This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New for Strew: Update on our Unschooling Workboxes

Still love this, but it's sitting on hold for now!
 I posted recently about how I was going to repurpose our old workbox system (a 10-drawer rolling cart like this one) into a way of keeping our “strew” under control in our new—and not particularly large—townhouse. Well, I haven’t fully jumped on that idea yet. I haven’t abandoned the thought—Bri really loved opening the drawers to see what treasures she’d find inside—but I immediately hit on something I wanted to try more.

A cool under-stairs storage area

I picked up one of these bin-style toy carts and tucked it away inside the cupboard under our stairs (which we’ve jokingly dubbed “Privet Drive,” but I digress). Now, I have an easy place to store “strew” when I’m not leaving it out for Bri to find.

kay, I realize this is hardly an innovative solution since I’m betting one out of every four or five homeschooling houses has this exact same storage bin setup. What got me excited about it is that it offers me a quick and interchangeable grab-and-go solution for offering fun activities without the mess. And we’ve got it right next to the dining table, which is where art, projects, and games happen most often.

Our bins are currently stocked with Play-Doh, art supplies, a puzzle Grandma sent, laminated fact sheets on the 50 states and U.S. Presidents that I will be turning into a game, dice games, blocks, library books, workbooks-for-fun, and more. Even better, some of the boxes are still empty, or are about to be emptied out, so as I acquire strew it will have an automatic (albeit potentially temporary) “home”.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but the cupboard under the stairs is nice and deep and just BEGGING to be turned into a super-secret kid’s nook for Bri to read, play, or hang out in. I’m thinking of repurposing it as a surprise for her birthday. Having the bins in there means it’s already stocked for fun!

Stocked for fun!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Unschooling Path to "Success": What is it?

I frequently run across discussions on homeschool blogs, groups, and message boards on the topic of a child's success--more specifically, what direction they should be steered toward to ensure they will be successful adults. College or not? At age 18 or 21?

I have a number of problems with this.

My issue isn't that the debate can get rather lively on the subject, but rather the idea that there is supposed to be a single, unified answer to the question in the first place.
Problem 1: What is "Success"?

How is success defined? The trouble with the word success is that the answer varies based on who you ask. A cross-section of homeschoolers asked this question might offer answers like these:

*Having a status career, such as doctor, lawyer, celebrity, or professional athlete

*Having lots of money and status "toys"

*Getting paid to do something they love

*A life involved in helping others and the planet

*A good marriage and raising a happy family

*The ability to find inner peace and serenity whatever the circumstances

*Attaining popularity with many friends

*Following spiritual beliefs to the best of ability

So right there we have eight possible viewpoints on what constitutes success.  Which one most closely meets your personal definition?

Problem 2: Different Goals Need Different Approaches

If one person's definition varies from the next, it stands to reason that there is no one answer as to how to achieve the end goal. In the above list, it's easy to see one path won't necessarily work for all goals. College, for instance, may be the only route to becoming a doctor, but it isn't necessary or even relevant to other goals such as a wonderful home life, spiritual path, or launching certain careers.

Problem 3: We are Not Our Children

Our definition of success may not be the same as our child's, and we need to be okay with that. Of course we have certain hopes and dreams for our offspring, but pushing them onto a path to meet our expectations doesn't allow a child to grow into their own unique success. Respect a child as an individual and be willing to guide them onto whatever path best supports their current life goals...which brings me to one more problem.

Problem 4: Times--and People--Change

I've asked myself the "What is success?" question off and on over the years, and the answers have changed even as I have developed as an individual. Ask a 3-year-old what they want to be when they grow up and you'll likely get a very different answer when they are 8, 12, and 18.  So should you plan ahead for college when they're 4? Absolutely. But should you insist that they go when the time comes if they have other ideas? I say not.

It can be hard to let go and trust a child with things like the future. We'd rather they learned from our own experience and mistakes instead of their own. But honestly, how open is a child to learning when it is required rather than desired?

My own college education began after I was 35. I went back to school to pursue a career path I ultimately decided against, but nevertheless I spent two years in classes. It was hard, going to school full time when I already had the adult responsibilities of a job and family, and some might wonder whether I'd have been better off having had college right out of high school. But because it was my personal choice to attend, I appreciated the experience more. I thrived in the setting, excelled in my classes, and absorbed knowledge that enriched my world view and my understanding of who I am. Had I been pushed into college in my teens, it would have been a whole different story. I was in a wholly different place back then and much would have been lost on me. I wound up going at the right time for me rather than the right time as determined by common practice.
Does this mean I think kids should avoid college or wait until their thirties? No way. But we don't all dance to the same drummer, so why should all kids be forced to start college at the same time-or at all, for some? We homeschool our children because we recognize the benefit of a different approach from the mainstream. That philosophy doesn't need to stop when they come of age.

