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, July 30, 2014

When Unschooling Just Doesn't Work

I have a confession to make. I flunked Unschooling 101 last semester. 

This was far from an easy realization, since I believe in the concept of free-range learning wholeheartedly. In fact, I daresay it's impossible to get through life without unschooling whether a person means to or not. That said, unschooling was not the answer for us--at least, not in the way we were doing it.

We had reverted to unschooling after a stressful charter program experience prompted us to withdraw from the program. Bri was allowed to self-select activities, although I frequently "strewed" items of potential interest as well as suggestions. As a deschooling method, this worked wonders. She made huge gains in the reading and spelling she'd struggled with, and she regained some of the confidence lost when charter requirements made her feel "dumb". After a while, however, I found our unschooling approach seemed to be causing more problems than it solved.

Clutter creates mental chaos for us!
The more academic and personal freedom my daughter was given, the unhappier she became. Her behavior grew difficult. Her room was a health department nightmare. She was irritable from lack of sleep and got sick frequently. The group of playmates she self-selected were an unruly bunch who created nothing but stress, fear, and drama. 

After taking stock of the steadily mounting pile of issues, I put the brakes on this runaway train. One of the biggest reasons I homeschool is to have the freedom to tailor learning experiences to the child. If something isn't working, it's time for a change--so I did some soul searching. Some kids can skip happily through day after day of unplanned spontaneity.  Bri, on the other hand, has drilled us since she could talk for details on what the day/week/year's schedule holds.  Other kids  function just fine with a messy room. Clutter in Bri's room (or the house) makes a big impact on her focus and state of mind.

It occurred to me that a child whose very nature is to seek order and a consistent schedule may not be the best candidate for a "whatever the winds may bring" approach to life and learning. She thrives best on structure, and lots of it. So that's what I gave her. In fairness, I didn't just drop unschooling like a hot potato and run screaming into traditional academia. We put pieces back together a step at a time. Her room was reassembled into a functional space. "Bedtime" became more than an idle concept. A set time for learning was reestablished, and we went back to using workboxes--first one or two a day, then more. And a big shift happened in terms of playmates and unsupervised time.  

I won't say she was delighted to embrace this global change. However, she was thrilled to get her room back shipshape, and I saw the marked relief that seemed to follow having a schedule to rely on. In the months since, things have gotten back on track, enough to know that for now, we're on the best path for us.

Our unschooling fun is staying!
Unschooling hasn't gone away totally. Remnants stayed with us, and will continue as we begin the new school year next week. Last term, we used Disneyland/CA Adventure as an interesting learning tool that we will continue the rest of the year (thanks to annual passes). She was allowed to self-select some topics to study this year, including world religions and learning Mandarin Chinese. More of her learning will take place from videos and personal research than from rote workbooks or text (although those will still be included). And we will have one designated "unschooling day" per week, where she is free to pursue current interests. (These differ from a regular day off because they take place during set hours and she will be asked to use her OneNote journal or notebooking to record her discoveries.)

I'm looking forward to a productive year, but the thing I most want to remember is that as a homeschooling parent, I want to look for signs that a better way to learn is needed, preferably before the yarn ball unravels.