“Teach Kids How to Think, Not What to Think” is Terrible Advice

I was having an online “conversation” a.k.a. argument with someone yesterday. Actually, let me rephrase that: I had asked for resources for teaching something specific and had instead been admonished by someone “not trying to be rude but just wanting to say” that I should teach my children how to think, not what to think.

Harumph.

I did my best to explain why I would pointedly not be doing so and left it at that and the argument ended. However, since that phrase and that ridiculous bit of advice is bandied about incessantly over the internet every single day, prattled out by homeschoolers, teachers, and other (usually) well-intentioned folks, I wanted to write about why I hate that phrase so very much and I wish it would die.

If wishes were curses, about 80% of the internet would be writhing in pain and flames on my living room floor. Sigh. One can hope.

So here are my reasons for why I think the argument to teach kids how to think and not what to think is terrible advice.

Children are not ready to think well until they have mastered the grammar of whatever it is they will be thinking about.

If you have read my book, The Classical Unschoooleryou probably know that I tend to value the classical system of learning as much as the unschooling side. In the classical system, logic (and what people usually mean when they refer to as “how to think”) is the natural progression of the grammar stage. In other words, it’s the second step after the child has developed a good grasp of the grammar of a subject.

This is essentially where public schools get it all wrong. With their supposed emphasis on “critical thinking,” that is, how to think and not what to think, they jump ahead to the logic stage before the children have had a chance to grasp anything in the grammar stage. I have seen a history curriculum start to teach history with a fictional story designed to evoke an emotion. The children are then asked to comment on how they felt through it. I’m sorry, but how is that history? And, by the way, how is appealing to their emotions and then asking them to have an opinion about a real, historical event teaching them to think critically?

I tend to agree with Don Bartletti (who wrote that above article about critical thinking – seriously, go read it) that most of what passes as critical thinking is just “uninformed opinion lacking intellectual valence.” And I am loathe to teach that kind of intellectual laziness to my children.

Logic and reason carried to its pure, objective end can justify almost anything.

The biggest lie out there is that only religion justifies murder and that if people would only turn to reason and logic, we would all live happily ever after in Science Land. It’s as if Critical Thinking is the beautiful Cinderella kept captive by her ugly stepsisters of religious war. All we need to do, say the princes of Science Land is to get that glass slipper and go rescue her. Thinkerella is our salvation.

The unfortunate fact is that Thinkerella has some skeletons of her own in her fireplace she should consider first: the Nazis, abortion and infanticide, and racism to name just a few.

Thinking does not exist in a vacuum.

Even with the purest logic, there is still an overarching morality (call it world view, if you will) you subscribe to and that will come through. And maybe that is my problem with this kind of advice all along. It shows that people haven’t really – excuse the redundancy – thought about it hard enough.

If the personal is political, I would argue that the personal is also universal. Even the most objective thinking does not exist in a vacuum. It requires a personal philosophy which is the lens through which you are seeing it. Now, it might be a purely materialistic / empirical lens, but there is a lens all the same. So, right there, you are teaching people not just how to think but also what to think, no matter how desperately you think you are avoiding doing so.

To clarify, let me add that I’m not, in any way, saying that we should not be teaching children how to think. In fact, that is the basis of all education after all – to teach someone to learn and think for themselves. My argument is simply with the idea that we can teach people how to think without teaching them what to think.

Then again, maybe I’m just splitting hairs. Either way, I’m glad I got you to think while telling you what to think.

How To Schedule An Effective Homeschooling Day (Part 2 of 3)

If you haven’t read part 1 of this series, you should go do that. In part 2, I intend to talk about exactly how to go about scheduling a homeschooling day that works. I have also written a looser way of writing a basic curriculum in another post. If you’re interested in creating your own curriculum, you should go read about it here.

The key to a good plan is not to plan too far ahead.

Yes, I said it. You know those beginning of the year curriculum plans you have to submit along with your intent to homeschool? (At least that’s what we do in California – laws in various states differ. Check yours!) I don’t do so well with those. I mean, I do write them and we usually get everything on there done, but as a daily and weekly task reminder, those plans are a bit… well… let’s just say they can be overwhelming.

A wise homeschooling mom once told me not to consider daily progress but monthly progress.

But wait a minute – didn’t I just say not to plan too far ahead?

