Tag Archive | unschooling

Balancing Curriculum with Interests

unschool bus

In our more than 15 years of home education, we have moved through various seasons of more and less formal learning. We never quite qualified as bona fide unschoolers (although I was quite attracted to radical unschooling as a philosophy) but nor did we fully qualify as traditional homeschoolers, since we often had very relaxed periods and largely went with the flow depending on the children’s interests, but with formal book-learning available as a foundation.

This post, originally posted on the Svengelska Hemskolan blog, details the ebb and flow of projects-based learning in this flexible framework.

“If anyone asks, we use Sonlight curriculum, which is an American, literature-based curriculum. Originally designed for American ex-pats and missionaries, with a ‘big world’ focus. In practice, we often go off at tangents to study areas of interest which capture the children’s imagination, or to cover UK history, or (more often than not) because I’ve been snared by other literature selections (Ambleside Online, Tanglewood, Winter Promise, to name but a few) and can’t resist adding to our library.

Sonlight grade 5 which I’m using with Dragon-tamer is entitled “Eastern Hemisphere” or “Non-Western Cultures”, and as part of our Sonlight studies, we’ve looked at the Pacific Islands, Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, North and South Korea and China.

The way I deal with this cross-curricular study which,, being aimed at grade 5 and designed to be suitable primarily for ages 11 or so+, is to break it up into areas of study (easy with Sonlight 5 as it is already neatly divided into countries, but I’ve done it with the lower grades too) and do projects, themes or ‘unit studies’ so that all the children can get involved to whatever degree they’re interested. In addition to reading Sonlight’s literature selections, we take out additional books from the library, we make maps, sometimes 3D models, dress up in national costumes, cook and eat traditional foods, sometimes write little books or make lapbooks and other incidental activities.

Some of these projects have been really popular, especially with the younger children; notably, Australia and New Zealand. Dragon-Tamer was particularly interested in Japan (and scared me for a while talking about wanting to learn Japanese!) Others I have really struggled to get any interest going. Hence, I realise, Sonlight 5 (designed as a one-year curriculum) has now taken us 2 years, and we are only on week 18 (out of 36 – a US school year)! I have been talking for months about finishing up on our China project and moving on to the next projects, but for some reason we’ve all really dragged our feet. We still haven’t finished all the Sonlight books on China (though at the beginning we took extra books out from the library). Right now we’re reading a biography of Eric Liddell – Olympic champion and missionary to China. All the books have been fine and good and we’ve enjoyed them, but somehow I don’t think I can face another book about China! Should we skip the rest, save them for later, or take a(nother) break from Sonlight?

When a friend suggested doing a project on Rivers (which, actually I had wanted to do for years but for some reason had never got round to) I jumped at the chance! I have spent most of my free moments over the last weekend brainstorming and planning how we might cover a Rivers Project. We have one of England’s longest rivers running close by, my maps are prepared, and I’m keen for any plan of study that will take us on a trip to the sea! Ah, but now Pony-rider has announced that she actually wants to do a project on South America, please, so it looks as though the river we’ll be looking at is the Amazon. Okay, back to the drawing board…”

And so we proceeded to develop a new project of our own on South America that created memories that still resonate with us all even today.

It is possible to purchase a pre-packaged, prepared unit study that has joined all the dots and made all the connections between the subjects for you. But we found that this kind of fluid way of learning suited us well, and when you see the ‘dots’ and make the ‘connections’ for yourself, the information is that much more deeply learned and remembered.

john holt quote

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High Culture: Closed for the Winter

1teddyrow

We started the day with Latin: Dragon-tamer orally going through the noun tables and verb paradigms we have learnt so far, and reviewing vocabulary, and finally doing a simple translation exercise that involved placing the correct words in sentences. He did quite well considering we only do it occasionally. Pony-rider listens in too.

As we are fairly relaxed and unschooly, I never insist we do these or any other lessons. My goal in introducing Latin, and other languages, is to give the kids a flavour of the language so if they decide they want to take it up seriously, they can.

We all listened to a children’s classical CD (Bernstein Favourites: Children’s Classics), and Dragon-Tamer dictated a couple of music reviews which I typed up and posted on to our local home-ed reading group website.

