How can I support principles of public education while home schooling?

I'm glad to find out other people are wrestling with this dilemma too.

Living the Unschooling Life

Phil and Christine over at "Living the Unschooling Life" write about this heartfelt dilemma in Personal vs. Political: Choosing my Children Over Public Education.

They write about how public education made a difference for them and how they personally value the principles of education for all.

My husband and I feel similarly.  We have benefited greatly from public education from public loan programs.  We both chose public service careers, though I left mine to be a home educator and now do volunteer work, part of which supports our neighborhood school.

We have amazing teachers at our local schools. And honestly, if I could have the teachers without the "system", teaching to tests, crowded classrooms, crappy food, limited recess and physical activity, icky physical environments, lack of air conditioning, needing permission to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, and all the other restrictions, and the sometimes negative social environments, I would consider public school.  But that's a lot of ifs.

Things have gotten better with more families with social and educational capital using our local schools.  And together, people can make a huge difference!  A part of me wants to be part of that change.  But it just feels like there are too many things to change in time for my children to benefit, and many of those levers of change require serious lobbying efforts at state and federal levels.

So it just becomes a decision of where to focus our energies.

How do other homeschoolers and unschoolers deal with this dilemma???

Strewing: The path to learning for self-directed learners and their unschooling parents

I've always followed the Reggio Emilia principle that "the environment is the third teacher."  We've tried to have interesting and educational elements in our home schooling total immersion environment.

Granted, keeping it innovative and new can be challenging.  It's hard to rotate and store things in a small space. (Send me tips, people!!)

And I've learned (sometimes the hard way) that it is better to just make things "available" but without pressure. In fact, the less I draw attention to something the more motivating it is to my self-directed learners.

But I didn't realize this practice has a term. It's called "Strewing" in the unschooling world.

"I just strew their paths with interesting things." 
Sandra Dodd
Here are some interesting tips and resources on how to "Strew"

Strewing our children's path
How to strew
Just add light and stir
Here in the Bonney Glen: Strewing
Strewing for unschooling and homeschooling families

Parents as secret agents in strewing
"Try to see yourself as a secret agent! You mission is to infiltrate your child's education with something that delights and interests them. You will blow your cover if you point the item out or try to get them interested in it! Your mission is successful when they discover it – and it DOES interest and delight them." - Homeschooling Ideas.

Fun sites to learn about space and weather science

Here are some really cool links to learn more about space and weather. Enjoy!!

New images of our Milky Way Galaxy

Real time wind map
Jet Stream online school for weather

Unschooling and Math

Can math really be fun?

Will kids really learn math if you don't force them to learn it?

Here are some resources to answer those questions about how kids' learn math in a self-directed way as "unschoolers."

First hand experiences

Real families describe how they learn math in their everyday unschooling environments:

Summarizing the Unschooling Math Experience

Research professor of psychology, Peter Gray, summarizes different approaches to learning math and determines that Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning.  Dr. Gray describes these types of math and how they are learned.

Playful math - Discovering and creating patterns and doing math for the sheer beauty and joy of it. It's how young children and math scholars alike approach math in a playful and joyful manner. This can be learned through self-discovery.

Instrumental Math - Math can be used as a tool in daily life to solve a problem. It is learned naturally in the course of living, handling money, cooking, reading recipes, playing cards, reading maps, recording batting averages, etc. It is learned in the context of community with a more advanced learner providing some mentoring in the self-discovery process. There is no curriculum involved.

Didactic Math - This is the traditional model of math instruction in schools.  A math expert teaches math to a student with the expectation that the student does not already possess knowledge. Often the assumption is that the the process will be difficult, that math is necessary rather than fun.  Formal curriculum is typically involved. Didactic math, in the sense that curriculum is used, can be found in unschooling settings but with some differences.  Students are allowed to access math curricula online or in workbooks on their own schedules and when they are desired. Parents are available as a resource person when the child needs them.

College Admissions Math - This is the math parents often worry about.  This math is studied for the purpose of college entrance exams regardless of its connection to a student's chosen area of study. The math needed to do well on ACT and SAT tests can be learned in a relatively short period of time through tutoring. And that this point, students are often motivated to learn the math for that purpose so it can be learned more quickly.

"The best evidence I know that math is not hard comes from the experiences of people involved in the unschooling movement and the Sudbury "nonschool" school movement. I have written about these movements in previous posts."  See Children Educate Themselves IV: Lessons from Sudbury Valley.  "The Sudbury Valley School has, for the past forty years, been the best-kept secret in American education."

Self-Directed Math Resources for Unschoolers

Here are some resources that students can use in their self-directed interest in learning more about math

Preparing our kids for entrepreneurial careers

When we think about what our homeschool kids will do in their careers we often think that it would be good for them to have an entrepreneurial education to enhance their options.

All these years of self-directed learning, lack of meaningless busywork, following passions, and enjoying learning might make it difficult for a student to feel less than satisfied in working for someone else, though I'm sure they will be stellar employees!