Yes, yes I did. You see one thing I have realized about scheduling anything is that it’s a lot like budgeting. You have to consider the overall scheme (what we want to learn) and then you have to consider what is coming in (how much time and ability we have) and how we intend to spend that resource. (What curriculum/workbook, etc. to use, if at all.)

Just like a budget works with both an overall scheme as well as daily accounting, homeschool scheduling works when you have an overall structure with weekly or monthly chunks of goals. And just like a money budget needs an emergency fund, a homeschooling plan must have some wiggle room.

How do we achieve this? Five ways.

  1. We plan a good overview of what we’re going to learn for the year
  2. We break it up into how many days we plan on working…
  3. …with wiggle room for vacations, birthdays and do nothing days
  4. We prioritize what’s important and how many days a week we need to dedicate to it
  5. We say no – a lot.

So, essentially our homeschool planning follows this basic trajectory – overall, general idea based on abilities and interests —> broken into 2 halves —> broken into monthly chunks —> broken into weekly and daily goals —>written down. That last part is important and incidentally is the part that gives us the wiggle room we need.

In part 3 of this series, I’ll go into more detail, pull all these ideas together and talk about one of my favorite things – stationery!!! 

How to Schedule An Effective Homeschooling Day (Part 1 of 3)

Last week, I mentioned on my Facebook page that I had been taken with the bug of how to schedule a good homeschooling day. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (and/or have picked up my book The Classical Unschooleryou know that I tend to find myself smack dab in the middle of classical education and unschooling. As such, planning an effective school day can be a bit of a challenge.

What do I mean by an effective school day? I mean a day where we

1. are not overwhelmed by pacing ourselves after an institution or peers

This is important to me, especially in the younger years. There seems to be a certain push to learn earlier and earlier lately, to push children into an institutionalized way of thinking. And don’t get me started on the back to school posts that are no doubt ubiquitous on my Facebook feed at this time of year. (Yours, too? This might make you feel better. Read it.)

But all that aside, I still don’t like the idea that children have to learn reading one year, that some curricula ties writing with reading, that they have to learn multiplication and division in third grade and that somehow time is running out. I detest that way of thinking in my bones.

And so anytime I hear someone say that children should do something in a specific year, my answer is No. They will do it when they’re ready for it. Sure, I’ll check often for readiness, but I’m not going to make them do something just because they’re seven or eight. And I certainly won’t suffer overwhelment because of it.

2. have an overall structure that helps maximize what we’ve set out to learn

I know, I know… I’m an unschooler with classical leanings. What a weird character! I’ve always sought to bring together extremes. So in my world, I don’t think it’s crazy at all to give the children free rein to learn whatever it is they want but having a schedule to cover the basics that they will need to help them get to the thing that they will enjoy.

What do I mean by that? Well, my daughter loves stories, for example. And teaching her to read was important so that she could get her hours of entertainment by reading. Also, my son loves video games and math and has a mind with the ability to remember details – lots of them. I can help him learn that about himself and ways to use those skills to enhance his enjoyment of what he will undertake in the future.

The way I see it – I am a guide, and what does a guide do but impose a structure on and make sense out of what would otherwise be confusing wilderness?

3. keep a consistent eye toward self-directed, interest-led learning

All that said, I have to add that the focus of our day while we are learning to read, write and do math is to encourage self-directed learning. I tend to model this as well. A quick example might help illustrate this. We’re currently studying The Middle Ages. So we’ve been listening to Beowulf in the car. We’ve been memorizing the Middle Ages timeline. My reading is centered in the same time period (that’s my reading on my own, not for my children) and when we pick family movies, we favor the Medieval times.

This does not always work.

Their interests are varied. They collect rocks and try and identify them. They want to read widely, play in the water, do things that children do – build tents in the living room, annoy each other, squabble over toys and who gets to sit where, but my push is toward self-direction when it comes to learning.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, next time I’ll write about how I’m bringing this all together. Yes, it’s possible!

Rhymes and Songs for Disciplining

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I tend to be more of an unschooler with classical tendencies (or a homeschooler with unschooling tendencies, depending on how you see it.) I have written before of how it took us a long time to get to where my daughter began to enjoy read aloud time. We spent most of our early preschool days on doing craft activities and some math because she seemed to like that. My son did not mind being read to but they have both had a desire to be taught to read for themselves. 

