Not Quite Unschool “Curriculum” – Math

Our journey thus far has taken us through a few math programs.  Coming from Montessori we decided to start with Shiller Math.  It is a Montessori based spiral curriculum that includes manipulatives.  We enjoyed it, but I found some of it too easy and some too hard and because it spirals we needed to cover everything.  So I moved on to Math U See Alpha.  We made it through successfully for a while, but once again I started reading ;).  I’ve realized that early introductions to math facts is an unnecessary burden for a child.  So I shelved it for now.  I absolutely adore the program and wish this is how I had been taught math, but it doesn’t have to be now.  Well, you know what they say about plans!  Bouncy boy asked for it the other day and proceeded to do 2 pages (never before done in one sitting).  So I’d say yes, letting them bring it to you = good.  So I’ve now decided to keep it available and suggest it now and again and do it completely at his pace.  We are currently on lesson 15.

This year I want to focus more on living math.  We will do a calendar every day where he can write the day of the month, weather, temperature (inside and out) etc.  We are getting analog clocks and him a watch since he is currently building clocks out of every pencil, popsicle stick and straw he can find and asking me what time it makes.  Also, we will build the clock the way Math U See teaches – which is pretty cool.  I want to get more measuring devices for him to play with – rulers, yard stick, a balance, stop watch and such to allow for free play.  And a calculator for him to play around with and perhaps aid in grocery shopping.

Bouncy Boy is also very into board games right now and playing with two dice will teach addition facts very quickly.  We will supply the answers of course, but it won’t take long for him to figure out if he throws a 1 and a 3 it’s 4.  I’m thinking that as he masters these we will get multi-sided dice to encourage adding into higher numbers.

I intend to make full use of  the Living Math website for more ideas as we progress, but for now – addition facts, calendar, temperature and measurement are ideal.

Not quite unschool “curriculum” – Language Arts

So this week I will be highlighting the various subjects often covered in a curriculum and how we intend to handle them this year.  This year is our first real experiment in relaxed homeschooling and so I’m sure I’ll have thrown everything out by the end.  However, I will start with our intentions so you can understand our mindset and we will see how things evolve over time.

Starting with Language Arts.

So my oldest son being in First Grade this year our focus is on loving books.  So we are reading together alot.   Right now he is totally obsessed with the Magic Treehouse series and we read 4 chapters every night.  So I read to him and he picks out words he knows as we go and gets excited about the fact that he knows them <3.  I can’t believe how fabulous this series is.  It exposes him to a huge variety of subjects and we get to look things up on the computer when a topic interests him.  We are also reading Winnie The Pooh in preparation for the movie and I have a list of other read-alouds I’d like to introduce him to this year.

We also have a year-long subscription to Reading Eggs – which we love.  He used it for hours everyday for a while after we got it, but seems to be taking a break.  We have the activity books that go along with it and these are the only workbooks he has ever been interested and he can’t wait to do them.  So I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds his way back to them soon.

We also have the first level of All About Spelling.  I was using this as a reading program more than a spelling program.  He rejected it and we left it alone.  I thought it was gone for good and planned on selling it but yesterday he brought it to me and asked why we weren’t doing it anymore and asked if we could.  So that might come back out soon.  The best piece of advice I ever got in relation to homeschooling was that I don’t need to use curriculum the way it’s laid out – duh.  So we skip things he knows and build the words with magnetic plastic letters instead of writing them out.  I don’t do all the flash cards etc.   But he enjoys it and makes progress.

We also play a lot of word games – finding rhymes, eye-spy with things starting with a sound etc.  He also really enjoys sight word bingo and story sequencing cards.  He watches a lot of PBS kids shows that stress reading and plays the corresponding games on pbskids.org.  His reading is coming along and I am happy.

Our focus for this year is loving the magic of books.

Philosophy/Principles of Education

A little about my educational background.  My mother is a Montessori teacher.  She currently teaches 1st and 2nd grade.  So I was raised Montessori.  She was a SAHM until I was 5 and was making a lot of her materials at the time.  So I got to play with them.  This is how I learned to read :).  I went to Montessori schools from preschool until 5th grade when I was transferred to public school.  I got bored with that fairly quickly and didn’t really go to high school.  I was enrolled for 4 years, but ditched a lot and really only showed up to what I was interested in.  I got my GED the same year I completed my AA.  I used to be embarrassed about that until I started reading about educational theory and unschooling and realized that it was the school system that failed me, not the other way around.  I’m sure I’ll write a whole post about that someday.