We thought that, in the afternoon, we would just ‘pop in’ to the local museum, or gallery, but when I checked their opening hours, I discovered that both are closed: the Gallery for two weeks while they change exhibits, and the Museum for the whole winter (except for education groups of 20 or more children… so possible to organise for a later date but no good for today).

Disappointed, we discussed other alternatives for the afternoon, but nobody could agree, and since Motor-biker was poorly with a slight temperature, we opted for a quiet afternoon in, watching nature programmes and schools maths programmes recorded earlier.

Originally posted on the Svengelska Hemskolan blog.

Play-station beats Dyslexia

lbp

My middle son, Motor-biker, who is 14, has struggled with quite severe dyslexia for years. I know I have mentioned it several times here.

We had tried all sorts of reading schemes and books and resources and we weren’t getting anywhere. In fact, I was at the point of tearing my hair out with frustration and just about ready to throw in the towel.

But a remarkable thing has happened over the Christmas holiday – having unrestrained time on the Play-station, particularly playing the creative game ‘Little Big Planet‘ which has a fair amount of text, he has had a breakthrough.

I can hardly believe that I am saying it, but he is now – all of a sudden really – reading!

I am really just astounded at his rapid progress, and so relieved! I really felt that we had reached an impasse and that there was no way to carry on learning at home. I am so glad I was wrong!

One of the neat things about Little Big Planet is that you can create your own levels, and part of creating things is tagging them with text, and the text interface has a suggestion box which is really helpful for learning spellings and the shape of words.

So far, it hasn’t helped Baba Zonee, 12, quite so obviously; but from what I understand, this may be due to having a different type of dyslexia from his brother (he also has dysgraphia, and physical difficulty with fine motor control). But even though Baba Zonee is still struggling, I am beginning to see slow improvement, so I am really encouraged, one that learning at home with dyslexia is possible, and that learning with unschooling (which means natural life learning with little or no interference) is sometimes the best way.

Plans for September

After going to and fro in my mind over what to do – follow the national curriculum more closely with a view to doing GCSEs? Concede defeat over the severe dyslexia and put them all in school (it was a serious consideration, but none of us want to go that route), or go back to our Sonlight-style, literature-based lifestyle.

I wondered seriously about starting GCSEs at home, but again, nobody really wants that. We have found two possible options for maths and English post-16, both of which are free, so I think there’s no rush for that. Heck, I’m doing GCSE maths myself next year, and I’m 44! 🙂

I decided to go back to the literature-based lifestyle. I call it a lifestyle, because when we were doing Sonlight, we weren’t cooped up at home or in the classroom the way we have been recently, trying to squeeze ourselves into the National Curriculum boxes (although now I look back, I wonder why?! It has been miserable for all of us, and really, worse than unproductive, it turned them off learning).

On the contrary, the books we found were always portable, it meant that we could be out and about everyday – at the woods, at the beach, visiting with other home educators, whatever really, and we could still get the ‘work’ done, and it didn’t really feel like work (except on my throat which was known to need a constant supply of hot tea!)

Despite eldest’s difficulties with the system (possible Asperger’s without a firm diagnosis or Statement), his knowledge base was much larger than my own when I left school, so I’m confident that Sonlight gave him a good all-round education. The skills will come, but they have come frustratingly slowly.

My kids are just bright, late starters 🙂

The next question was, do we go on with Sonlight itself or another literature-based curriculum I have used in between, Heart of Dakota.

I actually decided to do both: I will be doing two levels anyway – we’re going to finally go back and finish the Sonlight read-alouds from core C over the summer, and then go on to start core D. We never did cores D and E first time round because they’re based on American history, but we always felt we had missed out on all those fantastic books!

coreD

So, as always, we will do a hotch potch – we’ll intersperse the American history with some British history and geography. But we’ll be moving away from the textbooks and back to the literature. They recall it so much more fully that way.

heart-of-dakota-world-geography

For my daughter, I decided to do Heart of Dakota’s World Geography year. The titles look really interesting, and I’ve been wanting to do it for a while.

I rather enjoyed HoD’s early grades, which I used (mainly for language arts) for my two youngest alongside Sonlight’s early grades, although we didn’t do all the books (HoD are much more Amero-centric than Sonlight, and more religious! But I like it because it has a much more Charlotte Mason style) but I skipped the first three higher levels in the ‘Hearts for Him Through High School’ series (although I have the guides if I want to go back to them).