My youngest is nothing like that. He is my first child that loves being read to. Seriously, people, what a joy it is when a child wants to be read to and will sit while you read and at the end of the book, say, “Again! Read again. One more time.” Oh, my heart. (And my voice, but that’s another matter. Haha!)

To get back to the point I’m trying to make though… I’ve discovered that it doesn’t hurt to wait. Now my daughter – yes, that same one who wanted nothing to do with being read to – has not only read every fairy tale, easy reader and short chapter book I can get her for herself, but insists on me reading to her as well. She loves good audio books. We’ve read countless read alouds. And we memorize. What do we memorize, you ask? Poetry, songs, history timelines, hymns, church creeds, you name it.

Putting what I know now about my children together, I recently hit upon a way to get my children involved in disciplining themselves. It went something like this: I got tired of repeating the same instructions which they seemed to forget, so I thought they should spend some time repeating them, not me.

Repetition, I thought. Repetition… aha! That’s what we did every single day when we memorized. That was the answer!

So  I made some rhymes that I’m posting here. Feel free to use them with your own children. People, these work! When the kids start acting up now at the grocery store or before bed, I ask them to sing the song I taught them. And they do so. And in saying it, they repeat my instructions without me having to say them. This is like some serious magic. 

Here are the two rhymes I’ve made so far. (And I know there are more coming. Because, well, kids.)

The Grocery Store Song

(Sung to the tune of Jingle Bells)

When we are in the store
We walk and do not run.

We will not climb or fight,
We’ll play when we are done.

We will stay with the cart,
We will help find things,

We will not block the aisles,
We’ll act like human beings.

Time For Bed

(Sung to the tune of Hot Cross Buns)

Time for bed, time for bed,

Half past seven, almost eight, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

Brush my teeth, change my clothes, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

Get some books, what’s in my head, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

One last pee and a prayer, time for bed!

So there you have it. I love that these little rhymes work like a checklist, give the children something to memorize and develop habits without me having to nag them. It makes the day that much smoother.

Worksheets Are Not the Enemy

I almost titled this blog post, “Remedial Does Not Equal Better” but then thought better of it and stuck with the worksheets title because I think it makes my point better.

I recently attended a homeschooling conference. I try to make it to at least one every year. You should as well. These conferences are great for renewing your vision for your family, providing encouragement and refreshment and, of course, they have curricula on sale. Now, I was on a budget and had already planned what to use for the upcoming six months, so I my purse strings were pretty tightly wound in the exhibit hall, but it was still a wonderful experience listening to the speakers. (More on that in a different blog post.)

However, I did catch many smatterings of conversations behind and around me that also gave me plenty to chew on and consider.

Hence, this blog post.

There seems to be a general understanding in the homeschooling community – especially amongst new homeschoolers – and correct me if I’m wrong – that worksheets are bad. I’m not talking about some worksheets, but all of them. I find a growing number of people who in rejecting the role of a traditional school are considering abandoning every aspect of it – I have written before about memorization here, here and here. I have also mentioned flashcards and how we use them in our homeschool.

And now it seems I must argue for worksheets.

I have to admit I don’t understand the knee jerk reaction to completely rejecting them. Even though my style leans toward unschooling, I do recognize the brain-body connection between writing and repetition and learning something well. And no, I don’t think you should focus only on how many worksheets your children can complete, and no, you shouldn’t be making kindergartners sit for hours and barrage them with worksheet upon worksheet, but there is no need for an en masse rejection of all worksheets, desks and pencils.

Here are a few of my reasons for why you shouldn’t reject all worksheets:

  1. Some children like them. Mine do. Worksheets give them a sense of accomplishment. They are something the child can look at and know that he has completed on his own.
  2. They break up the monotony. For all my read aloud friends, it’s hard for the child to listen all day long. Worksheets give children a welcome break and help them use a different part of their brain for a little while.
  3. Not all worksheets have to be math/reading/writing/comprehension based. You can find some great puzzles, brain teasers or connect the dots that kids love to do.

Just because remedial work in many cases limits worksheets doesn’t mean that all children need to limit them. That’s like saying because some people are near sighted, everyone needs to now wear glasses to read.

