I once heard unschooling described as living life like a series of Saturdays. I never did like that description because it made it sound like all you do is lay around and watch TV. And to me, unschooling didn't mean laying around all the time waiting to get bored enough to do something productive.
After my recent struggle with teaching vs. "not teaching" math and a very lazy Saturday, however, I finally get what that means. Actually, by lazy Saturday I am referring to a Sunday, because that is the first day of the weekend for us. Hubby and I were most definitely being lazy as we became engrossed in a season of House M.D. We have been watching only at night before going to sleep, but that rainy Sunday got the best of us and we couldn't unglue ourselves from the bed.
S, however, being left to her own devices, was actually productive, without my direction to play math games or practice her reading. She started out the day by drawing, of course. Then she played some games on the computer: some math, some reading, some just plain fun that actually had a small amount of math and reading mixed in. She played on the Wii Pad making avatars for each member of the family, trying to make each character look like that person with their favorite color clothing, asking how to spell their names, typing, and reading the directions and titles for each of the Mario levels. Then she napped. (Hey, gotta have SOME lazy time on a day off.) Afterward, she played with her toys, telling stories and creating new scenes. She read one of her new favorites series of books called Cat Diaries. She is still kinda slow at it, so I am not even sure that she finished a whole chapter, but I did hear her reading aloud in the next room and she read for awhile. She drew some more pictures. Made things from Play Doh. Watched some You Tube videos on How It's Made. (She can tell you how everything is made. And if she can't, she looks it up, and after watching it once or twice, she can tell you the whole process!) She looked through a book about fairies we checked out of the library and worked on her newest project, a Fairy House. I don't remember what else she did. But I know we read together that afternoon. Ate dinner as a family. And she probably watched a movie before passing out that night.
I was finally convinced that I could let go-completely, and she would be okay. In fact, she would be more than okay. She would excel. Sure, if she did the same thing every day for years, she might not learn much, but after awhile her interests would shift. She would probably get bored of playing Mario. She will eventually finish the book she was reading and move on to another. And every time we have a family dinner, we will probably talk about something different, be in current events, working out, eating healthy, camping...
I have seen that happen over the last few weeks since I started letting go completely. Tuesdays and Wednesdays we are not home at all. And that is automatic learning all day. Tuesdays volunteering and gymnastics. Wednesday library, errands, swim class. The rest of the week is OURS! And the days go like this: We spend the daytime together in the living room. I made one of the new popular pallet couches with two twin sized mattresses, which is perfect because there is so much room to work on projects. We can stretch out and play games, even if the dogs are laying on it. I can use a whole mattress to do laundry while she lays out to draw or work on something on the other side. And it is wide enough that we can really have room for everything without a back cushion hindering us. (We can move the back pillows.) Anyway, back on track. We spend the days together either there or at the kitchen table. And as soon as S wakes up, I don't suggest we "play games" or "read" anymore. Although, she enjoys our daily ritual of reading when she first wakes up, so we do generally read for awhile in her bed, usually American Girl or her series or Cat Diaries. When we are done, she gets up and goes about her day. Her first activity is usually drawing. Then she goes on, asking to play games or playing with her toys. Somewhere throughout the day, I get sidetracked. My Dad calls. I get the dishes going. Etc. During that time, Samantha usually picks up the Wii Pad and brushes up on her gaming skills. Good break. Like having recess I guess. Today I am not feeling well and neither is she, so she is on the Wii and she started adding-voluntarily! She didn't even need to do it for the game. She was just curious. (Word problems, which mean true understanding if she can apply them correctly, which she did.) She said, "Look! Daddy has 6 flags for the Worlds he has defeated. But there are 8 worlds, so it looks like he needs 2 more to beat the game! Of course I encouraged that. Unschooling isn't total neglect. Gosh. She was proud of herself, so it made her feel confident enough (despite my earlier *horrible* comments to people that she was "bad" at math) to continue on. "Oh wait, and over here, it looks like he needs 3 more because he has 5 on this one." Bingo! She's got it. Subtraction, in a no stress environment, is coming to her as easy as spelling her own name!
Moving on, our favorite thing to do is work on projects. When you are working toward a goal, you have something to show, and a stopping point (with an accomplishment) if you wish. (Like building a garden!) So we have been working on two projects. One is a new fairy house. S did her research on what fairies like. She made a list of natural materials to gather. She went outside and explored on a pretty day, and gathered most of what she needed. She measured out how big her stuff needed to be. She made another list, of things she wanted to make, like a clock. She was very clever with her use of resources to make a "clock" out of nature-which she labeled with a marker.
We are still working on it, but have set it aside for now to work on a new project. As Samantha and I were talking the other night, she was reminessing about how much she really enjoyed the art gallery we visited at the end of last year. She talked again about how much she wishes her art would be displayed in a gallery like that one day. And then she came up with an idea. "Let's make the house into an art gallery!" And we took off with ideas about how to make each room into a theme, what mediums to use, etc. S talked about making tickets for J and me and making a cash register and pretend desk. It was decided. We would start in the morning. Then my SIL had a great idea! Why doesn't she open her gallery to family and friends? S LOVED the idea, so she is making "VIP" tickets for everyone she is inviting. (We made a list.) Also made a list of mediums she wanted to use. Then we started with a book about how to draw with charcoals. She learned more about the medium, but got a little frustrated with the smearing. (Not to mention she was determined to draw a horse, and those are extremely difficult for beginners.) So we set it aside and moved on. She made some sketches-one of her best was of an angel. (She named the sketch, "Angel of Fun," very appropriate for an angel with a rainbow colored skirt. She asked me to teach her to write her name in cursive so she could sign her art. And tell her the date so she could start dating her art too. She made some clay miniature statues and will paint them once they dry. After that, she was worn out for the day. She still has so much to do, like make the tickets, money, cash register, paint pictures with different types of paint, etc. She is trying really hard and taking her time because she wants to impress the people who have never seen her art before. This, I believe, will most definitely go in the "top projects" pile. I am documenting with pictures and will keep updating.
When I am not working with Samantha, I have taken up a few new studies of my own aside from the Gardening and reading up on homeschooling. (I think it is important to see me doing my own reading and research so she will see that I am not just telling her to do it, but doing it myself voluntarily. Anyway, I am sure I have mentioned that before, but just wanted to stress what a difference it makes, especially in an unschool environment.) She sparked my interest in fairies, so I thought I would read a few novels with some accounts retold and information about the different types or fairies and theories, partially because it is interesting and I want to share her interests and partially because I want to be able to relay some of the knowledge to her in terms she can understand. (It is even a hard read for me. The author is Irish.) I think the best of this is we can all play off of and explore each others interests. I am learning about computers and fairies. S is learning about gardening. And J learns everything we do because both share our interests constantly over dinner and in the car or while out doing something as a family. Gives us something to talk about and connect over besides the same old, "How was your day?"
I am learning one small bit at a time that letting go does not mean not getting involved, or laying on the couch watching TV like you would on a lazy Saturday. It just means that I don't have to cling to the scope and sequence established by others. I need to trust my child that she knows what is relevant to HER life and HER future and she will benefit greatly from that. She will go further than she ever would with somebody else telling her what she needs in her life. I truly believe that. Now that I have let go completely, I can't wait to see where this takes us.