Times have changed as well. College is no longer the place where you stick a brand new adult in a learning mill and have them emerge with a guaranteed career. Many, many college grads cannot get jobs regardless of their education. In addition, many grown kids are falling back into the nest or are launching later in the first place. So what's the big hurry to shove a child out the door the minute they turn eighteen? If they want a year off to travel after high school or opt for a career that doesn't require university, why shouldn't they be supported to do so? They will continue to learn about the world because they'll still be in it.

My six grown children range in education from high school to vocational training and military education to Master's degree work, yet they all have one thing in common. I consider every single one of them a total and unmitigated success. All of them have learned how to think, how to learn, and how to adapt to the changing face of their futures. They set goals and find ways to achieve them based on what best fits their circumstances. And in the end, isn't that the best training we can give a child--the mental tools to pursue their unique definition of success?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Workboxes for Unschoolers: Organized Strewing

I'd describe our learning style as relaxed unschooling with occasional bursts of organizational insanity on my part, and I often find myself trying to brainstorm ways to bigger/badder/better whatever we're doing. This year, I am determined to be more aggressive about "strewing." For the uninitiated, strewing means leaving various items of interest lying around for a child to notice in hopes of sparking learning moments. But while I want to offer these opportunities more frequently, there's been a problem that has held me back: the issue of clutter.

We barely moved to a new place, and not only did we just get rid of a ton of excess junk I'm not eager to find replacements for, the new house is tidy and zen and I'd like to keep it that way as long as possible. We don't function well in a messy space, Bri included, so the thought of having "strew" lying out and piling up doesn't inspire me much. I wanted a way to offer a frequent variety of tidbits without the mess. 

That's when I remembered the rolling cart sitting empty and unloved in Bri's room.

For months I'd been wanting to re-purpose the cart, which we used for the workbox method we abandoned when we withdrew from the charter school. (Check out THIS POST if you're unfamiliar with workboxes.) Although I'd figured the workbox approach was history since we no longer did structured lessons, I liked the idea of it so much I kept the cart and labels in hopes of resurrecting it somehow. And that's exactly what I'm going to do...sort of.

The Unschooling Workbox

The typical method for workboxes involves filling each box (or drawer, in our case) with a worksheet, text, or activity to complete. The child goes through each box in order until they're empty for the day. What I'm going to do instead is stock the drawers with "strew" rather than required schoolwork. The cart currently sits in Bri's room beside her desk, and I'm going to leave it right there for now. She will not be required to look in the drawers or complete anything in them. I'll add new things and change the contents regularly to keep it intriguing.

 What kind of "strew" will go in the drawers? The same things that can go in regular workboxes: puzzles, card games, magazines, fun books, science activities, Play-Doh, mad libs, kid-friendly recipes, a magnifying glass, paper and paint/crayons, a bunch of different buttons, squishy balls, blocks, interesting newspaper clippings, jokes, fall leaves, pretty rocks, a new journal, a set of play money, a scavenger hunt list, a note offering a surprise trip to the library, museum, or other day trip...anything that can fit inside, really. And oh, workbooks. Yes, I said workbooks. If you read my post on When Workbooks are for Unschoolers, you'll understand why I believe they can be useful (for some kids) in an organic learning environment. Granted, Bri is FAR less enamored with them since the charter school, but after almost a year of deschooling I'm prepared to quietly reintroduce a few favored kinds to see where it leads. Maybe her earlier love for them will return. If not, like any other strew, she can choose to ignore them.

While the workbox plan might keep items contained, one of main ideas behind strew is that it is supposed to be, well, "strewn" about in the open where it can be encountered. Sticking stuff away in a drawer doesn't quite fit that bill. Won't it be an out of sight, out of mind thing? I'm hoping not. For one, Bri was very intrigued about her workboxes when they were introduced, and every day she would run to them wanting to see what new stuff would show up. I also have a drawer label called "Surprise!" that will pop up from time to time that will contain special things--for instance, the first in a series of clues leading her on a hunt for an item of interest, a new game, etc. Fun! Second, I will still be strewing the regular way, which at our house usually means interesting things appear on the dining room table at breakfast time--clay, crayons/paints, interesting articles, flyers for upcoming activities, books, cool rocks, etc. 

My other issue with strew is that it accumulates in the house. Over the years of homeschooling, our old apartment got pretty piled up with things she either liked and used, had liked at one time, or never showed interest in (but I kept them "just in case" she changed her mind. So I'm setting a new rule for strew: as contents are changed or added, decisions will be made immediately on items being cycled out. Rather than stockpiling a warehouse full of stuff on shelves and in closets, I vow to be as vigilant about letting go of old things as I plan to be in offering new ones.

By making the drawer items fun and changing them often, I have high hopes for the unschool workbox this year. I'm sure some refining will be involved. I'll post back with updates on whether it was a hit or a miss.