Yes, don’t just focus on finishing worksheets, give your children a complete education; yes, by all means, if they’re not proficient enough yet at writing, do the writing for them; and never, ever, ever, ever judge their ability and their worth by if they can complete the worksheet, but don’t be so sure that you can’t use them to gauge what a child has understood about what you’re teaching him with the help of a simple worksheet.

Do you use worksheets? Yea or nay?

Why, Yes, We Are Summer Schooling! A General Update

I have never understood the term “lazy summer days.” Around here, summers are buzzing with activity. So much so that sometimes I feel like when fall comes around, I am exhausted. Whether it’s all the sunlight or the extra long days, I’m not sure. But I’m usually extra crabby in the summer.

So when it comes to school, it helps to keep on. We’re not big vacation-types either, so we like to take our breaks around Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays. Our vacations end up being days of hanging out at home, gardening, renovating and reading, playing games and entertaining.

So, what are we doing currently for school work?

Well, for one, we’re doing a lot of memorization. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that we use simple home-made flashcards for math facts and we’re continuing to use those. Math, especially, is the subject that makes me immeasurably glad to be homeschooling. My daughter, who will be 8 next month and would have been in third grade in school is nowhere near ready for multiplication. My son, 6, is almost done with it. I don’t care how long it takes them. What I care about is them achieving mastery.

I also broke down and bought some memory work CDs from Classical Conversations. And I have to say, I was quite impressed with their history timeline. The children are finally (finally!) in the stage where they are able to retain and recall tons of facts and information. Not just that, they seem to beg to want to know! Ah, this, this was the stage I’ve been waiting for! I love it. 

Teaching them is humbling in that it reminds me of how much I do not know and how much I have yet to learn. It’s like I’ve been given another opportunity.

My daughter has been wanting to learn cursive for a while now and has really taken off with Handwriting Without Tears. Reading and writing has always been central to our homeschool, so we spend some time reading on purpose. They also do their own reading in things they’re interested in and we always have a weekly library visit for which we are seriously looking into buying a book cart.

My third child is still too young for formal work, so he spends much of his time playing outside. But he’s been wanting to sit and “do cool” lately, so my daughter spends some time with him helping him count and identify letters and numbers.

Me? I’ve recently developed an interest in American history. As the children memorize the world history timeline and are introduced to basic American history, I try to read as many biographies as possible.

The one thing we have not done yet is a formal science curriculum. Okay, let me rephrase that. We are switching curriculum because I didn’t like the last one. We’ll be starting the new one next week. It promises to have lots of experiments, which the children love. So far, so good. I’ll have another update soon.

Do you school year round? Or do you take a break in the summer?

The Ultimate Reading List for Homeschoolers

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about putting together a summer reading list of sorts for parents who are thinking about homeschooling.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you probably know that I am a big advocate of new homeschoolers not jumping right into curriculum and taking some time to develop their convictions about why they plan to homeschool and how exactly they plan on going about the process. This isn’t always possible, yes. But if you’ve somehow stumbled across this page, read on for the affiliate links to a fairly large list of must-reads for new and experienced homeschoolers. Some of these books are my favorites, others not so much but I think if you just pick up a handful of them you will be much better prepared for your journey.

They follow no particular order and are not categorized. My advice? Read as many of them as you can. If you already have a well developed reason for homeschooling, you are less likely to get overwhelmed and give up when the going gets hard – as it usually does in something worth pursuing.

So without further ado, here’s the master list:

The Well Trained Mind by Susan Bauer – considered by many in the classical community to be indispensable in a classical education. This is a great handy reference for how to structure a homeschooling day and what to teach, broken down by subjects. Can be a tad overwhelming for new homeschoolers, but worth the read.

Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolph Flesch – an excellent, spirited book on how to teach reading and why the look-say method is a bad idea.

Homeschooling For Excellence by David and Micki Colfax – one of the first books I read about homeschooling. The two were teachers when they decided to homeschool and… well, let’s just say, it’s very inspiring.

Teach Your Own by John Holt – must read author. He has also written How Children Learn, How Children Fail and Learning All The TimeHolt coined the term “unschooling,” but even if you don’t see yourself as an unschooler, don’t be scared off by the title. When he coined it, he meant simply “homeschooling.”

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich – great, small book to get your mind wrapped around the fact that education doesn’t need to happen in an institution and the institution of school has led to society itself not being able to think outside of it.

