I've been talking about my parents so much, I figured I should talk about my kids. I've got two boys, JJ who is 7 and Grant who is 4. This year we decided not to put JJ into first grade at the local elementary. We decided that I would "Unschool" him. I get a lot of questions about Unschooling, so in a nutshell, Unschooling is a method of educating children by making them an active participant in learning. There's a lot of information available about Unschooling, but I thought it would be a better illustration to write a blog about what a good Unschooling day would look like for me, JJ and Grant. Steven wanted me to point out that there are also bad days at Unschool--like anything, it has its ups and downs. But we agree that on balance there are a lot more good days than bad.
February 7, 2011, Monday morning before 8:00 a.m.
Steven, my husband is getting ready for work. The boys hear his bumping around and start to stir. JJ jumps out of bed, runs into the living room and begins assembling Legos. Grant is slower, rising and tottering out into the living room to check on what JJ is up to. I wake up and take stock of the day, plotting out in my mind the tasks and plans for the day. JJ comes in and asks if he can use the computer, and I ask him to do typing tutor before he starts. He groans about this and says the game bores him, so we cut a deal for 15 minutes of typing tutor, and he turns on the laptop. Boys are searching JJ's favorite Star Wars sites on Youtube (he's the fastest bookmarker I ever saw) and I, clad in my trusty housecoat, amble in to check it out. A video of a Sumo wrestler pops up and I say, "click that one." We watch a few more Sumo wrestling videos, and JJ and Grant start asking questions about Sumo. I help them find the Wikipedia entry on Sumo wrestling and read a bit about it. Grant suggests we have a few Sumo matches of our own on the living room carpet, I use masking tape to mark out the dohyo. Tired, we stop for breakfast and a discussion about the day's events. We decide to split into two groups, with me doing some personal work (bookkeeping and householding and organizing playdates for the boys' social life) and the boys watching Scooby doo and playing Legos until lunch.
Noon: I stop my bookkeeping and we eat lunch and take a walk to the store. We talk about what we have to buy and how much money we have to spend. We have gelato tokens, so afterwards we stop and get a gelato for a treat. Grant has strawberry and raspberry, JJ was caramel swirl and lemon, and we play CandyLand and ConnectFour. We continue our walk home and pass by the new neighborhood center, and JJ suggests going in. We visit the tea room and chat with the folks there and play with the domino set. Then we discover that they have an unused yoga room we can play in, so we pile in and play chase and wrassle and stage show and baby wolves and bobcats until Steven texts us that he is on his way home.
Evening: By now it is 6:00 so we have dinner, books and bed. The boys are in bed by 8:00 and from 8:00 - 10:00 Steven and I do chores, talk, write and decompress.
Every day is different, driven by a combination of boys' interests, mom's requirements and dad's work schedule. We've all learned a lot today. Did you know that centuries-old tradition dictates that Sumo wrestlers gain weight by skipping breakfast, eating a large lunch and having a nap? Always eat breakfast!
Unschooling means that the day is all about the boys. It requires a huge commitment of time and energy from both Steven and me. All day I have been at work as a mom and a teacher, answering questions thoughtfully, taking every opportunity to expand their knowledge, guide their behavior and supply them with the tools and opportunity to learn. Steven works all day, then works as a dad and a teacher evenings and weekends. This is in addition to all the other work we do. There is very little alone time for us until the end of the day. Steven and I have a date night once a week, but that's very little for a married couple to live on. But we both agree that our children are the most important things in our lives. I do this because I want to teach my children that living life is what life is all about. Completing a grade, achieving a benchmark or doing the same thing that everyone else simply because everybody else does it is not a recipe for a passion filled life. My children are very bright and shiny. Everywhere we go people remark on their excitement and enthusiasm. I believe Unschooling will keep their sparkle alive.