Thursday, April 22, 2010

Playing With Education

It occurred to me the other day that the method of education employed by the enthusiastic Maria in The Sound of Music actually resembles unschooling. Taking the children out of their uniforms and presumably out of their textbooks as well, she created a playful exploration of their world. Oddly enough, I have never once heard her methods criticized nor have I seen people sorrowfully shake their heads and predict ignorant doom for those seven Von Trapp children.

Recently, ABC did a segment on Radical Unschooling so people have been talking more about it. Most of the comments I have seen are negative and I thnk the story itself tends toward sensationalism rather than good, balanced journalism, unfortunately. Although I certainly don't agree with all of the philosophies and practices employed by the families in the segments, I do think that children learn better when given a certain amount of freedom to follow their own interests and the employ play in their learning.

Several years ago I had never even heard of unschooling and the idea of creating "school at home" filled me with loathing. I was determined not to homeschool my kids, particularly my strong-willed daughter. However, when the time came to actually teach her, I discovered a bright, willing mind in an eager pupil. Drawing on my own training as a public school teacher, I took into account her personality, learning style and abilities. Hubby and I had long conversations about the learning that was most meaningful to us as children. Almost always, we remembered lessons by our parents in subjects initiated by ourselves as being far more memorable and meaningful. Slowly, the idea came to us that we could make our children's education look more like that. We would follow their interests to the greatest extent possible while still maintaining academic goals for them. I did not know how long we could continue this; some moms such as Jena from Yarns of the Heart have made it work successfully through high school.

I guess whether you call it interest-led learning, a tailor-made curriculum, eclectic homeschool or plain old unschooling, it worked for Maria and it works for us.


  1. I have NO doubts at all! You are wonderful parents and your children are blessed by your efforts. I didn't know about the ABC story about radical unschooling, but I'm sure I don't want to see it. I've realized recently that I am seriously annoyed by all radical news reports and documentaries on any subject whether political, religious, business, etc. When people look at extremes on the fringes of any 'group' and then harshly label the whole group, it makes me angry. It especially makes me angry when prejudices work their way into our laws and hinder our freedoms. I wonder if ABC will do a special on the successful unschooled children as well? I won't hold my breath for that one. What you are doing is not radical. It is brilliant! I applaud your efforts.

    Now to go make some jumpers out of curtains and run through the hills! Well, maybe not. But have a great day and enjoy this sunshine!!

  2. I know what you mean exactly - that's why my blog is called Girl and Goatherd after the puppet show Maria did with the kids. We are pulling our two oldes out of school end of year and have already begun homeshooling our five year old. The difference in their learning at each age is tremendous. The five year old *wants* to read and learn math and loves science and basically just loves learning. Mostly because we haven't bombareded her with all those *make-work* projects the schools use to kill time. My oldest has hated reading since she was forced to read SIXTY-FIVE-PAGE-BOOKS every single day for the entire year. I should have known then that we weren't going to be the regular school type. Still, much as I love the philosophy of unschooling I've met my fair share of seriously unpleasant "radical" unschoolers. The radicals tend to be religious fundamentalist about their views even though they claim to be more open. If what you're doing doesn't fit into their philosophy they'll either hammer their POV down your throat or quietly pity you. I feel like they've hijacked the term Unschooling all for themselves. We unschool, that doesn't make us anarchists who have no respect for any system other than our own. When some of that "radical-ness" leaks through in an interview it's no small wonder some people are going to be alarmed. After all it is scary when people with kids purport to be doing something in a way most people have never heard of before. I don't know if you were talking about the Good Morning America interview, which in my opinion is useless anyways since that program is almost purely abous sensationalism rather than journalism, but I know there have been plenty of other positive articles and forums when homeschooling and even unschooling has received positive attention. I think GMA is like dangling a fish above sharks. The general audience is such, always ready for a new controversy to tear apart scathingly.

  3. I defended unschooling on the message board that I frequent after that GMA segment came about. I pointed out that the unschoolers shown were extreme cases, and I posted about successful unschoolers I knew about- such as your family and Zach. People can be quick to judge the unknown, and it doesn't help when they have the extremists on t.v.(I've seen some pretty wild unschoolers on other shows, too).
    But I think you have a good balance with what you do, and your kids are thriving in your home. That's what is the most important of all.