The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child by Linda Dobson – I can’t remember if it was this one or one of her other books, but she had a great list of people who were homeschooling in non-traditional ways (for whatever reason) and were doing well. Her other books are Homeschoolers’ Success Stories, Homeschooling The Early Years, The Homeschooling Book of Answers.

For The Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay – a great book to add to every homeschooler’s library. It was everything I always knew to be true about education but put together succinctly.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason – a good introduction to the Charlotte Mason form of home education, especially for the younger years.

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola – If you’re interested in the Charlotte Mason approach, this is about as complete a book in introducing it as you will find.

The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers – a short essay packed with the ultimate questions (and answers) of education and how to go about it. A must read, especially for those inclined to the Classical school of home education.

The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto – I can’t say enough about this book. If you’ve ever wondered why the American system of education got to be the way it is, you should take the time to read this book. You will never see school the same way again. Gatto, by the way, is another prolific writer and your homeschool library should include a smattering of his books, the best of which are Dumbing Us Down, Weapons of Mass Instructionand A Different Kind of Teacher

Better Late Than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore – If you think that you need preschool or early childhood education, this is the book you should read. Challenging the myth that early is better, there is a wealth of research cited which indicates that it is better to wait when it comes to school. The Moores have also written Home Grown Kids, Home Spun SchoolsThe Successful Homeschool Family Handbook and others. I would not start homeschooling without reading at least one of their books.

Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by the Bluedorns – Excellent book. I recently happened to come across it at a homeschool conference and intend to pick up a copy soon.

The Readaloud Handbook by Jim Trelease which is always mentioned when reading aloud is spoken about.

The Messianic Character of American Education, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum by RJ Rushdoony – If you’re a Christian who is thinking of homeschooling, you must read Rushdoony. It will help clarify and deepen your understanding of homeschooling and the philosophy behind it.

The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson – comes highly recommended by a lot of classical homeschoolers, including some of my blog readers.

The Christian Homeschool by Gregg Harris. Amazon just reminded me that I bought this book when I had a 2 year old and a 3 year old and we were pretty sure we were going to homeschool. I especially enjoyed the part about delight-directed learning.

The Core by Leigh Bortinis is a good, brief introduction to the classical method if you get bogged down by The Well Trained Mind. 

So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling by Lisa Whelchel – This was the first book I read that made me think, “Okay, I can do this. If she can, I can.” The book gives you snapshots of the lives of homeschooling families that are doing in their way. It emphasizes that there is no ONE way to do it and you are free to blaze your own trail. Very encouraging.

 

Feel Bad Education by Alfie Kohn – Clearly, he’s not for everyone and I don’t agree with a lot he says. However, I do read Kohn and take his work seriously. This is a book worth reading about the present state of education in our country.

A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver deMill. This one has recently been brought to my attention by my readers and I have yet to read it, but I wanted to add it because it looks intriguing.

 

When You Rise Up by R. C. Sproul Jr. – One of my absolute favorite books on Christian homeschooling. I loved it so much, I gave it away. I must buy another copy soon and I’m going to have a hard time not foisting it on someone who should read it. Heartily recommended.

The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori. So, here’s the thing about the Montessori method. I incorporate some of her ideas and I appreciate what she did but when I read the book and found out that much of her ideas were based on Rousseau’s philosophy, she lost validity with me. Still, there are people who really love this method and it’s worth exploring and learning about it.

Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian – I appreciate Michael Gurian’s work and sincerely believe that before homeschooling it is a good idea to take into consideration the personality and the sex of the child. My son and daughter are so different in how they learn and Gurian deals with just this issue so you don’t end up with false ideas and hopes about your children.

And, lastly, you have read my book, right? In case you haven’t, here’s your reminder: The Classical Unschooler by Purva Brown.

Now, go! Happy reading! (If I’ve missed any, be sure to comment! If there are enough, I’ll add another post.)

 

Memorization Makes It Harder For You To Be Manipulated

I have mentioned memorization as an indispensable tool we use in our homeschool in my book The Classical Unschooler. I know memorization is usually a sticky point with a lot of people today. After all, the argument goes, we can always look something up. Why bother memorizing dates and details? Isn’t that a little dry? Surely, we could be spending more time creating something beautiful, reading, enjoying something rather than memorizing?