And we weren't sure if colleges and universities are adapting as quickly as we need them to teach in the ways that today's kids learn and to prepare them for the changing market forces.

In The Secret to Raising Entrepreneurial Kids, Forbes contributor Dorie Clark provides some clues to how we might open doors for our kids.

Clark mentions Babson College and their entrepreneurial programs as place of innovative education.  Hmmm....Good to know that exists.

In the meantime I think I need to check out resource from Junior Achievement and 4-H entrepreneurial curriculum.

Find Junior Achievement programs
and resources in your community
and visit this resource page
Buy the 4-H  Be the "e" 
Entrepreneurship guides

Is busywork bad?

We have been discussing the issue of "busywork" the context of our "Total Immersion Learning" aka

"unschooling" paradigm at home.

Figuring out what is best for our kids and their future is never easy.

And we're always trying to fuel the passion for learning for its own sake, but also know there is a bigger goal of preparing our kids for meaningful employment.

We were just talking about whether or not a a person can be prepared for a career without mastering the art of completing busywork and then this article was published last week.

Meaningful Busywork: Parsing the Oxymoron: The upsides and downsides of "busywork" by Christopher Taibbi tackles this question of busywork expertly.

Taibbi specializes in teaching gifted students and this question of busywork is a common one.

Parents: "Teachers need to stop giving my child boring busywork and turning them off to learning!"
Photo source
Teachers: "Kids need to understand that some work is tedious and not fun!"
Photo source

Taibbi agrees that some work that might feel like busywork is definitely needed to practice and acquire some skills.

But meaningful busywork has these characteristics (from what I gleaned from his article):

(1) Purposeful toward a goal that meets a need for the student
(2) Respectful*
      (a) Appropriately challenging, not something already mastered
      (b) Engaging
      (c) Honors the strength of the student

Taibbi posits that too much irrelevant busywork for the gifted student can lead to a vicious cycle of disenagement in which feelings of boredom become generalized to all schoolwork.

Since gifted learners tend to need less repetition to achieve mastery (depending on their learning modality and how the material was presented, e.g. visually, auditory, kinesthetic) their busywork can turn repetitive and have less purpose more quickly.

Hopefully kids, parents, and teachers can all work together to be on the same page!

*See  Carol Ann Tomlinson, How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms, ASCD, 2001.

Maple Syrup Festival

Well, that was an interesting homeschool tour today!!

Usually when our family has gone to the Maple Syrup festivals in the spring we want to cuddle up next to the warm fires where the syrup is boiling. Not so much today.

Today, the campfire evoked thoughts of hot dogs, s'mores, and swimming holes, and we could use the smoke to keep the mosquitoes away instead of warming ourselves.

Hard to believe it was almost 80 degrees!  I suppose this unseasonable warm weather is going to make Maple Syrup expensive since it cut the sap collecting season short.

So many families here today!

I have always loved red twig dogwood

Somebody's been sketching in my book again....Off to Mood!

I've learned to keep a small notebook and pen in my classy grown up purse mom backpack.
Just the Bear Necessities.
The notebook is handy for gathering phone numbers for play dates and taking notes at at community meetings when I don't feel like schlepping forget to take my binders.

Binders and spirals and notebooks oh my
It's also good for placating bored kids at said meeting by giving them the notebook and some crayons or pen.

Today I discovered my notebook had escaped from my backpack.

I found my notebook on on the play table with these clandestine entries from my 6 year old daughter, Rosalie:

Dress with custom designed fabric
Yes, she's into fashion design right now.  And it is so much fun to have someone to watch Project Runway with now!  

Perhaps we will be able to help her get her own fabric designs printed at Spoonflower or on our inkjet printer.

Dress and accessories
This second dress above seems Kenley inspired with her vintage silhouette and headware. I think it's adorable of course! 

Designer Kenley Collins

Kenley Collin's vintage inspired dresses
I'm just thinking about what Tim Gunn might say about the nature and placement of skirt graphics given his past statements that made us all laugh. lol.

The famous "pubic patch" problem

But I digress. As usual.

Looking through my notebook it was so nostalgic to see how her drawings have evolved.  

These same sketches were in my notebook from a few years ago when she was likely bored at some meeting or appointment.

Designing hair and earrings

Designing kites

Designing miniature golf course

So now my daughter is getting ready to head to Mood Walmart for her first design challenge.

She's got a budget of $11 that must include tax. So she's already calculated her fabric and trims must equal $10.34 or less (sneaky math).

Sketching dress and accessories

Measuring existing white "inspiration" dress for pattern
Um yes, it's sad but the king size bed is the largest uninterrupted space in the house for doing large craft projects.

Measuring everywhere
Shh! Don't tell her she is learning math while measuring. Ah, the joys of homeschooling in the tradition of Total  Immersion Learning.

Dress and hat design sketch
She seems to have a Mila inspired color blocking approach to a number of her sketched designs.

