Debate is unavoidable.
I was recently looking for a history curriculum for the children. We like our current approach, but I was considering a timeline or just a broad overview even if it was just for myself that would serve as a jumping off point so to speak. So I started to read some reviews of the bestselling curricula and, you know what struck me?
There is no consensus. None at all. There is only a trend. There is a majority and there are averages, but none, not one curriculum, textbook, author, style, gets a unanimous vote.
Some people didn’t like the tone in Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the World, some people did not like what they saw as the Christian bent in it, others went with E. H. Gombrich’s book but it was rife with talk of millions of years, something that didn’t sit well with others; still more people argued that much of what was in the history books was NOT how it happened at all.
Debate, disagreement, differences were, indeed are, unavoidable. They’re unavoidable because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and definitely no straightjacket way of learning.
I recently attended a homeschool convention where I forced myself to listen to speakers I didn’t always agree with.
In my experience, hearing the opposing point of view does one of two things – it makes you defend your point of view, at least to yourself, which requires that you address the questions head-on, and so gives you greater assurance that what you’re doing is right, or it makes you see what needs to change in your own approach.
I decided to welcome the challenge. I believe other unschoolers would be wise to do so as well.
Here are five things unschoolers can learn from those who are more “school-at-home” minded.
(I will have another post about what the school at home people can learn from unschoolers as well.)
One of the biggest areas where the let’s do school at home type of parent succeeds over an unschooling one, I believe, is in matters of punctuality. I remember getting an Uber ride from a mom who had homeschooled eight kids and she joked about how when her son entered the military, he said, “I love it, mom! It feels just like home!” She expected them to be ready, pencils sharpened, books out, to do school at a specific time.
Another mom would send her kids out the front door and bring them in from the back door, wish her a good morning and then get down to teaching them – all this just to create a separation, to let the children know that this was serious, this was important and it was now time to learn – formally.
Unschoolers, typically, do not emphasize this kind of punctuality. Since learning takes place all day, they do not set aside time to learn, free from distractions within the normal day. I believe this is a flaw and the unschooling model can be bent to accommodate formal learning while leaving enough free time for the rest of the day to explore and continue learning by unschooling.
2. Systematic thinking
When I started looking for a history curriculum as I mentioned above, I did so for a specific reason. The children were being exposed to learning opportunities all the time because of the books they were reading, the television they were watching and the questions they asked. So they were immersed pretty regularly in information and knew, excuse the redundancy – a lot about a lot.
What they lacked, and still do, were information hooks.
I find history fascinating because I have a general sense of what happened in each century and each period. They don’t. As such, everything happened a long time ago. And while I understand they are still young and much of this understanding will come later, I want them to have a system on which to hang all they will be learning.
This is aided by clear, definite, slow progression, not unlike learning math. It is only when enough of these appear that they can cross-reference and have fun gathering and sorting new information, i.e. learn.
I’ve been reading how children do not need to be taught to read and elsewhere about how playing is more important than doing math. And while I agree with some of the points made in the posts, especially the ones that emphasize not pushing children too early because reading and writing is linked to big developmental changes in children, I see teaching or guiding as fundamental to learning.
Discipline in any area is fundamental. This is a fact of life that can be ignored only in fantasies and movies. While it is wonderful when we hit upon the one thing where we are gifted in a certain area and then find a way to build on it, the idea of the noble savage is far from truth. Children do not do hard things if not taught, neither do adults.
Reading is hard, math is hard, learning a musical instrument takes work. Learning often takes determination, grit, sweat – all just different words for discipline. This is an area where school-at-home types strengthen their will and teach their children to do the same far more than unschoolers.
4. An emphasis on guidance
Teaching my children does not make me the source of all knowledge, but it does establish me in their minds as someone to look toward to guide their learning. In the information age, I see this as imperative.
The reason unschooling works well for many in the younger ages, is because, I think the parents’ authority is already well established in the child’s mind and he clearly depends on them for daily needs.
As a child grows up, these bonds loosen a little, but they still have a need for guidance. If parents do not provide this, something or someone else does. It happens all around you. It happened to me – I went to private school; from the age of three, as soon as I left my home, all my affections, all my honor, toward my parents transferred over on to my teachers. My parents faded to the background – they didn’t know much, I didn’t see them all day, and they weren’t dressed as well as my teachers.
The school at home people have this one right. They establish themselves as the children’s guides early and often. As such, the bonds loosen, but don’t break. They are not replaced by other authorities, of which currently there is no lack.
5. A rewards system
Unschoolers tend to look down on any kind of rewards system – they despise encouragement in the form of stickers, stars, or even cash, seeking joy as the only motivator for learning.
However, for better or worse, rewards and punishments are an inherent fact of life, just like work.
Rewards change, of course, as children grow and become adults – I have yet to see a 15 year old get stickers for using the bathroom correctly or sit in the corner for jumping on couches after being expressly prohibited, but they do remain all through our lives. Unschooling parents need not shun them. They can instead teach the children to be guided by the right things. Rewards and punishments are just a way to hasten learning, or natural consequences. Habits can start for one reason and continue for a completely different reason.