Friday, July 22, 2005

Thoughts and Arguments

Today was my last day to return the Oak Meadow Curriculum for a full refund. I didn’t for a bunch of reasons. One reason is the reason I got it in the first place – I’m not confident about being able to take frequent trips to the library to follow interests. That reason was bolstered this week when we did go to the library, and all the kids wanted was videos. The videos are right at the bottom of the stairs as we go to the children’s room, so it can be hard to get them past the videos to the books. Then, at home, there were many tears over the videos – when to watch them, who gets to choose, etc. And two days later we’ve barely touched the books.

As I worked on deciding whether to keep or return, I went to reread the introductory material in the Oak Meadow curriculum, and read the following in the preface:

“. . . each subject should be presented in a natural, informal manner, so that the child does not feel forced into the activity, but rather becomes involved because it sparks something within him. . . . we feel the best approach is to integrate the recommendations concerning stories, notebooks, poems, music, etc., into the natural flow of daily activities, so the child doesn’t learn to make a distinction between “school” and “live.” In this way, the child gradually develops the attitude that expanding one’s knowledge and capabilities is part of the process of life, and indeed is what life is all about.”

This is very close to my own (untested) philosophy, and I hope that the Oak Meadow material can work as my “enriched environment” for a relaxed, child-led, almost-unschooling approach. I also liked the part of the preface about "continually striving to unfold the potential within yourself so that you can respond more deeply and spontaneously to your child. . . . It is never the techniques you have learned through the years that cause a child to develop his capabilities. Rather it is the strength of your being, the light of your understanding, and the love you have for him as a fellow being that draws the latent spark of individuality within him into active manifestation." I am looking for good support around that striving, whether IRL, or in the form of an online list. I know that I will not find it with the unschooling list I had a run in with this week!

As I’ve said before, I find unschooling attractive. It is the main competition to the Oak Meadow curriculum. However, I have my suspicions that it’s not as simple as many make it sound. I suspect that some unschooling parents (although probably not all), have a mental (or even paper) list of topics they’d like to see the kids cover, and do quite a lot do direct their attention to those topics. I love the idea of child-led learning, and I hope that is what homeschooling will look like in our house,

And then there was my run-in on an unschooling list. Radical unschoolers seem to be quite intolerant – their way is the right way, and anything else isn’t good enough. They seem to be argumentative and have no problem criticizing other list members with copious quoting (of other posts). As for the run-in, I posted about a housekeeping matter – said that I (sometimes) tell the kids that if they don’t pick their stuff up I will put it in the cellar or the trash. I didn’t use many qualifiers, and in fact, I probably pull that only a few times a year. I was called creepy, and other negative assumptions were drawn (for instance, that I throw away projects and much loved items). On the one hand I was somewhat convinced to rethink this tactic. But on the other hand I was so upset by the episode that it has affected my parenting in the past few days in a negative way. Being “yelled” at makes me defensive and angry, not thoughtful and compliant. I could never share a parenting problem with this list for fear of being harshly judged. It’s not even correct to state it as a fear – it’s just a fact – I would be harshly judged. My main argument with unschoolers is that they don’t accord adults the same that they do their children. Children can find their own way to learn; adults must be browbeaten to do it the radical unschooling way. As I said in a post, people who bend over backward to allow their children to learn in their own way, at their own pace, the topic of interest to them, do not accord other parents seeking to guide their family into adulthood the same respect and latitude. That disconnect makes me suspicious of the whole philosophy. I also take issue with the extremism, and the absolutism of it – you can’t unschool halfway – it’s all or nothing. I want to read more about unschooling, but for now I may stick with articles and books, and avoid online groups/lists/boards.

I haven’t yet found a list with members with similar parenting philosophies to mine that I can ask for homeschooling and parenting support, and now that I’m keeping the curriculum, it’s probably too much to ask that I find a tolerant unschooling list. I would love to find a gentle parenting list where I can discuss my parenting issues in relative “safety.”

Monday, July 04, 2005

More on curriculum

I'm still struggling with the decision of how to approach homeschooling next year. I ordered the Oak Meadow curriculum recently to take advantage of their June sale. My thinking was that although I am interested in unschooling, I am not confident in my ability to get the library and otherwise follow up on Parker's interests, and I wanted to have some materials on hand. I'm still evaluating the curriculum, and I have nothing against it, but my thinking is turning back to unschooling for the following reasons:

* I have three kids, and I think a less structured routine might suit the whole family better. I hope to read to them everyday, and discuss a little with each child what is of interest to them. I'm looking at the Five in a Row book as a guideline of how to use that method, and also as a starter booklist. With a less structured approach I can have a music day, and art day, and outside day (as a rough routine) that will suit all three kids in some way.

* I think I might be able to spend $250 better – that is, in a way that is more likely to be used regularly by Parker. I can buy books that he is interested in – those are the books that are likely to push him over the edge into reading, not the books that I or someone else think he should be reading.

* Parker is not always a compliant child, and I'm not at all confident that I can say "Hey, come check this out" and he will. I think the unschooling idea of parent as mentor and guide would be better for our relationship than the model of teacher and student.

It's funny that I feel defensive about even thinking about using a curriculum. Intellegent people whom I admire unschool, yet I lack confidence in our ablity to do it effectively. On the other hand, if I want to do it, kindergarten is clearly the time to try – we are not accountable, Parker is already nearly at first grade level, and if it works it will give me the confidence to go on – if it doesn't, I haven't lost much.