Designer Mila Hermanovski

Mila's dress

Let's see where this adventure  in pattern-making and design goes.

I could REALLY use a professional (and homeschool mom) like Rowena and her amazing pattern-making skills, ability to refashion one thing into another (including converting regular clothes into nursing wear).

Rowena's famous and amazing easy to sew infinity dress that can be worn a zillion ways
Her daughter is lucky to have a mom who would be able to help her turn her drawn inspirations into real world designs.  

Ella's first dress as a 6 year old too!

But I'm going to just delve into this attempt with to create a pattern with Rosalie drawing inspiration from Ella's mom Rowena who says this about her imperfect dress from 8th grade:

"what's my point???  it's just this:  not knowing how to do something is no reason not to do it.  just make something, learn as you go, before you know it you'll be teaching someone else all the tricks of the trade."

Just a beginner dress
So hopefully we can delve into this pattern making and sewing project with such good results too!

Lol. I still have my first sewing projects from middle school too.

Wish me luck!!

Twin rainbows

My daughter and I were totally in sync!

Just as I was pinning this to my do do list...

She was drawing this...

I guess were were both in a rainbow kind of mood :-)

My new way to describe our homeschooling approach

I'm not a big fan of public relations "spin" but I know how important our words are in creating images and dialogue.

I find that the word "unschooling" can be a big barrier in talking about homeschooling or garnering support from others.  It sounds so...irresponsible.

So I when I think about what unschooling actually is in reality, Dayna Martin's description of unschooling as Total Immersion Learning is so perfect!

"Joy of Learning" by Grant Kinzer at NMSU
Our kids are surrounded by math, history, science, technology, and civics lessons in their daily life.

They learn joyfully and on a "need to know" basis and in context.

It is just like how we learn a language from being "immersed" in it and without formal classes.

As Dayna says, "Reading, writing and math are tools to help us get more of what we want and need in life. These useful tools would be learned easily if we weren't so convinced that learning them was tedious and difficult, taking years of practice, training and focus. In our lives, these tools have been picked up easily, quickly and naturally."

Being home and surrounded by CNN, MSNBC, and parents involved in local political affairs, both our kids are well versed in current events on local and national/international affairs.

Beloved library books teach about historical figures in fun and engaging ways.  We always put whatever we read  into a timeline view to figure out where it fits into history.  Who was president when was ice cream invented?

Our soon to be 7 year old daughter loves to draw, paint, create, build, sing, dance, run, swim, cheer, and play soccer. She is our social butterfly.

She has fabulous graphomotor skills but was adamant about not writing letters.  But once I showed her cursive letters she was hooked!  I'm sure in school she would have been forced to learn zaner blosser printing and hated it.

She can print those letters enough to fill out a form "print name here" but otherwise, who needs to print when cursive is so much faster???  Plus she has great keyboarding skills which are probably even more likely to be used in the real world.

She's not too interested in reading yet. But that time will come. In the meantime, she still loves books and wants me to read them to her.  Having a child who enjoys reading for pleasure is much  more important to me than having an early reader.  She hasn't learned that reading can be painful like some of her age mates. She has a fabulous vocabulary and is very rich with words.

She soaks up science ideas from Ms. Frizzle books and some fabulous PBS programming.  With all the science videos online both of our kids have often already done experiments and activities that are part of the classes at the local science center.

My newly minted 10 year old son might not have the graphomotor skills of his age mates who use pencils all day long, but he types about 55 wpm.

He does a ton of math in his head and does it intuitively, so we pointed him to the Khan Academy resources to learn the "rules" behind what he already knows.  It lets him choose his own learning path. So he is doing pre-algebra in some areas while still veering away from other areas until he is ready.

He has sought out resources online and completely on his own set up his own server using one of our old computers.  I thought my techie husband had helped him, but no, he did it on his own.

Our son regularly hosts group meetings and leads an international multi-age team in collaborative decision making, negotiating, conflict resolution and task completion via skype.

Yes, his multiplayer gaming makes him completely prepared for the future work environment.  :-)

He loves hanging with his buddies to swim or play in the gym, but there aren't many that live nearby, so he loves to connect with scads of guys online -- That environment that fits with some of his social anxieties anyway.

This unschooling Total Immersion Learning approach is heavily steeped in intrinsic motivation.  So I guess in that way unschooling really is UN-schooling since so much of schooling deals with extrinsic motivation.

And while this works for our family, it doesn't work for everyone for a variety of reasons.

But there ARE ways to bring this approach into mainstream education.

Learning Joy from Blue Lyon
The UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools reminds us that intrinsic motivation is often missing from schools.

And it can be a key reason why students are disengaged from school learning.

They offer a really good overview of how to approach learning to maximize interest AND meaningful activity.

I know that really good teachers try to do this already.  It's just a challenge in a system with 40 kids in a class and pressures to teach to the test.

Kudos for all those teachers and students that are hanging in there amidst those challenges!
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