March 23, 2010


One thing I've come across using StumbleUpon, amongst the recipes, parenting blogs, science and homeschooling articles, gardening tips, and resource websites, is numerous articles on unschooling. When I checked homeschooling as one of the interests I wanted to see material on, I never expected to see such a thing.

What is unschooling? It's a type of homeschooling where you basically let the children learn the way they do naturally. Almost completely self-directed learning if you will. The parent helps only by providing materials, opportunities to explore, and assistance working through information as needed.

As long time readers know, I've been covering the preschool basics with Boo Bear at home. She knows her colors and shapes, she can count to ten, and she knows about half her alphabet so far. Well, this is what we know she knows anyway. You see, I've mostly been doing "school at home" as it's put on the unschooling sites. We would sit at the table or at Boo's little desk, and we'd drill using books, puzzles, and flash cards. Boo gets bored with this almost as soon as we get started, and she'll give answers she knows are wrong, hoping I'll get frustrated and give up.

This is why we were seriously considering having her tested for color blindness until, in desperation, we had her "teach" Sneak about colors when Sneak was only a few weeks old. She knew all her colors, but since the subject didn't interest her any longer, she refused to pay attention until it was her responsibility to teach her sister.

So I'm trying a different tack, at least for the next year or two. I tried it the unschooling way starting last week. We broke out the play dough, and I gave the girls cookie cutters in the shape of letters and numbers. Boo got her first library card, and she was loosed on the local public library. (She's somewhat obsessed with animals at present, and is picking up information on different animals, classifications like herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore, and animal behavior wherever she can find it. And yes, she knows what those classifications mean.) We planted some seeds we're growing in old egg cartons on the windowsill before planting in the garden. We baked bread and made freezer jam, lentil dip, and peach butter.

So what did she learn, other than basic domestic skills? We worked on letters, how to spell her name, fine motor skills, and refreshed her memory on the primary colors and basic shapes with the play dough. She learned first hand what a library is, and having her first card will open the door to any subject she wants to study. Hands on science is the longest remembered. What better introduction to biology than observing nature at work?

The kitchen is a learning powerhouse. Cooking is a practical application of math, chemistry, and nutrition education. Boo wanted to know what every ingredient was when we added it and why. I was able to explain to her the nutritional benefit of each food and what effect it would have on the finished dish. Even at 3 1/2, she's old enough to help me measure and stir. Measurement is a basic component of math and essential to scientific experimentation. Stirring allows a perfect opportunity to witness how adding liquids to dry ingredients changes them, the way adding baking soda makes batter bubble, and how heating strawberries makes them shrink as they loose their juice while it makes pancakes go from liquid to solid.

I want to hear from other parents out there. What are some things you've done with your little ones? Have they taken away some surprise lessons?

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