I would like to share with you some additional information and suggestions from the Wisconsin Parents Association Homeschool Conference that I attended earlier this month.
I recently read an article in which the author inadvertently referred to unschooling as unlearning, as if schooling and learning are synonymous and interchangeable, or, worse, suggesting that the author believes you are not learning unless you are in school! (Just for the record, if you unlearn something, that means you learn it and then forget or discard it.) Clearly that was written by someone who does not unschool, but there is certainly a misperception among some people that all unschooling looks the same and is totally hands off. It is not. Unschooling does not mean that our kids run the show and make all the decisions about their living and learning. It simply means that there is an emphasis on learning in ways that are different from school-type learning. Along those lines, Erich, in his WPA talk How to Unschool the ‘Right’ Way, reminded us that our kids need us to help them make good decisions while at the same time we show them respect for their their needs and wants, and their fears and differences. He stated that, as parents, “we can see farther down the road than our kids.” To help us understand how this applies to learning, I like to give analogies that are fundamental to basic parenting as I see unschooling as being very much about parenting. For example, most of us would not ordinarily let our child stay up half the night just because they are engrossed in a book. We enforce bedtimes because we want our kids to learn good habits and feel good the next day. Providing guidance in our children’s learning is really no different. Our kids tend to function very much in the present moment; we as adults need to help them to also consider the future.
Another thing Erich suggested is that we can help our kids stay on track with their learning goals by asking them “Do you want me to help you stay focused?” I really like that suggestion. After we got back from the conference, my son asked me to help him keep up with his math. He had come in to the final few minutes of Erich’s discussion and so I immediately thought he had heard Erich’s suggestion. But when I asked my son, he said no, he had not, but that he had thought of that on his own. Since he has asked me to help him stay on top of his math, I feel like less of a nag when I nudge him to finish up a lesson. I think both of my kids have found that it is sometimes too easy to get off track when they do not have an outside person to answer to or a deadline to meet. As much as we enjoy learning, it is sometimes too easy to let all the little distractions that life throws us get in the way of keeping up consistently with difficult things. I like the idea of asking my kids if they want my help as it shows them they have ownership over their own learning.
Erich also mentioned that homeschoolers are significantly less likely to drop out of college than students who have attended public or private schools. Why is that? He suggested that perhaps it is because homeschoolers know themselves and they know how to learn. (It may also be because homeschoolers arrive at college with far less baggage about learning than their schooled counterparts.) This idea was reiterated in another session I attended, Emily Gilbert’s Following Your Passion. Emily is a grown unschooled homeschooler who discussed her own passion, author Jane Austen, and where that passion has led her. She was so right when she said, “When something is interesting, everything related to it is interesting.” She said that in her home, there were no restrictions on what she could learn or what she could read. She told us, “Unschooling helped me learn who I am.” Personally, I found her words distilled perfectly much of what I am striving for with my own children.
These speakers, all volunteers, helped me find clarity in my homeschooling and in my relationship with my children. I am passing on some of their thoughts and suggestions because I find them to be very insightful, helpful and practical. As always, I would love to hear your comments!