Unschooling: Living Without School; Living Free Range-Freedom to Learn What One Wants When One Wants

Friday, March 28, 2014

Academics vs. Real Life Rant

Why is it that nobody seems to care what a child has been doing unless it is unmistakingly academic? Why is the "go-to" question for children, "How is school?" Why is it not enough for children to have an intense interest is something that is applicable to real life? Why is Little Johnny considered stupid if he is a master at woodworking instead of English? These are the questions I have.

Recently Samantha started amazingly creative project-all on her own! She found a 2 liter Coke bottle. Simple Plastic 1. She asked if we could recycle it. Lesson in itself....As if that wasn't enough...we brought it home and she decided to upcycle it instead. I had to wash dishes and begin dinner preparations. S helps to cook most nights, but tonight I thought I wouldn't interrupt the explosion of creativity. She quickly got to work, first washing it out, peeling off the label, and then filling it with water. She took streamers from her art closet and tore off pieces, twisting them into fish, placing them in the water one by one. She then tore up 2 other colored streamers and said they were different types of food for the fish. (Can't remember specific names, but I'm sure she would if I asked her.) She fed her fish. Once the "fish" were fed, she named each of them and wrote each name on the side of the "tank," as well as drawing a habitat for the fish on the other side. She has carried that bottle with her the last few days, asking for "fish sitters" when needed, feeding them twice a day, and playing with them. Okay, so maybe sounds a little odd, but she is 5. Those fish are one of the most important parts of her world this week and I respect that. I'm proud of her and I encourage it simply for the initiative she took in creating something new.

But it seems the older she gets, the less people want to hear about the seemingly non academic things my child does. I'm not sure what it is that happens between the ages of 5 and 18....Most of us are "unschooled" as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers if you think about it. As well as after highschool, sometimes college. So why is this age any different? Maybe I should begin to break it down when I describe to others what she did. Maybe they would be more interested. I could say, "S made a fish habitat yesterday. Science was the main goal here. We discussed recycling, upcycling, why Coke and other soft drinks are one of the causes to society's declining health. Then moving on to habitats, discussing fish, fish species, and fish diets, domesticated fish, as well as fish naturally occurring in fresh water and salt water. We continued into Geography by discussing and listing geographical ocean features, an extension sparked by her previous Geography Fair Project. Reading and Spelling were covered when she picked out and spelled names, some with assistance and some without. We discussed names that rhyme and names that are spelled similar to those names. For math, Samantha learned to measure out the water at an angle so that it did not overflow when filling. Not to mention art, creativity and imagination, learning to care for animals...Sha'll. I. Go. On?

So my question is why do we put so much emphasis on academics that we forget what is truly important to a child? And that is play. Play. So simple. Children learn through play. A child's world is play and that doesn't stop at 5. Each child should be recognized and respected for their differences, just like adults.

I have learned so much in my 4 years out of highschool-and simply just because. I have learned in depth about home management, math/budgeting, natural cleaning-technically chemistry, cooking, organic living, gardening, most recently dehydrating foods. I read more. I write more. I get out more. I'm more social. I function better in my World than I even have. I can research well, use the library to its potential, drive even. And other adults listen to my knowledge and talents and take time to discuss them with me. None of those "talents" fall neatly into ONE academic category. Yet, I have benefited from all I have learned and I am respected for it. Why? Because of my age?

Children, if give them the chance for freedom and responsibility early on, will flourish. But we need to encourage them to be themselves and follow God's calling for them in a world where people try to bring each other down and prevent each other from following their path. Let us give them the respect and genuine interest they deserve so that they will not be afraid to show us what they can do.

New Title

In the process of thinking of a new title for this Blog. I think it deserves more. We have done so much this year thanks to our unschooling lifestyle. Homeschooling just doesn't seem to fit anymore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Last Year

It's my birthday! And I'm looking back on this last year, just like I do on her birthday. And Wow. It's March 2014. I can't believe it was 8 months ago when we began a whole new style of life. Of course we are still pretty unstructured. (It has been amazing seeing where the day takes us! One morning, totally unexpectedly, it took us to the bank to open an account for Sam, talk about money, check registers, and change. Then to paint pottery pieces for family (with her allowance money), then lunch with Daddy and the playground. Talk about eventful! We didn't even plan to leave the house that day!) Anyway, since August though we have met new people, gone new places, joined new groups, and learned so many new things in new ways! She is growing up fast. One day she is clinging to me. The next (literally) she is running around the playground, sliding down the poles, swinging herself, and doing the monkey bars!

