I recently got this question from Unschooling Blogger:
This is the only time of year that I get antsy and start worrying about unschooling. I'd be so interested in hearing about how you encouraged learning with younger kids. Or did you just let them play until they came and asked? I find mine haven't been asking much lately and I worry it's something I've done - or do they perhaps go through spurts as they do in physical development? (She has four kids and the oldest is eight).
My kids did go through spurts in doing school-type things and that would make me feel better, but that didn't mean they weren't learning the other times too. Some days were just watching PBS or playing dress-up. I'd get nervous and try to whip up some school-like activity, but really, that's not necessary. That's me trying to control the learning that's going on all the time anyway.
On days I felt compelled to do some "real" learning, a trip to the library would do the trick. Browse the shelves and let the kids bring home whatever they are interested in. Since mom gets to bring home books too, I'd think through topics I thought they should know about. I'd get ideas from a book called The Core Knowledge Sequence.It's a list of what kids in each grade are supposedly learning. This is all theoretical because we don't have a nationalized curriculum, and I don't believe education is "filling a bucket" anyway, but it was helpful to be reminded that kids in 3rd grade probably know all about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock. Why not get Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock? by Jean Fritz? I love her style. Read aloud time with her books becomes a whole elementary school history curriculum!
I also like Kathryn Stout's Design-a-Study series. It's the same idea as the Core Knowledge Sequence because it has content listed by grade level, but it has more suggestions for activities. If you are motivated and enjoy directly teaching once in awhile, and your kids are happy to have you do it, go for it. We'd often call it "playing school."
Some Specifics on Fostering Interest
When one of my kids was in early elementary school I thought she should know about the periodic table of elements. So I set up a lab with a big periodic table poster, science lab materials, experiment books, and one of her dad's white shirts as a lab coat. Then I left it to see what would happen. She spent a lot of time in there and learned a great deal (it was actually set up under her loft bed). And when she lost interest, we put it all away.
That science lab was really a learning center. These are simply table tops or plastic tubs or drawers that have everything you need to dive into your topic. We still have the dress-up chest and the drawing desk. But you can be more specific and have a rocket science corner with library books, toys, videos, Lego's, or whatever you think you need to introduce and explore that topic. A geography area would have a globe, map, workbooks, map puzzle, etc. These are simply little places of hidden treasure. And when they are no longer interesting, put them away and try something else. The goal is to learn about your child and what he loves, then provide what he needs to go that route to the fullest.
I always had a read-aloud book going at bedtime, and I'd purposefully choose books to follow some historic period. I also had a time line thumb tacked around the bedroom, so when we read, I could point to the spot on the time line and if they wanted, they could write or draw what they learned on it. I usually found some sort of visual for them to attach too.
Mom's enthusiasm can go a long way in fostering interest in something. I personally love biology, so one of my favorite memories is doing The Body Book.The book's description says, "easy-to-make hands-on models that teach." You make card stock copies of the skeleton and organs, and with some scissors and tape you have a model of the human body. We did various parts of this book over several years. The kids loved it too since it was like doing crafts with mom.
In a nutshell, remember your main job is to foster a love of learning and their natural talents. If your child would love to do workbooks all day, let her. If your child is emotionally mature and wants to go to public school, let her (gulp--that's my situation now). If your child wants to play video games all day, let him. Seriously. There is a lot of good research out today that says video games are very good for kids. But also encourage them to be responsible with their bodies--don't forget to eat and get up and let your blood circulate once in awhile.
A View from the Down the Road
A few weeks ago Melissa came home from her third day of public high school and commented about her English class. She said, "It must be hard for some kids to write stories. What if you're not creative? Anyone can learn grammar or punctuation, but how can you learn creativity?" I told her I was glad she had all those stress-free elementary years to play, pretend, make up stories and develop her imagination.
Meg, my learn-at-home high school junior just finished watching a Netflix instant documentary and was disappointed. "I didn't really learn anything. I think I'll try to find something educational to do," she says as I sit here typing this.
Before college started this fall, my homeschool graduate started reading The Brothers Karamazov, an 800 page Russian novel, because he was listening to online lectures from the UC Berkeley that talked about it. Is that how most graduated seniors spend their last weeks before college?
And 90% of their lives has been unstructured and interest-led.
Jena began homeschooling in 1994. Her three children are now teenagers; one is graduated and attends the University of Chicago on a full ride scholarship, the next one is 16 and pursues life without school in the arts, and the youngest is a freshman, trying out public school for the first time. In 2005 they bought a 7000 square foot church building and converted it into their home. You can read more about their adventures on her blog, yarns of the heart.