unschool.

I've written about this before, but for those of you who haven't read my previous posts unschooling is like homeschooling, in that it takes place at home and I am the kid's "teacher" but after that the similarities pretty much stop. We don't have curriculum, we don't have text books or tests (except as according to all applicable laws), we don't have desks or scheduled 'learning time'. So what is it, you might ask, that my kids learn?

Well, Chinese for one. We incorporate Chinese language into our every day lives, from zǎoshang hǎo (good morning) when we wake up to wǎnshang hǎo (good night/evening) when we go to bed. If you want to know what the definition of cute is, you should see little Baby Bug grab her bottle and look up at you with her big bambi eyes and say xiè xie ni (thank you) in her little pixie voice-it's the cutest thing you'll ever see.

We've also learned a lot about the human body. Monkey can name every major bone in the body, and he's showing signs that he's interested in the brain and it's functions so I think we'll be moving onto the nervous system next.

I know that there are a lot of skeptics out there (our parents-even my in laws who do traditional homeschool among them) who wonder how we cover "the basics" through child lead learning. Don't worry, we also learn "the boring stuff" like reading and writing and math, but you know what? I still don't have to make the kids learn them. I have never once sat Monkey down and forced him to write or read or calculate anything. One day he decided he wanted to write something, so he sat down and started scribbling his version of letters. Then natural curiosity came along and he wanted to learn how to write even more letters and numbers and symbols. Now as he gets older he wants to learn to write better, so I got him the Spiderman penmanship workbook that he asked for. It's the same way with reading. When he was a baby he wanted to "read" books like mommy so he grabbed them and thumbed through them and talked to himself. Eventually he wanted to know what the books actually said so he brought them to me so that I could read to him. As he got older he started recognizing small words and he would half sight read and half make things up. Now just recently he has been asking me to help him sound out words and about a month ago read his first beginner book all by himself. Math is a recent upstart in the house-when we saw the Spiderman penmanship work book there was a Spiderman math work book right next to it. He asked me what it was and I told him and he said that he'd always wanted to learn about plus-ing and minus-ing and could we please get that book too? The work book wasn't home two minutes before he dove into it and he's already through nearly half of the work book.

There is no big secret here. I don't have a college degree. Despite the fact that I of course think that our son is a prodigy in all things, Monkey is a pretty average child. All I had to do was introduce him to new things to learn, answer his questions, help when asked, and provide resources for him. I just drove the cart down the isle (and put the book in the house, wrote notes and lists in front of him, found language games when he decided he wanted to learn Chinese)-I didn't have to make him do school work. I didn't have to beg him to put in the time. I didn't have to set up an elaborate system of punishments and rewards, and do you want to know why? Because kids, left to themselves, LOVE LEARNING. Before kids are taught that learning is work, kids are naturally curious enough to learn everything they need to know and more-more like Chinese. More like the skeletal and nervous systems. More like making paper cranes, and bird watching, and plant life cycles, and butterfly metamorphosis, and world geography, and baking skills-with the wide open minds of children as the base, the possibilities are endless.

For us the whole world is school-and it's way too big, and way too cool for a tiny building.

I realize of course that not everyone can/wants to homeschool and that's absolutely fine. I would never butt in on someone else's parenting-as long as everyone is doing what they believe is in their child's best interest I say more power to them. I would however just encourage everyone to find out what their child is passionate about and show them how fun learning can be. Does your child love Diego and Dora? That's an easy gateway to learning Spanish-try tossing a few "buenos dias"es into your day and build from there. Does your child love cars? You can pick up a solar-powered race car kit at Frys for about $15 and build it together. Does your child love dinosaurs? Buy a model dinosaur, but before you build it bury the pieces in the back yard and have an excavation! Even if your child already does all of their schooling in a different building, there is nothing more rewarding than nurturing your child's passion and planting that seed for a life long love of learning.

Happy learning adventures everyone!

[Picture: Oh The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss, Art by Theodore Geisel]


singedwingangel said...

WEll that is just cool and I believe that it would work.. that sounds lke such fun and your kids don't feel so pushed

Rana said...

We are unschoolers too and I love watching my kids learn things and get excited with out me having to push it on them or prod them to feel like they "have to". Like you said they do it because they want to learn and we try to keep it simple.

I have enjoyed reading your blog, this is my first time commenting. I've been lurking for a while. Great post!

Heather said...

It is a joy and it DOES work. Mine are 12, 10, and 8-- our families felt the same way as yours (and as public school teachers were against this whole "homeschooling" thing to begin with.) I have come to the conclusion that, just like when you have a toddler who spends an hour putting lids on pans, it doesn't matter if WE think it is boring-- the kids will do it for fun anyway if it tickles their brain in some way. My kids have learned all sorts of "boring" stuff naturally and for fun just because they are interested. For me the biggest trick is not letting on how boring I think it is/was. :)

Bossy Betty said...

Love it! Kids are born with a natural love of learning and it sounds like you are nurturing that love!

Tracie said...

I think you're an awesome mom for doing this. I don't have the patience or intelligence.

CE Webster said...

Terrific work! You really do need the patience.

Melissa aka Equidae said...

its a wonderful concept and although i will send my son to school eventually I already have planned millions of such fun learning things in my head LOL