Monday, March 2, 2015

Planning to Unschool

Yes, Yes I know. Total contradiction right? Unschooling is supposed to be all about letting go, letting your child explore his/her interests unrestricted, no intervention. Well, maybe not. Radical unschoolers will become very upset with my use of the term 'unschool.' And maybe I should reconsider. There is so much terminology out there - homeschool, unschool, hack school, project based homeschooling, eclectic homeschooling, online schooling........the list goes on and on. I choose unschooling because it fits most of what we do. I don't tend to get wrapped up in the semantics or the politics of these things. I don't feel the need to defend ONE way as the RIGHT way. After doing this for 3 years now, I have learned that the WAY we homeschool changes every year.

But back to planning to unschool....WHAT?!?! Yes I plan. It is in my very nature to plan everything. Just ask my husband. It's like a friggin hobby to me. Sick I know. But in order to get the most out of our homeschooling/unschooling experience, I feel planning is essential. So how exactly do I do that? Glad you asked!

I just started planning for next year. The first thing I keep in mind are the vacations that we have planned. I LOVE to use travel as an excuse to learn something. For instance a trip to Boston triggered a massive learning experience on the Revolutionary war. So I look at the trips I have planned and try to figure out how to work them into our 'curriculum.' Now I should say that I don't plan trips FOR curriculum. Our trips are purely for fun. BUT if there happens to be something cool and different nearby, then by all means we are going to take advantage. In years past we've gone Herkimer diamond mining in upstate NY, to northern California (San Fran, Yosemite & Tahoe), Florida, North Carolina, Maine, Virginia Beach, Massachusetts, upstate NY.......we've learned map reading skills, states and capitals, measurement in miles, about different environments, the plants that grow there, the animals that live there, weather patterns, ocean life, different mountain ranges, glaciers, history, chemistry, literature on these places, math, art, name it! And the only thing that I did to spur such a massive learning experience was bring them there. I planned the trip.

Glaciers in the Sierras

Now it isn't quite that simple for kids that are programmed into learning the way traditional schools teach. It may take more time allowing them to explore and define their learning to get into this. We have always 'unschooled.' So my kids naturally ask questions, have curiosity, want to explore more. They naturally go somewhere and then want to get books on that place or that thing. But ALL kids are curious learners if you let them be. Just offer the spark and watch them ignite.

Sea Stars on the coast of Maine

So when we went to Yosemite, we visited a mock Native American village. This sparked a compare/contrast to western Native American tribes vs. the Eastern tribes we had already learned about. We did a starry night hike. This sparked a solar system interest. Of course the Giant Sequoias were amazing and Half Dome and El Capitan. Visiting beaches regularly - but especially Maine, where we found sea stars in the wild, sparked a learning experience on ocean life. Herkimer diamond mining sparked a chemistry lesson in how crystals were formed. Boredom in the car/plane led to map reading, finding out which states we've crossed and what their capitals are. Figuring out how many miles the trip is, how many we have already traveled and how much more there is to go (math).

Of course, you can stay local and accomplish the same thing. We are lucky to have a large group of active homeschoolers in our area. We are also lucky to have a lot of historical places close by, beautiful nature areas, and cities. So local learning experiences are never-ending!

Dragonfly hatching by a lake near our home

But let's say you don't have so much nearby. I also plan to unschool by finding interesting videos and books on topics that should be covered. There are so many websites! I usually just leave these things laying around for my kids to 'discover.' Maybe we go to a play that sparks interest in something. Talk to a grandparent about their childhood. Find creatures in our backyard (yes we have a tank for creatures in our backyard). Visit the pet store.

There are endless ways to spark learning.  I try to come up with fun activities and trips and then let the rest just naturally happen. So yes, I plan to unschool.  And for now, it works for us. Maybe you should try it too. You'll be surprised at how much learning takes place!!

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