So fast-forward a few years and I have babies now!  Decisions must be made.  I assumed they would go to Montessori preschool, which they have, and after that I wanted to find a charter school.  I didn’t like the idea of private school because of the lack of diversity.  I don’t want my kids growing up with all wealthy kids, but want them exposed to lots of people.  Eventually, as described in a previous post I decided to homeschool.  So now what?  Do we do Montessori at home?  Jump on the Classical bandwagon or what?  We decided to remain eclectic and find our way over the first year.  We signed up with a wonderful charter homeschool here in our area and charged ahead with an eclectic curriculum I had picked out after cruising around the internet for awhile.  We bought Young Scientist Club science kits, Shiller Math, Explode the Code, All About Spelling etc.  Insert active, rebellious child –> yelling mother –> breakdown.  Suddenly my previously excited child who loved school and learning and was excited about reading etc hates reading, hates writing and we’re pissed at each other.  Ugh.  What is happening here?  So, we took a break – deschooled a bit.  He watched a lot of tv and played on PBSkids.com and I started reading about homeschool philosophy.  I read a lot online, enough to know that the hard-core academic and core type curricula need not apply here!  No TWTM for us.

I picked up a copy of Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto.  And wow was my mind blown!  If I was attracted to homeschooling before, now I knew I could never put my children in school.  (Warning – do not read this book if you don’t want to be talked out of schooling!)  Then I read How Children Fail by John Holt and was fascinated.  My mom has been bouncing ideas off me and generally venting about miscellaneous children and problems in her classroom for years.  I saw so many of those children represented in this book!  And hers is a forward thinking Montessori based private school, these things shouldn’t be happening there.  So I became convinced that the nature of the school environment forces wonderful, well-meaning teachers to treat children in certain ways  that are not helpful to the learning process at all.

So I started reading about Unschooling.  I cruised the blogs, watched the youtube videos and joined a couple discussion groups.  I was immediately turned off by some of the more dogmatic folks out there and decided unschooling wasn’t for us.  (I’m not much of a joiner).  So I started trying to find our own way.  (I’ve since then found some much less fundamentalist unschool groups and have the utmost respect for this way of life.) And this is what I’ve come up with.  🙂

Our Family Principles of Education:

1.  All Principles are in fact guidelines and are of course flexible -lol

2. Parents and family should matter more than friends or so called “socialization”.

3. Always question authority – even me!

4. Learning is most effective when child directed.

5. A child’s interests should never be put down, but adults should seek to understand them.

6. A child’s primary method of learning (whether behavior lessons or “educational” ones) is through play.  Play should be actively encouraged – even if I don’t “like” it or think he should be doing something “more important”.

7. Children don’t know what they don’t know.

8. Therefore, an educators job is to expose children to a variety of age appropriate topics to encourage active learning.  This should, however, be done gently and without coercion.  Do not be offended if your child has no interest in learning about Egypt this week.  Keep your book/craft/website available for when he or she comes back to it.

9. Math and Reading will be learnt naturally when the child is ready if resources are made available.  However:

10.  A child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn will not be squashed by a few minutes of directed activity a day.

11.  Children have the right to say, “No, Thank you.” to directed activity.

12.  Treat children the way you would treat an adult whose opinion you value.

13. Long term feelings about a subject are far more important that short term obedience.  Brushing teeth in a forced, argumentative, fighting way is far more damaging than a cavity.  Staying up late but feeling good about going to bed is better than fighting and threatening.  Memorization of math facts is far less important than enjoying math and seeing it’s practical applications.  Early reading is less important than enjoying the magic of books.

So I was going to write ten, but like I said not much for rules around here – and I’ve always like the number 13.  What can I say, I’m a rebel ;).

So that’s our philosophy in a nutshell.  We have ended up calling ourselves Relaxed Homeschoolers.  I’ll write about what that looks like in a practical day to day way soon.  For now, these are my ideas.  🙂