We have our own routine that works right now. Our "active week" is Tuesday-Saturday. Daddy is off Sunday/Monday, so we still learn, but differently.

Tuesday: Volunteer at Pregnancy Center/Gym

Wednesday: Stay Home

Thursday: Gymnastics

Friday: Library Day

Saturday: Stay Home

Monthly we have a CHEA Playdate usially on Friday, a CHEA Fieldtrip or Party, CHEA Nature Group on Wednesday, Lego Club on Thursday, and Volunteer at the local Farm on Friday.

Sam is immersed in several different things right now:

She is working on a lemonade stand. She has made signs, flyers, crafts to sell, product and price lists, things to buy, learned how to profit, learned more about money value and making change....The list goes on.

Her newest interest is piano. Sam has had an undying love for classical music since I can remember. As a toddler, it was all I could find to get her to nap. Still is! When she is tired, she turns on her classical music and falls right to sleep. The result? Sam has memorized dozens of pieces and can recognize hundreds. She loves the composers, the sheet music, the piano, the everything. And would give anything to be able to play it. My 5-1/2 year old wants to play classical music-oh and not to mention learn about the government? I didn't believe those who told me unschool was THIS amazing!

A friend and I are planning to co-op. She would teach piano. And I would do Charlotte Mason style nature study. It would benefit Sam to have someone else teach her and be in a setting like that with friends.

Those are her two main interests-aside from art, writing comic books, that sort of thing...We are also reading Little House still, dabbling in how the government is supposed to function, always practicing gym, and doing little side experiments like making ooze, slime, playing with our new marble roller coaster, or like yesterday, we had a "Recycling Day." Again, that is just where the day lead us. It was a cold day, so we got out Sam's new Recycling Kit and learned how paper is recycled. We did that, then watched videos on it, talked and read about it. Before we knew it, it was time for gym, so we took our Recycling to the Recycling Center before class. Sam found out the WHY and HOW of recycling, something I just assumed she knew about, but didn't. I hope recycling is something that sticks with her through her adult years because she believes in it, not because "Mama said so."

Coming up we have FIELD DAY WITH CHEA!!! Sam is going to love having her own field day. She loved Brennon's last year. Soon after that is Homeschool Day at Lake Winnie. We also have Sam's Homeshow, her first volunteer trip to the farm, first Lego Club meeting...

Seems like yesterday we attended her first Not Back to School picnic. Here we are almost a year later, still learning. Still growing. Still having fun. I am thankful to God for my last year that he has given me to be a Mom. To be a Wife. A teacher. A counselor. And a friend. Life goes by too fast for us to waste it. I hope that I'm able to enjoy and take in this next year as much as the last. I know there will be good and bad, just like every year, but I just keep reminding myself that without the bad, there would be no room for growth, no place for good.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Personal Interests and Learning

One of the most amazing things about children, well, about humans in general, is that we are all so different. And we all have so many different interests that are always changing. Some of those interests-they stick with us for a long time.

If we really tune into those individual interests that we have, we will find out a lot about ourselves and the world around us. As a young child, I had an intense interest in horses. Unfortunately, I didn't receive guidance deeper into learning about them, so I never learned more than what I read in some of my books. And my interest died after a few years of looking at pictures and playing with horse toys, but maybe one day l'll pick it back up... I also had my own business with my brother when I was 9. It was called Sticky Stickers. (We went door to door trying to sell our sticker collection.) I loved art as a child and as I grew older I loved writing also. I wrote books and poems unceasingly. I studies poets like Poe, who was my favorite. I spent endless hours trying to learn his style and everything about him. I was always researching topics such as alchemy, which was sparked by a friend. I studied many other things all on my own, simply because I wanted to know. I wonder, had I had more free time to expand my mind, just how far I would have taken my interests?

S has really grown into a Beautiful young lady who has had no trouble finding herself. She has so many interests and has been able to explore each of those with few restrictions, if any.

