Friday, July 30, 2010

It's the Holidays!!!

One question I am always asked by those not familiar with how unschooling works, is

"What about the school holidays? Do you follow the school term times?"

No we don't.

Because our life routine is the same, be it a Monday or a Sunday, 8am or 10pm, school term or holiday.  Our children don't stop learning, their thirst for knowledge and exploration is always there, they don't have a switch that can be turned on or off for learning (although a general on and off switch would be a welcome addition on occasions!)   Some days it would seem - to the casual observer - that very little learning is taking place.  When a child's day is filled with playing in the sandpit, cuddling rabbits, watching TV, playing on the Playstation or Wii, painting pictures, playing role-play games with his/her siblings, or making cakes - what actual learning is taking place?  Some people can't get their head around how children - just living - are soaking up everything around them.  They are learning so much without even thinking or knowing it.  Without those traditional methods in place, without teachers and classrooms, without workbooks and classmates.  As school-going adults, our brains are so conditioned as to what learning is - almost a separate entity to life - a thing that needs to be done in a different environment to the home, with a different person other than a mother (or father) at the helm.  A thing that doesn't just happen, but needs to be coerced, almost forced.  Learning is done at school, with a teacher dictating the lesson.  Then at home - through the hour or two of homework that the teacher has set.  Isn't it?

Let's look at what happened today.

My morning started with an idea that I would look into World Faiths with the children.  I had ordered these books from Bananas and were pretty impressed with them when they finally arrived (and at such a bargain price too - just don't expect them to arrive too quickly!)  I was going to use those as the basis for inspiration and see what developed from there.

However, as always, the children had other ideas.  Instead of gathering around me like good little children and sitting cross-legged on the floor, gazing in anxious anticipation at their "teacher" (or elbowing each other for more space, prodding the person sitting in front of them, or whispering rude jokes) - they did their own thing.  What things?

Well, they talked together, played role play games (consisting of dinosaurs, restaurants, and police), bounced on the trampoline, played with the dog, and dug up potatoes for our dinner.

They also read books, a lot of books. 

I did tell them it was the holidays...

Tiegan used the internet to do various things - play games, look at "weird" creatures (she is fascinated by unusual animals at the moment, I blame Nick Baker).  She found new recipes to try, talked to friends, and just generally browsed websites.

Just after this picture was taken, Callum got intrigued by a documentary that was on the TV about Henry VIII's wives.  I often have a "background" sound on - sometimes documentaries, sometimes news reports, sometimes music.  It's amazing how many discussions and learning opportunities that are sparked from these without any pressure or coercion.

Tiegan went off and made delicious (that's not me bigging them up - they really were DELICIOUS!) cakes, all by herself - and very proud of them she was too :)

Tiegan's Cakes

Chelsea popped off to the local library by herself (so nice to have an independant child), and returned home with books about Ancient Egyptians and Religions.

Joseph meanwhile just wanted to read. Books about football. Books about Historical Events. Books about Tudor Families. Books about Dinosaurs. He also played on the Playstation (great for his struggle with co-ordination skills), and looked at Historic Warriors and the Great Fire of London on the internet.

Tiegan went off and found one of our (many) Science Experiments books. She chose an experiment needing bread and water (simple things please her lots), and set about following the instructions - Callum *assisted*.

Experiment time again...

Apparently we have to wait for a few days for the results.

Afterwards Callum played Mario on the Wii, and I watched as he asked the others for advice and help. I observed as they worked together as a team - taking turns, each focusing on what their individual likes and strengths.

At 2pm Chelsea and Joseph got their bus fares together and headed off to town to a Teen library consultation event that they had been invited to.  They also had a wander around the shops, buying a few bits (including a bargain PS2 game that Joe found for 48p!)

So tell me - did any learning take place today?

This is how we do things daily, no workbooks, no timetables, no structure - just living.   I didn't prompt or guide them, I didn't even ask them to go and *do something*.  I just sat with them, observed, facilitated where necessary (although to be fair, there wasn't much facilitating to be done today!) and talked with them.  I also managed a complete clean of the bathroom, sort out the laundry, hoover upstairs and down, polish the dining room, go to the shop and make a cottage pie for dinner :o)

Bearing in mind that the children are completely free to do what they please around the home (or go out for a walk, play on bikes, play in the garden, call on friends etc), and I would say that our day has been quite successful.   We have days when they just flit from games console to games console, we have days when they read a dozen books each.  We have days when they write stories, watch TV and/or work their way through part of a Maths textbook.  We do have workbooks to hand - but I don't expect them to be used.  Sometimes a child (or two) will get them out and do a few pages.  I have no expectations, I have no *rules* regarding their learning.  Life is their learning and the activities they do provide ample opportunity for the learning process throughout the day (and often late into the night!)

But, I don't just sit back and expect things to happen.  I don't just sit amusing myself all day leaving the children to it.  I recently had a discussion with a lovely home-edding friend of mine about just that.  She was interested in the whole unschooling concept, and had read a great deal about it, but it wasn't working for her and her daughter.  From what she had read on the internet (and how she had understood it), her daughter would become enthusiastic about learning, ask dozens of questions and want to *learn* - without coercion, prompting, timetables, routines, structure or interference.  She had understood it as "sit back and wait" for it to happen, and was getting increasingly frustrated that it wasn't!

Now before I get jumped on, this sit back and wait method may well work for some families.  I am ever so aware that different methods work well for others.  I can't say "do this and this will happen" - it quite possibly won't. It depends on individual circumstances, families, and children.  What suits one won't suit another, what works for one child may not work for the next. Isn't that the beauty of home-educating?  Tailoring things to individual needs and wants is doable.

My way, for my lot, is to choose to open up new ideas, new experiences, new topics and subject matters.  I may see a documentary on the TV when they are in bed, and decide to record it for their future viewing.  I may seek out websites, or books and share them with the children.  No pressure, no "come and sit and watch this".  Just introducing the concept and allowing them free will to do with it what they choose.  I will mention I recorded a program about x,y,z the previous evening and that they may find it interesting.  That's it, no coercion.  Sometimes they will watch it, sometimes they will ignore it. The choice is theirs.  I don't want to just sit around waiting and hoping that one day they will hear the word "Buddhist" for example and want to know what it means.  Instead I will buy a book for example and either offer to look at it with them (we enjoy our family reading sessions, but I understand that others detest the idea), or I will leave it on the table or other accessible space and see if it gets picked up and flicked through - 99% of the time it will, often during a meal.   From a book, discussions and ideas will develop, further research will be requested or done, and I will facilitate in anyway possible - maybe by organising a visit to a relevant place or looking for art/craft ideas, suitable meals that are relevant, etc.

Unschooling isn't a "lazy" way of home-educating as some will often suggest.  Autonomous learning isn't an easy option, where the parent can just abandon the child and leave them to it.  Not in this household anyway. I am there. On hand 24/7 just like any other home-educating parent.  But I see life itself as learning. I don't need to separate our time into history, geography, science, and mathematics sessions.  We just live and learn - end of.


  1. Yes, that's the difference between child led learning (sit back and wait) and unschooling (strewing and offering different things). That works best here too (unschooling) :)

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your day with us. I am always fascinated about how unschooling works in the day to day life. I haven't been brave enough to try it myself but hoping to maybe in the future.

  3. Can I click *like*

    Thanks for sharing :)