Unschooling & Unworking: Confessions of a stay-at-home family (Part 4)
My grandparents believed, as Revelations said, that the earth would be consumed with fire. They believed this would happen via nuclear weapons, because in the mid-80’s, this seemed a quite realistic scenario. Sure, the good folks would go to heaven and the bad folks would die and go to hell, but as a little kid, I was scared shitless. Personally, I liked life on earth, and I wanted to keep living.
After explaining all this to my daughter, I got back to my original point, that the words “apocalypse” and “revelations” are not scary to me anymore. Revelations means to reveal, and apocalypse means to uncover. I recently put together a collection of folktales, subtitled, “Paradise Apocalypse,” meaning “Paradise Uncovered,” because I believe we have the power to remember the garden that grows beneath our feet.
That afternoon, Kid Khalila accompanied me to work for a few hours, where she entertained herself writing codes in her notebook (codes being any “secret” words or phrases that pop out to her, generally from license plates, but sometimes hidden other places, like vending machines) and reading yet another novel.
Wednesday brought us another nice weather day, with more of the same kinds of outdoor activities as the day before. We played a game called Toss Up while we were taking a break from work. I had been clearing dead canes out of the raspberry patch while Kid Khalila had been working her biceps doing yet more rope swing tricks. Toss Up involves adding, and KK did not want to add 13 + 5. I refused to add it for her, and told her that 13 + 5 was math little kids could easily do. After realizing how easy it was, she added the numbers with no problems. She also said, “Mama…. You know I can read. That’s all I really need to know.” Well, how could I argue with that? If you know how to read, and you have access to words, you really can learn about everything!
That afternoon we discussed how things can be relative. I used the example of time. Five minutes can be a very long time if you are, for instance, waiting to be served a piece of birthday cake. But, five minutes can rush by in what seems like two seconds when it’s almost bedtime. It’s the same five minutes, but the nature of your set and setting can affect your perceptions of its passage. This led to talking about how people can view things differently, depending on the culture in which they are raised. In fact, everyone on earth has a slightly different viewpoint, leading to the idea that there is no One Truth, or rather, that all is true. It was a bit heavy for a 9-year-old, but she got it!
Later in the afternoon, we helped a friend rearrange her booth at a craft mall. Kid Khalila and her friend were working out what it means to be competitive, how it can be both beneficial and detrimental to friendship, and what to do when being competitive hurts someone’s feelings. We also went to a resale shop to look for clothing, and KK entertained herself by reading books that were for sale. She finished another novel on Wednesday, and I finished a book I had been reading aloud to her at bedtime. At bedtime, we also played the alphabet game, and the subject was “silly things.” We thought of many silly things, and KK got the letter Q, and her answer was Qwerty! Oh, yeah! That’s my kid!
I had to work very early on Thursday, and took KK to my friend’s house to hang out. She looked for eggs, hung out, and had fun. Another friend picked her up and took her to homeschool gymnastics class, again learning some skills and most importantly, some good quality hanging out and having fun time. Then she went to homeschool music class. She is actually learning how to sing on key and carry a tune, which amazes me, since I can’t! After some more reading, Kid Khalila and her dad went to a Food Not Bombs meeting and played bingo at a local fringe church. She meets a variety of people there, as the FNB meeting is held immediately after an all-topics twelve-step meeting. She and her dad normally bike, walk, scooter, or roller skate (well, her dad normally bikes or walks only) the one mile round trip, adding yet more physical activity to her Thursday.
As I am writing this, tomorrow is Friday, and we have our entire day free. Who knows what kinds of crazy adventures we may find ourselves in?! Friday evening, we are going on a Critical Mass Bike Ride, and it’s an awful lot of fun to hear my daughter shout “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” Saturday, she and her dad will no doubt have something fun and entertaining planned, and they’ll also go to the local library to fill up on yet more good books.
So, really, how can we not learn using our daily lives as our curriculum? It’s impossible not to learn, unless your curiosity has been deadened by being forced to learn what you’re not interested in learning. This seems to be how America has created its current generation of passionately uninterested learners. No doubt, our school systems are failing, but I don’t think that’s an altogether bad thing. It’s well past broken, and that is very apparent. Many parents, like me, are pulling out their kids and feeding their insatiable curiosity rather than letting them rot at their desks. Granted, not every parent has the means or opportunities to homeschool their children, and that is unfortunate. If I had the money the school system would get for my child were she enrolled, my goodness! Oh, the places we would go!
Occasionally people will ask me, but how do you learn math, or science (or any other subject they hold dear)? Well, they come up, as useful as they are in everyday life. I have to admit, though I was good at math in school, it was never something I was interested in. And honestly, math rarely does come up in everyday life. One place it always comes up is with cooking from a recipe. Kid Khalila is not intimidated by doubling, tripling, or quadrupling a recipe. In fact, she can make pancakes from scratch, from start to finish! We also dabble in math when we play Yahtzee! or Toss Up.
As a public-schooled kid, science bored me, but I think it was mostly my teachers. As an adult, science fascinates me, and I’m astounded at my ignorance at the natural world around me. I’ve taught myself the names and uses of many plants and herbs, but insects, birds, constellations, trees, I don’t know what many of these are. Fortunately, KK’s dad had a science teacher for a grandfather, and he knows a lot! Kid Khalila and I are both learning.
But that’s pretty much the crux of it. We learn as opportunities present themselves. Sure, KK probably knows more about permaculture and sustainable practices than she does about business acumen, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing! Being able to not only survive but thrive in a changing world, being able to adapt, to live in community–this is knowledge worth having. Really, unschooling is learning the ability to learn. If you know how to learn, you can learn anything you might need to know.
Is unschooling legal? As always, it depends! In the United States, each state has laws concerning homeschooling in general, and sometimes unschooling in particular. In Illinois, where I live, homeschooling is considered legal because of a court case saying it is. There are no specific laws governing homeschooling, so even though Illinois is fairly conservative on many social issues, on homeschooling Illinois is waaaaay out there, having basically no requirements whatsoever. Other states have different requirements, and unschoolers have to do their best to obey the rules while keeping their kids’ best interest in the forefront.
Unschooling doesn’t work for all kids or parents, especially if there is a strong need for structure desired by either. It works well when structure is not desired, or as in the case of my child, homework is detested, and anything presented as “teaching” provokes hands firmly clasped over ears! However, in learning through every day life, my child is an insatiable learner with a curious and inquisitive mind. Many homeschoolers who use a curriculum, use the unschooling method as supplemental learning with their kids.
Many adults are unschoolers when they follow their passions to learn about what interests them. For instance, last winter I read a ton of gardening books in order to educate myself on the “real” knowledge of gardening (previously being mostly an intuitive gardener myself). I studied all the time and took copious notes. Then I noticed my daughter taking notes from a science book, because it was important, and she didn’t want to forget! Just like me! Parents are the most important teachers for their children, and my daughter has not just me and her dad to teach her, but a whole community of people who care a lot about her and have her well being at heart. This is what it means for a village to raise a child. Kid Khalila is receiving an education like no other kid, with most of it coming from the depths of a new paradigm where abundance and fecundity are key. We are so blessed!
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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