Thursday, January 11, 2007

Unschooling, success, goals, and gaps

Today I was answering an email on our state homeschool list. As I wrote I realized the the reply would make a great blog post.

Every parent, unschooler or not, has goals for their children. I think that part of the distinction is which of our goals and desires are important enough that we in some way require that our children achieve them. In our home, those goals which are requirements ultimately fall more into the realm of parenting than "schooling." Church attendance in our home is not negotiable, neither were catechism classes. Fortunately, this hasn't been a problem. All of my children will leave home understanding the basics of keeping a house clean, doing laundry, cooking, balancing a checkbook, and other practical matters. These are non-negotiables, as are courtesy, honesty, and respect. If my four children grow to be responsible, reasonably happy adults who contribute to their family, church, and society according to their vocations, then that will be success.

Beyond that, ideally, I want them all to go to college and if that is the path that they want to take I will help them, but they are setting the path, not me. It is *their* goals that will define success or failure, not mine. If they decide to choose another route, I will still help them and their goals will determine their success.

My daughter was completely unschooled from third grade on. She studied what she wanted to study. There were months when she did nothing but draw, read, play American Girl dolls, and play soccer. There were months when she did nothing but play the piano and read. She never studied grammar. She never had a writing assignment. She never had a test. In anything.

When she was 16 she decided that she needed to get serious about college admission requirements. She had kept a reading list and a journal so it was simple for us to see where we could give her credits and where she needed to focus attention. In one year she did algebra, geometry, and biology. She planned to do chemistry the next year. She took a class at the Fort Wayne campus of Taylor University in sociology for "practice." She got an A. She took her SATs and received scores high enough that colleges were pursuing her. She ultimately received a full academic scholarship. She tested into higher level math & English. She is now halfway through her sophomore year with a job, lots of activities, and a 4.0. She is achieving her goals. Am I happy about the path she has chosen? Ecstatic! She's even chosen to major in history and English like her mother. :)

Right now all three of my sons are taking a class in Biblical Greek. No one is making them do this. My oldest son has read great literature that many college English majors haven't made it through. (I'm trying to catch up with him!) My youngest son is pursuing math and botany with a zeal not often seen in this house for math and science. I wouldn't have chosen botany. He has. My two youngest both asked for acrylic paints and supplies for Christmas. This is their thing. I only paint walls.

As the mom/facilitator/committed unschooler have I snuck in some lessons because I think that there are things everyone should know? Yep. All my kids are great with maps and geography. When we take a trip they navigate. When we talk about news and world events--which is all the time at our house--it isn't unusual for someone to grab a globe or atlas, because that's what I've always done. Because of my background and our family discussions my kids tend to be very critical readers and listeners. They are always looking for the hidden agenda or story. They also love to proofread the newspaper. :)

I see a big part of my job to be exposing them to places, things, ideas, people. I surround them with books, movies, music. We don't limit TV or computer access, although there are specific shows that are not watched. We go to museums, zoos, parks, & concerts. We travel. They have opportunities to take part in music groups, sports, drama, whatever. We get out in the world and meet people. We talk LOTS.

But mostly I get out of the way. I don't assign, quiz, or test. I don't hover. When asked I give advice or information, find lessons, buy books. I am the mom. I am not the teacher.

I used to worry about gaps. The longer we homeschool the less I worry. I spent 19 years in school and excelled, but I have some huge gaps! So does my husband. I am sure that every single one of my children will have some gaps in their learning. Maybe they'll even discover a major one. But they all know how to find information and learn what they need to learn.