Flat Isabella arrived in the mail last Wednesday. She fits in a manila envelope and doesn't take up much space, but truth be told, she's becoming a bit of a thorn in my side.
Jeff Brown wrote a book called Flat Stanley over 40 years ago. In the book, Stanley Lambchop is a boy who is flattened one night by a bulletin board which hangs over his bed. Not to worry, however. Stanley and his family are optimists and quickly find that being flat has it's advantages. Foiling thieves, recovering lost items from the sewer, and visiting far away friends via the US Mail, are just a few of the perks Stanley discovers in his newly flattened state.
Second grade teachers all across the nation have discovered that this book is a fun way to fit some geography into the curriculum. Kids make flat versions of themselves and mail them to friends and relatives all over the world. Willing recipients then cart Flat Fred or Flat Wilma around town for a few days, snapping photos and gathering information about their hometowns. The photos and interesting tid-bits are then mailed back to the student in the form of a scrapbook. Ta-Da! Instant geography lesson.
Ten or twelve years ago, when I taught 2nd grade, I would have done a project like this. I would have been all over it. Geography, literature, art, social studies, math, all in one. It's a teacher's dream. It's fun, it's creative, it has potential relevance to the student's life. Today on the other hand, living our life without school, I'm finding that this project is an unschooler's nightmare.
It's not that it's not fun. It was fun the first day. Now it's beginning to feel more and more like homework. We've been asked to draw maps and take photos of points of interest and write paragraphs about noteworthy people from our town. Yeeeuuuck. The kids enjoy propping Flat Isabella up and posing for pictures. That's about it. They've read the story. It's funny. They get it, and they're ready to move on. My experience is that unschooled kids aren't dazzled by unit studies and creative geography lessons the way schooled kids sometimes are. This makes it a bit tricky when it comes to follow through.
I'd love to impress my childhood friend (father of the real, live Isabella) and mail Flat Isabella back in a manila envelope filled with beautiful drawings, flowery paragraphs and intricate maps, photos and memorabilia from our town. But if I did that, it would clearly be from me, not my kids. My kids have never done homework. They have no desire to do homework (who does?). If I
asked required them to complete this project, they would look at me like I had two heads.
The whole idea was for a 2nd grader from California to learn something about the lives of three kids in a small town in Oregon, from them, not their mother. I'm not sure we can deliver that particular portion of the lesson. I know I could. The teacher in me gets all fired up. I can picture the captions on the photos and the fun facts I would insert throughout. But I've been unschooling too long now to tackle a project like this with the expectation that my kids will participate with energy and enthusiasm. There are too many opportunities for learning in our regular, everyday lives for me to fabricate the teachable moments. I know that, and my kids do, too.
Oh, I'm sure I will mail it back. I won't bail completely, but I've also let go of the idea that this geography lesson for Isabella is some sort of lesson for my children as well. We don't do it that way. When it's time to assemble the scrapbook and mail her back, I'll sit down at the table with my glue stick, markers, and scissors. Chances are, one or more of my three children will join me at some point. If they want to help, great. If not, that's fine, too. We'll have some fun. We may even learn something.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 11, Macy, 9 and Charley, 7) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a Homeschooling Consultant, offering support and guidance to families looking to clarify their vision as a family of learners. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at homeschoolconsultant@gmailcom.