S looks forward to gymnastics all week. She goes on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour each time and still can't get enough. She has become very dedicated to gym, so we decided to reward her with a trampoline to practice on throughout the Summer and on days she has no class. S will play on that trampoline from sun up to sun down, barring it is above freezing outside. She practices her swivel hips, "seat, doggy, smash," and all kinds of other flips and tricks. The trampoline gives her confidence to practice without a group watching and to try new things without a time limit or being told what to do. She has really improved in class and is moving up to intermediate come Fall. I wonder how far up she will decide to go? 

S really loves Legos too! Well, really she loves any building materials. We use Legos, blocks, Tinker Toys, Mable Rollercoaster pieces-with gears, paper, cotton swabs, bobby pins, popsicle sticks....There are endless materials and endless opportunities! When we build, her mind is constantly working and problem solving. She is experimenting to see what looks best where. And why doesn't that fit? What would? Build, Build, Build. She could do it for hours. The more she builds and older she gets, the more intricate her designs are. We often use Minecraft as a resource. It is in fact not as mindless and most parents think. Even virtual building is building. And you have infinite materials-in Creative Mode that is. She can experiment with different colors and decide whether she wants wood or stone. Should she build a lake or lava pit beside her new house? Are those creepers? Ah! Oh, the possibilities.

Building is a form of art and S is also an artist like I was. We can't keep stuff off the walls! We empty the refrigerator one day. The next day it is full of new creations! She is bursting with ideas. Sometimes she makes simple pictures. Other times she makes signs for the doors. (Each bathroom in our house now has its own male/female sign.) Other days she drags out all her stuff from the closet and sees what she can do. (She enjoys making 1st Place ribbons from coffer filters.) We have homemade necklaces, still life drawings, paintings, pastel art...She really enjoys using her professional art kit, complete with full size easel to see what she can make. Art is a way for her to experiment with color, space, and scenes of any kind.

S is also a writer. She loves to write books, comics, and songs. She just began spelling on her own fluently. (She still needs my help on words, but she can spell most simple words on her own.) Any who, it makes her feel a million times more confident that she can do most if it without help. So she just writes away. Her comics are always written with elaborate drawings and minimal dialogue. Books are filled with a plethora of words AND pictures. Then we write the songs as something to do together, complete with music notes!

Speaking of music, S also loves classical music, always has, and has expressed an interest in playing the piano. Right now we are keeping it at one activity, gymnastics, on top of CHEA-which has several extras we attend: play dates, field trips, parties, nature group...not to mention volunteering at two places, weekly trips to the library, etc. She needs down time for exploring outside, getting together with friends that aren't in CHEA, and following other interests, such as the most recent interest in starting a lemonade stand business....I digress. Classical music expands the mind, so I will always encourage it. We will see where this love takes her and go from there as she gets older.

Well, that's my S. She is a tree climbing, nature and animal loving, active, artist, little girl. I'm taking in every minute of her once in a lifetime childhood and trying to encourage every bit I can...afford. ;)

What is Gifted Anyway?

For 13 years I kept my eye on the gold. For 13 years I strove to be the best, no matter what it took. Sometimes with success. Sometimes to no avail. Failure, however, was no option. That is, failing my teachers, my school, and my family. At any cost, I would reach the goal that had been set for me since birth. What about my goals for me? Did I even have any or were these just the goals I thought I wanted to reach. I am green with envy for those "rebels" who fought for what they knew THEY wanted. I digress.

I was labeled gifted at the earliest age they could "test." Placed in gifted classes, a class that set me apart from the whole school, set special expectations for me, and made me feel, well-superior. I liked it. I was "smart" and I knew it. What is smart anyway?

I graduated early, in 2009, in the top 5% of my class-with honors, and with a baby to boot! I reached the line I had been racing for since I was 5 years old. I still felt-superior, to be perfectly honest, but the satisfaction in that was really less than anticipated. Now what?

The next step was seemingly obvious. College. But somehow college didn't give me that fulfillment I was looking for. I was running in circles, doing the same stuff I had done the last 13 years. Is there any end to this? We as humans, are on a never ending quest, for knowledge, but was this knowledge? I was a duck with an injured foot, trying to swim in water, but not getting anywhere. I wanted real knowledge. I wanted more than what you could find in your text book. So...I quit. WHAT??!!! "BLASPHEMY!" They said.

I am not a student. But without a college education, I am a writer. I am a speaker. I am a counselor. I am a researcher. A gardener. A cook. A Mom. And an amazing teacher.