Look, I get it. Even my children know to say, “Let’s just ask Google!” when I say I don’t know the answer to something.

Yes, we can of course “just google it.” We use calculators. And, yes, memorization can sometimes seem dry and completely not in keeping with the freedom that unschooling is supposed to be.

But today, in the midst of planning for our next homeschool year, I realized why memory work is almost as – if not more – important than all those other fun things like reading and creating.

Here’s how it happened. I’d been flipping through some of my children’s books lately. There are those I found at random library sales and some that people have graciously given me and some which who knows how ended up in our pile. There was one in particular that drew my attention. It was about Isaac Newton.

This will make a great read aloud, I must have thought when I acquired it, and since we’re now starting our study of science in earnest, I was leafing through the slim book, considering if it would make a good choice for this fall. I realized I knew almost nothing about Newton besides the falling apple and him having figured out gravity. So I read it.

Boy, was I glad I did.

The anachronisms were glaring. It wasn’t so much that the book was lying, but that it seemed to give a veneer of reality to its opinionated thinking by generously padding its sentences with “perhaps” and “maybe” and then drawing from the poetry of the time to fill in the blanks as to what Newton might have been thinking. This in a children’s biography, which didn’t need to be anything but facts. Why the conjecture? Why the guessing? I would be horrified if someone for instance ever tried to guess my thoughts by today’s popular music.

It seemed to me, the book was at best speculative and at worst malicious, injecting doubt, falsehood and drama to “spice up” the story when there was no need for such an approach. Was this done just to interest 10-12 year olds? Sadly, this kind of writing is far from uncommon.

Increasingly, I am beginning to find writers rewriting biographies and looking at people in the past through modern eyes. Yes, some of this is normal and happens almost unknowingly and can be overlooked, but to have to dog ear nine instances in a book under 50 pages was unforgivable. The book ended up in the trash, where it should have been in the first place – among its kind.

So where does memorization come into this?

Years ago, I was told that federal agents learn to detect counterfeit money by studying real money first. The same is true of memorization. It is only if you can call up information at a moment’s notice that you are relatively immune from revisionism and counterfeits.

In fact, it is precisely because we have access to all the information in the world at our fingertips, that memorization becomes even more important.

When information abounds, it’s easy to let the majority swing us in the wrong direction because “everyone thinks so.” If I didn’t know my history, I would be taken in by this badly written book. Lack of knowing makes it easier to be manipulated. Lack of memorized dates makes it so easy to paste the modern era onto the past – complete with current ideologies, battles and ways of dealing with them.

I have come a long way from the time when I didn’t understand why learning dates was important. But if my convictions have changed, it’s because I’m still learning.

Have you read The Classical Unschooler? Reviewers are calling it, “A thought-provoking, helpful book.” Get it here.

The Myth of the Uninvolved Unschooler

I’ve had it. I’ve really, really just had it.

Every time I’m at a social event, someone who genuinely wants to know will ask me, “So how’s school going?”

And someone else will pipe up, “Pssh! School? She’s an unschooler!” Laughter.

As if that means something. As if being an unschooler means I have completely abandoned all parental responsibility as well.

As if being an unschooler means I am uninvolved, unconcerned, unplanned, uncaring about my children’s education, or worse, completely lazy.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not.

And, yes, your ten seconds of guffaws reveal your ignorance.

So put aside those prejudices for a while and let me tell you what unschoolers really do, how we do not shun sit down work and how our children are not wild and how, really, we’re not hanging out in our pajamas eating bon-bons every day. You probably won’t listen, but let me tell you anyway.

Unschoolers are almost always planning the next step

Unschoolers are usually great researchers. They revel in learning and collecting information. They have scores of lists and they are members of at least five different online groups. Based on their children’s interests, they are almost always planning the next book, the next curriculum, the next week. I have a book list that I have compiled, for example, with 500+ books on it.

You can find unschoolers poring through online sales, library sales, library catalogs, yard sales and pretty much every place you can expect to find something their children can learn. They are found at homeschooling conventions, even odd places such as their neighbors’ and relatives houses and garages because their children have expressed an interest in learning to change a tire, or sew, or learn to play a musical instrument.

With very few exceptions, unschoolers are observing their children and planning the next step almost all the time.

Unschoolers guide their children’s education with an eye to their interests.