300

And, because I am a book addict, I also ordered Sonlight’s core 300 (20th Century World History for high school) instructor’s guide, but not the books. I thought I would get the books gradually as we need them. And I’ll read these myself even if my daughter’s not interested. (I had been toying with doing their Church History core for myself but we hadn’t done the 20th Century in any great depth so I thought we should do this first) I rather think she will be interested anyway, and I know my eldest will love them.

So there will be a whole lot of reading going on in this house, and out of this house next year, all being well!

But as ever, the strict following of guides and manuals, ticking off every box, and doing every assignment, probably won’t happen.

We’ve tried that, and it sucks the joy out of it all, and it kind of defeats the whole purpose of home educating in the first place, which is freedom to enjoy learning.

For science, we’ll carry on with Apologia but I think we may set aside some more time for hands-on experiments. That’s one think I may go back to the National Curriculum for, but as I said many years ago, I will use it (as I’ll use the HoD manuals and the Sonlight instructor’s guides) more as a curriculum bank of ideas, a tool rather than a master. We won’t allow ourselves to be straight-jacketed by curriculum.

When things start to arrive, I’ll post again with details about the individual books and resources.

So I’m excited right now! We haven’t had a ‘Box Day’ for a few years now! How about you? What are you planning? What resources will you be using? What would you like to learn this year?

Educating Through a Crisis

We have had our fair share of crises in the 16+ years we have been home educating, and the last few years seem to have been just one crisis after another.

In mid-February we received notice of eviction because our landlord had decided to sell the house we were renting. This is perfectly legal in the UK for tenants who have done nothing wrong, providing a minimum of two months’ notice is given, leaving tenants at the mercy of their landlords’ whims.

It is actually our 6th house move in 4 years, including one previous eviction because the landlord wanted to move in to the house himself, and another time being flooded out and temporarily re-housed. Hopefully this time we will be settled for a nice long time.

These last 4 difficult years also followed hard on the heels of a run of miscarriages and three family deaths including my Dad’s, so we have had a lot of experience in all sorts of crisis!

For most people, this kind of extreme and repetitive season of crisis is not likely, but all of us will face some kind of crisis at some point.

How do you ensure that the children don’t miss out on education during a crisis, and in the case of moving house, when your primary educational setting is in chaos?

I remember attending a seminar at The Home Service (now Christian Home Education Support Service) Conference at Cefn Lea in Wales one year, so I’ll list what I can remember from that as well as to add some of my own ideas.

1) As a home educator, you’re not tied to a class room, or living room – the world is your classroom, so if your house is upside-down, get out and learn elsewhere – outside, at the museum, at the park, at the beach, with friends, even at the market – be inventive with simple educational field trips and remember that they are learning all the time!

2) Prioritise – work out what is most important: perhaps you can’t cover all the subjects you would want to, so what can you lay down for a time, and what do you absolutely want to keep doing? (We pretty much laid everything down this time except literature, and took advantage of audio-books when our books got packed away.)

3) Know that the way we cope with a crisis is educational in itself – some of us are naturally better than others in a crisis situation, but I think I can fairly say I have become an expert! ;P Patience, calm and serenity, I have learnt, are like muscles – the more you exercise them, the more you find the ability is there, and the lessons of coping, improvising, making do and mending are all good for children to learn.

4) Know that this is just a season, and this too will pass. Even in extended periods of uncertainty, there will come a day when normality returns, and when it does, the long dark tunnel won’t have been a waste of time (see above), and you will appreciate normality when it returns. It may even be a while before it begins to feel like mundane drudgery again! (I have learned to take care about inviting too much adventure in to my life now!)

5) Find your Rock: It has been said that parenting is character-building, and home education even more so, and of course it goes without saying that working through hard times is part and parcel of that character formation. But for me, it has forced me to dig deep down into my faith foundation. At the seminar, prayer and reliance on God was the number one recommendation. Some of us though have to learn the hard way, and this has tended to be my last resort rather than my first thought.

I hope that’s helpful and not overly obvious. If you have gone through or are currently going through difficult times and home educating through them, I would love to hear from you.