And I learned all this by myself and with the gentle guidance of others. I learned it without any special labels or being made to feel superior or inferior. I made my own goals and my own time frames. I didn't have a set of gifted curriculum. I simply did things...my way. I reached where I wanted to be and I either kept going, delving deeper into my studies or I got what I needed-and stopped.

And I realize now, labels are nothing. Labels are based off a test or by our learning styles. What we are labeled is for some crazy, messed up reason, sets the course for our lives. It dictates our self worth. Our goals. And even our outcomes.

So what is gifted anyway? It isn't really a title we take with us when we leave school. In fact, it never benefited me at all after graduation. If anything, it was the reason I felt like such a failure when I left college. Or when I made a B. Or messed up. But I'm gifted. How could this be? Gifted didn't mean invincible, but I had been molded to think it did...

So what do we do with this information? I think we drop the human standards that we hold ourselves up to and look in the mirror. Find out what we want for ourselves? What did God plan for us to become? We could think on that for awhile...

So in the famous words of author David H. Albert, just do these things..."Have Fun. Learn Stuff. Grow."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Farm Trip

You know those moments, those little things you do that you think are no big deal but could possibly be a turning point in your life? Well, I do. I recently picked up a local magazine called "Taste Buds" while on a date with Hubby. It had a chicken on the cover and I thought, "How cute! I love my chickens!" Knowing that I might recycle it without reading, I picked it up anyway, and in just a matter of days it turned our homeschool upside down. It contained a list of local farms to buy from and volunteer at. We must have researched and contacted 100 different farms in the next 2 days. We learned so much-just over the phone, about permaculture, how to buy a cow, what constitutes a truly organic grass fed meat, questions to ask, etc. etc. It wasn't long before we decided we needed to visit a few farms, so we did. Last Thursday we visited 2 farms, a local restaurant at a farm, and a farmer's market. Sam had a BLAST! She gathered eggs, fed some baby lambs, pet some goats and llamas, identified different types of chickens, toured a ranch,  stood in the same field close to steer, listened to discussions about meat, fertilizing land, USDA processing facilities vs non USDA, ate grass fed beef, bought locally, and tried raw milk, which in turn lead us to look up the benefits and "risks of," which lead us to make "the switch!" Whew! What a day it was, and that was half of it!

Sam was so intruiged! The next step is volunteering. We found a farm we will be visiting come Spring that follows the principles of permaculture. Interesting method if you have time to research, very natural. Nice people. Said, "Come on out whenever!" It is 30 miles one way, so right now Sam will volunteer once a month. She will learn about plant placement, companion planting, care of plants and also animals, weather, and SO MUCH MORE! And then here at home we will work on building our "back yard farm" of chicken and goats, and continue to buy 90% of our food locally! What an experience just because of one small, local health magazine. THIS is what unschool is ALL ABOUT! Digging in to your community and all the education and relationships it has to offer.

We have been working on many things. Her Geography project is almost finished. Math. Slow going. Who wants to memorize facts? Reading has really taken off. For the first time since Fall when I stopped trying to force her to read, I heard her say, "Mommy, I love reading! Reading is FUN!"

The garden is slow going because the crazy weather lately. Gym is going great for her! They are working on some more advanced skills. She is mastering caring for dogs. And Legos-our newest focus. :) Day in and day out the last few weeks she has really been focusing on building her own stuff, following directions to build stuff in the booklets. Problem solving, correcting herself, symmetry, etc. So. Much. Learning!!!

Anyway, that is my update for her journal.

Also, some pics from her Valentine party I never posted! (The party itself went okay. She says she had fun, but it was crowded at the rink-almost 100 CHEA families showed up. And she was over tired from a having her friend, Kailah, spend the night. Kailah is also in CHEA....She skated with friends and ate snacks, handed out her Valentines and got a box full from the others. She passed out on the way home. CHEA gatherings always wear her out.)

PS I finally found the courage to chuck the lesson plan book! Life does not always fall directly under the categories of "Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies." There is gym, art, building, real life applications, Bible, combinations of everything. And the value of our learning cannot be described in little one liners. We will build a portfolio and I will keep pictures and descriptions of some of our on going projects, but anyone who knows my child knows she is learning all the time, plus she stays active and involved. No need to "fake it" or "force it." :)