The reason why an unschooling education doesn’t look like school to those who love to poke fun at us is because unschoolers tend to keep an eye out for the children’s interests and guide them in that specific direction.

I’ve said before that I have some non-negotiables that I absolutely focus on in our sit down work, but otherwise, our school days are very fluid and the children barely know that they are learning. Our lessons are short and, more importantly, customized to their individual personalities and interests.

As I have mentioned in my book, The Classical Unschoolerif I see the potential in a child that he does not see himself, I will push him a little toward it. As an unschooler, I am not abdicating complete responsibility as a parent. But for the most part, I work within his interests and abilities.

Unschoolers are non-institutional in their approach to education

I think this is the rub that gets most people and this, right here, is the reason unschoolers get such a bad rap. We are not afraid to flout the rules. We are not asking teachers for permission, for guidance. We want nothing to do with how it’s traditionally been taught. We don’t want their tests, their teaching material.

We don’t like classrooms. We want to do it ourselves.

Most unschoolers have a well defined philosophy of education and want to do it our way.

That’s the reason we have pulled our children from said institutions to begin with. And we work hard not to bring institutional thinking into our homes. The worst thing you can tell an unschooler is the right way to do things because we know that most of what you’re saying is just plan old convention. And convention doesn’t usually work for unschoolers without a compelling reason.

Unschoolers teach skepticism

…or discernment, if you will. Because of the way unschoolers conduct their schooling and their lives, because we do not accept any textbook, school or institutional authority as having the gospel truth without first researching and double-checking it, unschoolers teach their children a basic skepticism that I see as important.

“Don’t believe everything you hear!” goes the old mantra and yet, teachers in traditional schools spend an inordinate amount of time reading from textbooks approved by a committee, only recommending books approved by the school board, teaching and testing toward a curriculum that the school wants them to teach and then shake their heads at unschoolers who want to teach their children to think.

From all these jibes big and small, I am beginning to conclude that humor sometimes is the last weapon left in a lot of people’s arsenal. And if that fails, there’s always derision. Hence the jokes, the talking down.

Some might accuse unschoolers of being proud, but I don’t think that’s it at all. Just because we refuse to take something at face value and trust our judgment over that of a school’s doesn’t make us proud. It makes us self-governed and humble. It makes us responsible – something many have forgotten how to be and something we desperately need in the people of today and the days to come.

The Classical Unschooler: Education Without School is now on Kindle! Get your copy here.

How Flashcards Saved Our Unschooling Day

I hated flashcards with a passion. Same for worksheets of any kind. I loved calling them busy work that seemed to be done more for the parent’s or teacher’s benefit than the student’s need.

It wasn’t until I threw away our math curriculum that I began to love them.

This is how it happened.

My daughter is a very systematic thinker and learner. She needs structure. She is not intensely self-motivated. She likes being taught; she enjoys the interaction, the back and forth, the dialogue.

She is very different from my son, for example, who can be left alone with a book / a chart / a piece of information knowing that he will come back knowing much of what was in it.

The mistake I made was the mistake many parents make – they mistake a need for structure with a need for institutional structure. They claim the child needs to learn the same rules they live by – and call it discipline. Sometimes, this works. Usually, it’s not the best idea.

As I mention in my book The Classical UnschoolerI bought a popular math curriculum. It worked for a while. Pretty soon, I wanted to tear out my hair and burn the textbook.

So I did what most parents won’t do. I put aside the curriculum. I listened to my gut. I saw that she was struggling in math because she didn’t know her math facts. As I explain in my book, I don’t expect to move my children along to the next “tool” of logic if they can’t grasp the grammar. And my daughter didn’t have the grammar.

Yes, she understood it but it wasn’t available to her for recall at the drop of a hat. And that is not the way I teach math.

So we did it our way. We made our own flashcards for math facts to 18. (Believe it or not, these are hard to find.) They were simple. And they worked!

We spend about 20 minutes every day with our homemade, made from scratch flashcards. They learn, quiz each other, I quiz them and, well… it works! They’re learning. And I love not having to battle someone else’s idea of how and what my children ought to learn.

 

Does classical homeschooling seem like a worthy but overwhelming goal and unschooling too lax in its approach? Find out how to combine the two. Get your copy of The Classical Unschooler today! Now available on Kindle.